Centrelink is a difficult place to deal with at the best of times. The bureaucratic hurdles are so high that many people walk away without getting the payment they deserve. It may benefit you to know the basics on how to deal with Centrelink.
Centrelink deals with thousands of people everyday, each with dozens of pieces of paper and screens of computer information to process. It is not unheard of that something might go missing, or a mistake be made. For this reason, keep copies of everything that you give them. Everything. If you have a phone conversation ask them for a receipt number. Email it to yourself and keep it until you graduate. Do this for every conversation. You will probably never need to recall that information, but if they lose one of your payments, or misplace one of the documents you have submitted and cancel your payment, or if they accuse you of being overpaid, you’ll be very glad you keep those records.
The delay on getting your first payment can be months. That means a long time without money. Talk to an SRC caseworker about your options in the meantime.
Centrelink workers are overworked and underpaid and sometimes not very well trained. Try to be patient with them. It is not the workers’ fault that you have to wait up to two hours just to get through to them on the phone. Plan ahead and have something else to do while you wait. The same applies when going to your local office.
Always report changes in your circumstances, even if this means a reduction in your payment. This includes moving house, changes in your study load, getting a new housemate, going overseas, or changes in your relationship status. Anything that happens that you do not report can be used as a reason to give you a breach (a fine), or cut off your payment. Make sure you keep proof (e.g., a screenshot) that you reported these changes, just in case they make a mistake in processing it. Again, you could email it to yourself for future reference.
Always report income when it is earned. It does not matter to them if you’ve been paid yet or not – it’s all about when you earn the money. If you are working while studying, have a look on the SRC website for the leaflet on the Student Income Bank (Your Income: Effect on Payments). This way you can calculate how much your payment should be, so you know if they have calculated the amount correctly. If you notice any mistakes, talk to an SRC caseworker about how to address that mistake.
Read everything they send you. We know they send many, many letters and emails, about many, many (sometimes irrelevant) things. However, you have to read them. You are assumed to have read them when it comes to challenging Centrelink decisions in courts.
If you have any questions at all about Centrelink send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The SRC Casework Service to offers independent, confidential advice.