Vol 11, Issue 3
I receive a letter from Centrelink. It informs me that my low-income-health care-card is going to expire. My entitlement to concession public transport and medical care will expire with it. It also informs me that I can re-apply for my Low Income Health Care Card by merely filling out a form detailing any income I received over a specified 8 week period and attaching payslips as proof, plus miscellaneous other details. I have two weeks. I accept this opportunity.
I search through my bank statements, then note down the amounts I received from each employer under various categories in the form. It’s unclear whether contractor work done for the uni is ‘employment’ per se, so I put it down as ‘compensation’ in the form instead. All the earnings in these categories are aggregated into combined earnings that determine the claim, so surely the precise labels don’t matter. I then tell them how much I have in a savings account. I realise that almost none of my employers during the specified period have ever given me payslips though. The form does not inform me what to do about this. I collect what payslips I have, then prepare PDFs of bank statements from my everyday account to detail my other income. I accept that this is time consuming and annoying but the necessary price to pay.
I go into uni to access a scanner to scan the completed and signed form.The form says I can submit both it and supporting documentation online, using the document submission tool, but the online document submission tool doesn’t have a category for Low Income Health Care Card submission, nor do any of the more general categories seem to fit. I decide to submit via post. I print off the payslips and bank statements at uni. Centrelink have not supplied a paid return envelope though, and the post office where I could buy a stamped envelope is closed. The post office is only open from 9-5. I am interning 9-5 every day, and lunch-times are too busy to go to the post office to buy the stamped envelope to send the forms to get the Low Income Health Care Card to reacquire my concession. I eventually find a free lunchtime to make it down there, buy the stamped envelope, send the forms. I accept that this is now beyond my control.
After two and a half months of non-concession travel and healthcare I receive my first letter from Centrelink regarding my application. It informs me that my application for a Low Income Health Care Card has been rejected. No reasons are given. It helpfully suggests that I call the Youth and Students Line on 132490 if I have questions. I call the Youth and Students Line but my call is answered only by a dull beeping sound. My phone says that the line is busy. I try again, with the same results. I try again and again and again and again and again until on my 31st attempt I finally get to the automated phone menu. I state my Customer Reference Number to the computerised voice, reject it’s kind offer to consult the Centrelink website for my needs, and say ‘operator’ with what I hope is enough clarity to be placed in the queue to speak to a human. I accept that this will take some time.
I wait to speak to an operator, listening on speaker to the tinny classical hold music occasionally interrupted by the computerised voice’s veiled threats asking whether I am aware that Centrelink has partnered with the AFP to launch ‘Taskforce Integrity’ to crack down on false Centrelink reports. I am surprised and grateful when a human picks up in only 45 minutes. I explain my situation, and ask why my claim was rejected. The operator says that 1) I had completely failed to mention income I received from my internship, 2) I did not provide proof of the ‘compensation’ payouts I received from the uni, and 3) I did not provide bank statements for my savings account along with those for my regular account. I will have to reapply. I say that that ‘compensation’ was just contract work, and was detailed in the bank statements I provided, but the operator says that that isn’t really ‘compensation’, and that I will have to reapply with those earnings placed in the correct category. I tell him that no-one had paid money into my savings account, nor could they, but the operator insists that I will have to reapply with the bank statements attached. I accept that this call is not going anywhere.
I wonder how to go about reapplying, as the operator hadn’t provided any information about how to do so. I wonder whether I had actually earned any money from my internship in the period specified and, checking the dates, confirm that I had not. I wonder, given their apparent ability to double-check earnings using information from other sources, why they couldn’t just use those other sources to automate this application process. I wonder why they didn’t list the reasons for rejection in the rejection letter they sent. I wonder why they rejected the claim, restarting the entire process, instead of just requesting alterations and additional proof for the claim already made. I wonder how much more money I will spend on non-concession transport and healthcare during the however many more months it will take for me to reapply for a Low Income Health Care Card and for them to reassess said reapplication, keeping in mind that the next application may not be successful either. I wonder whether Centrelink is incompetent at being helpful, or extremely competent at being unhelpful. I wonder whether my feeling of frustrated exhaustion is the application’s unintended side-effect, or is exactly the state of mind the application process is calculated to produce. I wonder whether my Centrelink records will be disclosed to the media in retaliation for writing this. I wonder how much more of a nightmare this is for those with less English than I, less time than I, less privilege than I, less financial stability then I, less training in navigating kafkaesque bureaucracies than I, less ability to laugh this process off in social media and present-tense narrative pieces than I. And I wonder whether this can be accepted and think ‘no’. No it can not. No.
Henry Hamilton is a fourth-year JD student
The rest of this issue