Centrelink 101

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I’ll be honest here, I was also considering naming this post “How to Get Money Off the Government While Selling Your Soul” or “An Ode to Hold Music and Two Hour Waiting Lines”.

But all the soul-crushing pain of dealing with Centrelink aside, it is a great service. I personally know that I would not have been able to move out of home, study at the University of Melbourne and save for exchange if it hadn’t been for Centrelink.

Centrelink provides a range of government payments and services for retirees, the unemployed, families, carers, parents, people with disabilities, Indigenous Australians, and people from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds. And more importantly for us students. Payment type differ depending on your circumstances. Today I will be focusing on Youth Allowance, the payment provided to students.

As a disclaimer, please do not take what I say as gospel.

Centrelink is a convoluted and ever changing service. Trust me, you are likely to hear three different things from three different people about one particular service. Not to mention everything changes so often and what I say will most likely be out dated by the time this is published. Rather, I am trying to provide a basic over view for those of you who are not sure about what Centrelink has on offer.

First things first, am I eligible?

Eligibility for Youth Allowance, according the Centrelink website, depends on four criteria:

  1. Your age, and whether your course is approved: Check the site for all the details, but if you are over 16 and studying full time at an approved institution (which Unimelb is) you should qualify. Centrelink will also take into account whether you have to move away from home in order to study.
  2. Dependence/Independence: If you are 22 or over, or have worked a certain amount of hours over a period of 18 months to two years prior to studying, then you are independent. The eligibility for this is quite confusing. Everyone else is dependent. If you start off as dependent you may qualify for independent later on down the track.
  3. Income and asset tests: Centrelink wants to know all the things about your life. Have a car? Tell them what its worth. Have a job? Let them know your income. Own an expensive TV? They want to know what you’re worth.

Of course, this is likely to be different depending on any other circumstances – such as disability, where your live, etc.

Finding the right form

Who uses paper these days, man? Apparently not Centrelink. Which is all well and good except this only applies to some forms. Centrelink is trying to integrate all their services online, which can be great. Since we are discussing Youth Allowance here, I can tell you that it is online.

Relocation and living out of home

If you have to move out of your family home to start uni due to, for instance, living in regional Victoria, then you may be eligible for a relocation scholarship. If you have had to do this but haven’t applied for Centrelink, I could recommend doing so 100%. The payment is $4000+ for your first year, and from experience it helped a lot. Check out this page for more information.

If you do have to move out of home and are paying rent, you may also be eligible for rent assistance. This will be calculated automatically based on your Youth Allowance application.

Health Care cards

These things are fantastic. I am talking discounted prescriptions, car rego, and discounts off your power bills. And as with everything with Centrelink, it depends on your eligibility. Health Care cards are not a given for students on Youth Allowance, unless you are classified as ‘low income’.

Dealing with Centrelink

As I have already alluded to – and you may have heard from friends or family – Centrelink is not the most user friendly service. I will be honest, I have cried my eyes out in front of staff before due to confusion. Here is my advice from personal experience about how to best approach communication:

  1. I recommend calling Centrelink first. Call staff are usually nice. But there is always a massive waiting time. Call up when you are at home and pop them on loud speaker while you do something else/groove to their awful hold music.
  2. Write down the questions you want to ask, so you don’t get confused and overwhelmed. Take notes of your answers.
  3. Take down the name of the person you speak to and a receipt of the conversation. Sometimes information can conflict, so it is good to keep tabs on who is saying what.
  4. If you do go into Centrelink offices, bring a book and be prepared to wait an hour or so.
  5. Always have your ID handy when talking to them. Particularly if you are applying for the first time, Centrelink wants a copy of at least 100 points of ID. If you go into the offices they will sometimes refuse to talk to you if you cannot prove your identity.

And lastly, ask for help

Unimelb Financial Aid have a website where you can get more information about Centrelink. Furthermore, they can provide you with advice and advocacy if you have any issues.

Good luck! I hope this makes some degree of sense to you. Despite its pains and the looooong hours spent on hold, it truly is a good service for eligible students. Remember that this is a rough guide only, and to check out the Centrelink website for more details.

– Reanna.

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