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Crisis Help Network: Melbourne Homeless Services

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Dealing with Centrelink does not have to be a nightmare and you do not have to walk away feeling resentful and like you have come of second best. Staff employed by Centrelink are the gatekeepers of the welfare system and hold the purse strings. If you are on the streets or in crisis accommodation, it is important to tell them what is happening. They will suspend your benefit if your mail is returned. It will take at least 24 to 48 hours (depending on your bank) and a lot of grief to receive a payment if that happens. A Centrelink social worker can help you sort out problems that you may be having. Ask for one: they tend to be a bit more understanding and can talk to their co-workers and other agencies about your situation. You may want to have an advocate attend when meeting with Centrelink for the first time. They can be full-on and down right intimidating, especially if you are having problems explaining your situation or you are feeling vulnerable.

It is not worth approaching them when you are feeling angry or if they feel that you are intoxicated — it won't get you anywhere, so plan your visit and if you are handing over paperwork such as doctor's certificates, ask for a photocopy. They handle a lot of paperwork and it can be misplaced at times. If you have left your place of residence because of domestic violence and cannot return, you may be entitled to a crisis payment. This is not an advance and does not have to be repaid. This payment is up to the social worker to decide on — they are audited these days and will make inquires to make sure that you really need it, so keep it honest.

Covering your arse with Centrelink effectively

Unfortunately its not 1973 we are dealing with 21st century technology here. Centrelink crunches numbers 24-7 so if you want to get creative with them remember the law of cause and effect.

If you are feeling fragile or a little less from wear and tear you might need to have an Advocate accompany you.

Make sure that the forms to be handed in or other information that needs to be provided are on the date that they are due. If there is problems tell Centrelink what the difficulty is as soon as possible if you are phoning them write down your call reference number.

Tell Centrelink about changes in your income or other circumstances, if you start work (it is not a matter of will I get caught: its when) a new de-facto relationship or rent.

Don't believe that someone else is responsible for telling Centrelink about a change in your circumstances, eg, an employer, Taxation Department, land lord (or your best mate). They view it as yours.

Check that any information you give Centrelink is correct, if you do recognize that you've made a mistake, (and it happens) tell Centrelink know before they let you know.

If you are unclear about exactly what information Centrelink wants from you, ask for a more detailed explanation.

If you talk to Centrelink staff personally or on the phone, write down the date, the name of the person. Make a note of exactly what information you gave and or received. Keep photocopies of everything and put them in a folder.

Read all the information that Centrelink sends to you, (the back of letters). You sometimes have to contact Centrelink by a set date this could affect your payment.

If you think Centrelink has overpaid or underpaid you, contact Centrelink, straight away. If they find an overpayment and will make you repay it.

Click here for Centrelink website

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