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Centrelink sprung telling eligible parents they can’t apply for Paid Parental Leave

In an appalling case of pre-emptive bastardry, Centrelink customer service employees have been sprung telling at least one new mother that she should not apply for Paid Parental Leave (PPL) because it is ‘double dipping’. The new mother, who does not want to be named, approached Centrelink on two separate occasions in late 2015, with queries about PPL. The conversations, with two separate Centrelink officers – in person and on the phone, left the new mother in tears, not least because she was essentially accused of trying to rort the system when she was enquiring about her perfectly legal entitlements.

“When I rang them they tried convincing me not to apply. That it wasn’t all that much money and I got maternity leave so I shouldn’t be applying anyway.”

The Health and Human Services website clearly states that “the current Paid Parental Leave scheme has not changed. It will continue to be available to eligible customers.”

Why then did Centrelink officers give this new mother such grossly inaccurate information about her eligibility for the scheme? Are the staff so untrained, unskilled or incompetent they do not know the facts about PPL? Or, have officers have been told to go ahead with enacting the Abbott/Turnbull Government’s planned cuts, despite the changes still facing resistance in the Senate, and even then, not planned to come into effect until 1 July 2016?

The new mother initially approached Centrelink in person at the Hobart shopfront, and explained her situation. She asked the officer:

“… could [partner] take Dad and Partner pay at one stage and then later the PPL… I was told that was double dipping and I shouldn’t be trying to get maternity leave and PPL since it’s one or the other.”

Why is a Centrelink officer deliberately attempting to mislead the new mother? Since when has it been appropriate for an employee of the Commonwealth to infuse political propaganda with providing advice on lawful entitlements?

The Centrelink website clearly states under the information for Dad and Partner Pay: “If eligible, your family can receive Parental Leave Pay or the Newborn Upfront Payment and Newborn Supplement for the same child for whom you receive Dad and Partner Pay … As an individual, you may be able to receive both Dad and Partner Pay and Parental Leave Pay, but not at the same time.”

Additionally, the Centrelink website, and legislation provides for the first primary care-giver to later transfer PPL to the other parent, provided that other parent also meets the eligibility criteria. The criteria are as follows:

  • be the primary carer of a newborn or recently adopted child
  • meet the Paid Parental Leave work test
  • meet the Paid Parental Leave income test
  • be on leave or not working from the time you become your child’s primary carer until the end of your Paid Parental Leave period

Paid Parental Leave does not just apply to mothers, it applies to parents. The test is not the gender of the applicant, but the nature of the care-giving responsibilities.

“Being told I was double dipping really made me mad. They just don’t understand the concept of men taking parental leave. It is PARENTAL, not MOTHERS. [Partner] needs a bond with [baby] just as much as I do.”

Both the new mother and her partner met all eligibility requirements in this case, yet again, just days after the birth of her first child in November 2015, the new mother, who had commenced her maternity leave early due to medical complications, called Centrelink, who tried to convince her the newborn supplement was the most appropriate payment, repeatedly trying to dissuade her from applying for PPL.

It was a few days after [baby] was born and I cried. I cried at everything for a while. She really, really tried to convince me that the new born supplement payment was what I should get. The different is very big. If it were the same dollar amount I wouldn’t mind, but there is a huge difference. She put through the claim I needed in the end. Just took ages.”

Given that two separate Centrelink officers in two separate locations and at different times provided almost identical and misleading advice, it can only be assumed that staff have been told to dissuade eligible families from accessing PPL.

“She really did not like the idea that [partner] was getting the PPL… ‘It is meant for the mother to spend time away from work with their child, you are getting maternity leave so you really should just apply for newborn supplement, it isn’t intended so that you get both’… ‘it isn’t all that much anyway, only about $600 a week, that’s not much’…”

The PPL scheme introduced by the Labor Government on 1 January 2011 was designed to work with employer paid schemes to enable the primary care-giver to take as close to 6 months off work as possible. The scheme envisaged the mother in particular, would receive her usual maternity leave entitlements as well as the 18 weeks Federal PPL paid at the minimum wage. The PPL was always intended to supplement employer paid schemes and could be transferred to the other partner if required.

However it seems that Turnbull doesn’t want to wait until his unpopular changes are forced through the Senate, if they go through at all. Turnbull is determined to leave the lowest paid workers up to $10,000 worse off immediately, without any legislative change at all.

How many other women have been told they are not eligible for PPL? How many other families have been left worse off because of incorrect and misleading advice from Centrelink officers? How many new mother and new fathers have been lied to by the Government?

In this case, the new mother persisted and eventually put in her claim.

“What I don’t understand is why they are saying this when the policy isn’t even passed? It was an idea at one stage; that PM is gone. So why are they still saying this? And why are they having an opinion on it?”

That is a very good question. Why do Centrelink officers have an opinion on Government policy? Their role is to provide advice to people based on the current law and eligibility criteria, not to spruik a policy that will leave up to 80,000 families worse off.

It is also completely unacceptable for a Government employee to call a mother who has just given birth a ‘double dipper’, and infer she is rorting the system when she is enquiring about a lawful entitlement. It is unacceptable that the officer should have such poor knowledge of the current law that they tell a new mother her partner is not entitled to his lawful entitlement either.

There is simply no excuse at all for Centrelink officers to be telling parents they cannot apply for PPL when they absolutely can. It is a disgrace. Luckily, in this case, the new mother knew enough about her rights to challenge the advice. How many other parents have not, and ended up missing out on vital financial support in the first crucial months of their new baby’s life?


30 comments

  1. Max Gross (@Max_Gross)

    Centrelink is NOT there to facilitate the delivery of essential social services for which we all (Well, most of us) fund through the taxes we pay. Centrelink’s main job is to place as many obstacles between Australians and their welfare rights as possible. And if you are among the pool of unemployed workers upon which the economy relies, then you are doubly damned, for there is no end to the punitive swings, humiliating roundabouts and ultimately pointless Mad Mouse rides you will be subjected to for subsistence handouts. Centrelink is John Howard’s greatest and most egregious legacy.

  2. Heather

    Sadly, Centrelink has always been like this. Sheer bloodymindedness. I would love to know what their instructions are to officers at the coal front.

  3. Clean livin

    A tip.
    When dealing with the Government, get it in writing!
    Government employees are a bit loath to put misinformation in writing!

  4. Gilly

    Is this further evidence of Government pressure on Public Service as per the ABC, A failure to manage so resort to abuse of power.?

  5. diannaart

    Yep, what Max Gross said.

    The former Department of Social Security, suggests, by its name, that it is there to help people. This is why in 1997 John Howard ‘reformed’ the social welfare net by calling the services provided by DSS, ‘Centrelink’ which has no connotations of help or assistance – in fact ‘Centrelink’ could mean almost anything except financial help and entitlements for people.

    According to Ayn Rand, economic rationalism and other far-right beliefs, helping people doesn’t help them at all – parents of children should’ve thought before starting families, and unemployed should just get a well paying job.

  6. Matthew Oborne

    I know a 22 year old who they told he wasnt eligible when he clearly was.
    this isnt isolated and has to come from somewhere.

  7. Eva

    Thanks Matthew. I spoke to another person today who said she had heard the same. I think it is appalling.

  8. Anon E Mouse

    Just wait till they privatise Centrelink and move to offshore call centres.
    The Libs say they aren’t going to do it, but have been getting tenders (apparently). We all know the libs lie, so privatisation and offshoring will be on the agenda.
    Frightening thought.

  9. margcal

    A friend worked for many years in the CES and the various entities it morphed into over the years. Instructions from on high (how far up?) were that legislation was to be interpreted as narrowly as possible so that payments were as little as possible. She wasn’t popular because she made a point of know what the legislation was. She interpreted it broadly, paid as much as she legally could …. and because it was legal they could do nothing about it. So for two claimants with identical histories, if you saw officer A you got $x and if you saw my friend you got $x+ Few officers were like my friend.

    18 months ago I was at the hairdresser and had to listen to a young Newstart officer deliver the most appalling diatribe against the “lazy bludgers” who were claiming benefits …. that was all claimants in her eyes. How much of that view was personal bias and how much inculcated by the “higher-ups” I’ve no idea. It did make me wish she would fall on hard times very soon and have a turn at sitting on the other side of the desk.

    From personal experience, 20+ years ago as unemployed and now as an age pensioner, the sheer incompetence within Centrelink is mind-blowing. Contradictory advice and instructions are the norm. Not to mention asking over and over for information you have already provided – in a very “we’ll cut you off” manner.

    Finally – the mother in question should take out a lottery ticket given that her phone call to Centrelink was answered at all.
    Shortage of staff another way to defer payments?? I suspect so.

  10. Barry Thompson

    The CES did not morph into anything else. Following its inception in 1946, it was shut down in 1998 by the LNP government and replaced by the new job market of contracted providers.
    Unemployment Benefit payments (UB) were the responsibility of the Department of Social Security (DSS) which later became Centrelink.The CES carried out the Work Test and could only recommend To DSS/Centrelink that Benefit be suspended.The final decision remained with DSS/Centrelink.

  11. Lynne

    It is too long here to type out the saga. Short version – Centrelink treated me like DIRT when trying to apply for a partial Disability Support Pension. I have MS, and was trying so very hard to keep working. Centrelink were so awful that I stopped the claim. When someone who collects money for a living finds Centrelink too painful to deal with, that’s an indication of how awful one guy in particular was.

    So I kept trying to work until… I couldn’t. Instead of letting me keep some dignity while helping me as I dropped to part time, Centrelink chose option B. That involved making it too awful (the man on the phone was savage), letting me keep trying until everything fell apart (about 2.5 months), then giving me a full pension.

    I just wanted to wind down as gracefully as you can with MS, but instead I was left to keep going past my breaking point. And when I landed in hospital I’d gone past the point where I could even manage part time.

    Final note – my complaints went nowhere. The guy was incorrect about my eligibility. Wrong by itself happens. My complaint was about wildly inappropriate rudeness… and off my problem went in to some bottomless pit of emptiness, where complaints go to die a quiet death.

  12. Eva

    Lynne, I fear you are not alone in your experience.

  13. Margaret McMillan

    I’m with you Barry. It has come to this: ring up, and wait 90 minutes for a reply? Go online as they recommend, only to find no options for your particular query? Or go the the Centrelink office and waste hours?

    I turned up at my local Centrelink office at 8 20 am today. There was already a queue of 10. When the office opened, the three women who were dealing with the queue and directing them to appropriate places were friendly and efficient. However, after my name and number had been entered into the system I, along with many others, was asked to wait to see a customer service(!) officer. What I could see was that as we waited our turn, only one officer saw a client in the first 20 minutes. The rest appeared to be stuck to their computers. If they are customer service, they should be focussed on that, not other tasks.

    This does not even touch upon the farcical situations that arise when you know your rights, but the officer does not have the same level of understanding as you. It strikes me that turnover must be so quick that it is rare to come across someone at Centrelink who understands the system fully.

  14. Bronte ALLAN

    Center Link “customer service”, what an oxymoron that is! Seriously, they are NOT there to help any body, just to make sure we ALL have to use their phones or computers to find out any information, ask questions, make comments etc. Admittedly, it is not really the fault of those few left at the coal face, just another fine example of our “great” (???) governments in action! Ensure all the obscenely highly-paid managerial, & the “non public” positions are retained, just keep getting rid of the people who could actually be of service to us! When we had the CES, there were ample persons in the offices around Australia to assist us with whatever we had to seek help about. Not now, sadly. Any rorting of the “system” has been adequately dealt with by ALL our so-called excuses for politicians, there surely, cannot be any money etc left for any of us to rort?

  15. Wally

    Lynne

    My GP told me years ago when I was forced to stop work due to a workplace injury that the hardest thing for injured workers is dealing with workcover and centrelink. The attitude of some staff makes you wonder how they got a job dealing with people in the first place.

  16. kerri

    Just before Hockey’s first disasterous budget, it was leaked that a GP co-payment was to be part of the package. I was watching TV when an interesting post came up on my newsfeed. Someone had called Medicare and had recorded an interesting call waiting information recording stating that a co-payment of $7 would soon be in place. Seems the public service are a little pre-emptive?

  17. cornlegend

    Centrelink, just carrying out LNP work

    Under the proposed changes announced – unexpectedly and without consultation – in the Mid-year Economic and Financial Outlook (MYEFO), for eligible workers whose children are born or adopted on or after 1 July 2016, the number of weeks of PPL entitlements paid under the Commonwealth Paid Parental Leave model will be cut where a parent also receives employer provided paid leave.
    The number of weeks of any paid leave provided by the employer will be deducted from the Government’s 18 weeks.

    The main difference between this new proposed cut, and the cut previously proposed by Treasurer Joe Hockey and former Prime Minister Abbott, is that this new proposed cut is calculated on the basis of weeks of government paid parental leave (capped to 18 weeks of income), rather than the dollar amount of income received (capped to the equivalent of 18 weeks income at the national minimum wage).

    Under the government’s proposed changes to the PPL model, the eligibility rule for a break in work will also be changed – from 8 to 12 weeks, allowing some women who are currently ineligible for paid parental leave because they have breaks in work longer than 8 weeks, to access the government parental leave pay, for example jockeys. The proposed changes will also affect income assessed for Family Tax Benefits, potentially further reducing the family income. According to MYEFO, the Government plans to save $105 million over 4 years in Family Tax Benefits, or just over $26 million per year. Thus somewhere between 4,000 to 6,000 families are likely to have their benefits reduced.he Federal Government’s proposed changes will result in fewer weeks of paid parental leave for women who receive some PPL from their employer. The more weeks of paid parental leave a new mother receives from their employer, the less they will receive from the government.

    The outcome is regressive and the analysis shows it will have a negative impact on lower paid women. Women who are in normal, but low paid jobs or part-time work with slight benefits from employers will lose government financial support, and therefore their ability to afford to spend time with their newborns in these critical first months will be compromised.

    Scenarios show that the loss to women in these critical jobs ranges from 6 weeks to 16 weeks of income and amounts to a range of $3,942 and $10,512. This represents a significant loss of resources to the primary carer and their family during this key time when they will already be financially under-pressure.

    A reduction in available paid parental leave can be expected to increase the costs and time pressures on women, and this in turn may be expected to force more women to return to work earlier than desired and to seek childcare for their babies in a system that is already failing to meet demand amongst infants.

    As a result of the cuts to their income which will occur if these changes to the Paid Parental Leave model are introduced, we can also anticipate negative flow on impacts for new families and the communities in which they live.

  18. Anon E Mouse

    Surely this breaches the public service code. They are supposed to be apolitical.

  19. E

    This is terrible. I recently witnessed two separate Centrelink employees telling a person that they couldn’t be assisted because their English wasn’t good enough and they needed to come back with their own interpreter. When I asked why the telephone interpreter service wasn’t being used the first employee (door greeter who assigned you to a counter), she told me she didn’t have a phone at the door and so didn’t know which counter to send the person to. I suggested she send them to any counter and let them work it out from there with the assistance of an interpreter. The counter employee told me that her phone wasn’t connected to the interpreter service (I suggested she move to one that is). Outrageous! I made a complaint to the manager but suspect this is continuing to happen at offices across Australia.

    How many people are getting turned away because of poorly trained/uninformed staff?

  20. diannaart

    @cornlegend

    “the Government plans to save $105 million over 4 years in Family Tax Benefits, or just over $26 million per year.”

    That’s it? That’s how much money the government will save? While placing further burdens on people? How many billions of dollars are spent on Defense Budget?

    http://thediplomat.com/2014/05/australia-boosts-defense-spending-6-1/

    The LNP must go.

  21. stephengb2014

    Interesting – for my part I have experienced the complete opposite. I am retired and have been treated with respect and the Officers (apart from one woman) have been polite and extremely helpfull and empathetic!

    The one woman was not rude or antaganistic but was less than decent in her demeanor, but I did get the information I desired.

    As an ex public servant I am well aware that these officers, who are entrusted with power to say yes or no, face a difficult task of trying to act in accord with their power and sometimes getting people to provide suitable evidence that allows the Officer to provide a positive answer.

    I will, also say that in my time as a public servant I have witnessed a significant number of Officers who, in my humble oppinion, have acted beyond their power and assumed power that they did not have, I have witnessed rudness, bias, pre judgement and plain old bullying.

    The fact is that in every 100 people there are always a bad bastard or two!

    My advice too is seek decisions not to provide a perceived entitlement in writing – there are rules of natural justice on which decision makers must abide, one such rule is that the decision maker must give their negative decision in writing (actually a positive one too, but usually do not, because it is self evident) and include the reasons why, and in addition inform the person receiving a negative decision that they have the right of appeal, and they must be provided information on where that appeal can be made. (Usually the Admnistrative Appeals Tribunal.)

  22. Barb

    Ugh. I dread the day I ever need to call on Centrelink again.

    Though, I doubt it’s entirely the fault of the front line. I’d like to say that there’s a guy at Hobart Centrelink who is a LEGEND. Middle-aged, long browny-grey hair, often wears bright shirts and always wears a signet ring. He always makes everything better if he can and he has by-passed a few hurdles both for me and my friends.

    Once the door lady said I had to go on the phone… I was in so much dread I protested – “but I want to speak to the nice man!!” She tried to assure me that they were all nice. But no, I assured her, he was particularly so.

  23. Rachael Farrugia

    I’m not a racist person, but why is it that us Australians who have paid our taxes have nothing but trouble when applying for Centrelink assistance for entitlements that are rightly due to us. Yet, people come here illegally and are given a lot more money and commission housing. We need to pay rent/mortgage. I applied for community housing 8 years ago being a single mother and was told there was a 5 year waiting list. I’m still waiting! Yet these immigrants are given housing straight away. They always dress nicely too. No wonder when they haven’t paid taxes and are getting our tax money. We pay taxes throughout the year, then have to do our tax return only to find out that most of the time, you need to pay more tax. Sorry, but this makes me furious. Rant over!!!

  24. Matters Not

    Rachael Farrugia

    people come here illegally

    They didn’t! They came here seeking refuge according to international conventions which we (Australia) helped to develop many, many years ago.

    If you believe they are ‘illegal’, in the sense they have broken the law, can you point me to examples (one would do) where they have been ‘prosecuted’ and ‘convicted’? You know, just like people who ‘break the law’ by stealing a loaf of bread or a car or perhaps a ‘home invader’?

    and are given a lot more money and commission housing.

    You mean on Nauru or Manus Island.

    Perhaps you would like to swap? Over there they don’t even have to pay rent.

    I won’t go on because there’s so many ‘myths’ that you apparently believe.

    (I suspect that you are taking the ‘piss’). And if not then you are doing a very good …)

  25. Hannah

    I’m pretty sure this happened to me! I had a baby 6 months ago. And after being hung up on while on hold, trying to find anaswers on MYGOV and centrelink online and then being at the office whee they finally called me up with new baby and two restless and bored children, to then say to go over to computers and apply on my gov! Crazy .. And then told me to not apply for the new baby but to apply for something else? So confusing. So annoying and I’ve paid taxes my whole working life. (16 – and I’m 32) and so has hubby and having a baby IS hugely expensive even if you get every thing second hand

  26. Trevr

    Rule of thumb when dealing with C/ link is to insist on face to face, no ph, no computer, face to face. When you are thoroughly pissed with the incompetence shown by any face to face officer there, always loudly chastise that behaviour, threat, misuse of personnel information etc,etc instantly and DEMAND TO SEE THEIR SUPERVISOR OR MANAGER, without ABUSING, otherwise your’e escorted out. Make the complaint and finally your matter is sorted. By the way a face to face at C/link may require a cut lunch, a roadmap and half a day or more of patience.

  27. shayne

    i did’nt think it was law until it has been passed by the senate,witch it has’nt.

  28. Racist

    I’m not a racist person, but….

  29. A Blessed Life

    My son is a hard worker and has never relied on Government handouts, and has paid a ridiculous amount of tax over the years. He was rushed to hospital for a umbilical hernia and was operated on immediately. Because he is casual he is not entitled to sick pay or holiday pay. So we checked with Centrelink to see if he would be eligible for any assistance for the six weeks until he returns to work, and found that he is. We rushed around and jumped through hoops to get everything they wanted done. My son just got back from Centrelink and was depleted, and I don’t blame him. The woman at Centrelink told him that he’s wasting his time applying because he will be back at work before he would get anything from them, wow, are you kidding me. He is entitled, and eligible, so who is this worker to judge or decide my sons fate. What if he ends up homeless, depressed and anxious from having no money to pay his rent and bills. It could affect his mental state and end up on welfare for years, recovering from the stress that Centrelink caused him. Centrelink says these are the guidelines for qualifying, so you do everything they want, spend hours running around, jumping through hoops, to be discouraged when it comes to the interview. Would it not be cheaper to cover him for the six weeks he needs til he is able to go back to work, or end up for years on disability because of the unnecessary stress they cause. Unbelievable … We are not giving up, he is entitled and has a legit claim, they need to honour the payments that they claim we are entitled to, and stop giving citizens a hard time for applying. Not good at all. Many, many times I have listened to people say how they felt like a criminal applying for welfare, because of the way they were treated by Centrelink staff. Centrelink need training in how to deal with needy people, and treat them with respect and dignity. Instead of treating everyone who is applying as criminals and liars, how about treating everyone as if they are telling the truth, and do genuinely need help. God Bless xxx

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