What to do when your Welfare payment is suspended....
I have an adult son with a disability. He accesses a payment through the national welfare system here, as he is perfectly entitled to do. He has Cerebral Palsy, and is totally physically dependent in every possible way. He literally cannot function without the intervention of another human being. Therefore, his prospects of securing paid work, in a world where able bodied folk struggle to do so, are very slim indeed.
Welfare payments for people with a disability in my country, are currently being overhauled. I guess that has to happen from time to time. Some conditions change, sometimes for the better, and I suppose some folk who may have met the criteria for entitlement, may no longer do so. I get that.
Cerebral Palsy however, is not a condition that will change. My son is not miraculously going to wake up one morning and be able to sit, stand, walk and fend for himself. Cerebral Palsy is, sadly, permanent and unchanging.
So I'd like to know how someone, in their infinite wisdom, decided that he had not responded to the 'please have a doctor confirm your disability' letter in a timely enough fashion, and suspended his payment? He in fact, had already responded, with a doctors letter (and didn't she want to know why he was even being asked to respond at all!!), and within the appropriate time frame.
Now I know that if you are reading this, perhaps you find yourself in a similar situation. I do not know where you live, but I do know, from long hard experience, that there is a way of going about having these sorts of issues rectified, and doing it quickly.
First of all, let me say, that of course all Welfare payments should be monitored. Yes we need to report, meet criteria, and be accountable. No argument there whatsoever. But it seems that the system is sadly lacking in both common sense and compassion, more often than is reasonable. If you're in the habit of failing to respond to 'please explain' type correspondences, then fair enough. You're bound to eventually attract the wrong sort of attention. Sorry, but there it is. But if you're only asked once in several years, and you are genuinely, due to life circumstances beyond your control, eligible for a Government Payment, then some leniency should prevail.
Secondly, as much as it's tempting, there is no point becoming irate with the person on the receiving end of your phone call or visit to the local authority office, as they do not make the decisions, nor can they change decisions made. They do not have that power. They are only doing their job, within the confines of their job description.
In my experience, the only way, the quickest way, to have these situations resolved quickly and with the minimum amount of fuss is this....
Contact your local sitting Member of Parliament.
Now depending upon where you live, that persons title may vary. Here in Australia, we all have a local Federal Member of Parliament. That person is your voice. They are your elected representative. They are there to help YOU. Yes, you.
I have been the parent of someone with a disability for nearly 26 years, and I can tell you, that we would not be where we are, without the support of several sitting MPs. I have always found them to be fair, reasonable, compassionate and swift to act. BUT, and it's a big 'but', you must be able to show that you are doing the right thing. If you have failed to report as requested, or not fulfilled the conditions attached to your payment, then you are unlikely to get a sympathetic hearing. So make sure you've done that first and foremost.
However if, like my son, you've done everything right, and your payments have still been suspended, then it's time for a friendly chat with your local MP.
Your first step is to determine who that is. If you don't already know, just do an online search of your Electorate, and the persons name should pop up fairly quickly.
Before you call them to air your grievance, make some notes. Have the correspondence from the Welfare office and any reference numbers in front of you, as well as dates that you have returned forms, visited the Welfare office, including dates and times, and if possible, the names of any person or persons you've spoken with. In fact, it's good policy to keep these details on an ongoing basis, either in a file or in your hand held device. Keeping a folder at home with any and all correspondence from your Welfare office, is actually a really good idea for this reason alone, as it can confirm your position in the scheme of things. Otherwise, it really is a case of your word against theirs.
When you ring the office, you are unlikely to speak directly with your MP. A Secretary or Personal Assistant, will answer the phone, and they will be more likely to assist you quickly, if you can state your problem clearly and concisely, without becoming emotional or abusive.
Here's what I said...
"Hello. My name is....., and I am ringing on behalf of my disabled son...., who has Cerebral Palsy. We've just received a letter saying his payment has been suspended because he did not respond by the cut off date, for the reviews currently under way. We're confused because he has already responded, way before that date. I've tried to ring Centrelink, but only reached the recorded message saying they were experiencing a high volume of calls. Can you help us?"
Five sentences. No hysteria. No wailing, as much as the situation warranted wailing. Just a brief outline of the problem at hand, and a calm request for help.
The secretary took some details, including Customer Reference Number, name and address, and dates my son had forwarded his response to the request for confirmation of his disability. She assured me that we were not the only ones experiencing this difficulty, and that she herself would contact the Welfare office and have the payment restored.
Within just 45 minutes, I had a call from the Regional Manager of the Welfare office, confirming that the payment had been reinstated. She noted that my sons correspondence had been received and recorded, the day before the letter advising his payment was suspended had been sent, and admitted that she could not offer any explanation for this course of action. She apologised and reassured me that his next payment would appear in his account as usual.
Not only that, but his local MP, now has an armful of ammunition with which to ensure that this does not happen again. That's the thing. These ARE the people who can enact change. Not the ones in the local Welfare office. You go to the source, to the person who truly can be your voice. If more of us contacted our local MPs when these situations arise, then perhaps there would be a groundswell of support for positive change to our Welfare system.
That's it. No big secret. Try it, and let me know how you go.