Deborah Fullwood

I hope the following is helpful

Every fortnight for the last 20 years, my ex-husband (AF) has gone online and submitted our son’s (RF) income to Centrelink and noted any variations and attested to other matters.

In approximately 2007 and during the 20 years that RF was a permanent part-time employee at McDonalds, RF undertook some ad hoc paid work for an NGO

AF let Centrelink know about this additional work; and, because of the extra income RF received, his Disability Support Pension was reduced. When the ad-hoc work was finished, AF let Centrelink know about the change (i.e. reduction) in RF’s total income. Centrelink made a real mess of readjusting RF’s pension. It took 2 years and multiple formal complaints to get it resolved. In the end, RF was owed approximately $9,000 from Centrelink. If AF hadn’t been alert to this error and persistent in his interactions with Centrelink, I strongly suspect RF would not have received this reimbursement and would probably still be being underpaid from Centrelink.

The system of reporting income to Centrelink is a complicated and difficult process and something that RF is unable to do alone. An example is, if he ‘clocked on’ early to work, this was considered variable hours by Centrelink. The specific details of these hours and related dollars earned had to be registered on the Centrelink website within a few days of the reporting period or his pension and electronic reporting access was suspended. Re-establishment was tedious and time-consuming. Whether AF was on holidays overseas, in the middle of a divorce or having a health crisis, getting online to Centrelink is something he has done for RF every fortnight for 20 years. In my view the system of reporting income to Centrelink (in its current form) is a real barrier to people like RF remaining independent and employed.

In approximately 2000 after we divorced, AF and I agreed we would each contribute the same amount to RF’s bank account each month. This was the same account into which his work income was paid, together with his Centrelink payments. We agreed to make these ‘top-up’ payments so that RF had a total pool of funds to pay all his bills and have some spending money coming from the one account. We considered that this was a good way to teach RF about budgeting. In approximately 2007, Centrelink determined that this monthly contribution from AF and me would need to be treated as ‘income’ for RF and this would thus reduce his pension. AF and I determined to stop depositing funds into RF’s account and instead had to reach an informal agreement where we occasionally paid directly for some of RF’s activities.

This situation was a real barrier in helping RF understand his real expenses and thus continuing to develop his money management skills.

RF’s stable housing has been a major factor in his successful working life. And, in turn, this has been a major factor in his life outcomes. At a minimum, stable housing means RF has not had to worry about matters like changes in landlord, household arrangements and travel routes. Over and above that, stable housing has allowed him to grow his confidence and efficiency in everyday tasks e.g. he knows how to clean the same shower, where to find the ironing board to iron his work uniform, how the sheets can be folded to fit in the same cupboard, where to hang his coats. Stable housing has also let him become familiar with other train commuters, the train station master, the local pharmacist, the local post office, the local supermarket, related bus routes.