How to get up in Centrelink’s grill

I read Cecilia DiStefano’s article on how to deal with Centrelink. It was a heart-rending story I could empathise with, but my story goes a little differently.
You could try Cecillia’s method; the countless back and forth, the hours spent on hold, people unwilling to break procedure to fix a simple problem, or you can be entrepreneurial about it.

Centrelink fucks you, fuck them back twice as hard.

I had my Youth Allowance suspended in October last year. The suspension of my account was frustrating, but that’s not what made me go fucking postal on Centrelink.

It was the customer service I received when fixing my problem.

So Centrelink fucks up and you have to fix it, sound familiar?

Turns out Centrelink thought I wasn’t going to university anymore.

That’s fair enough, except I was. And I had been in to Centrelink a month prior to notify them of my transfer between universities.

I called them up. They told me a small team that assessed university attendance were the only people with the power to reinstate my account. The ‘Academic Reassessment Team.’ Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of them before, no one has. They don’t even have a website.

By the way, if you ever need to call them, jump the queue and call them here: 1800 013 081

After spending 45 minutes on hold, I was forwarded to their answering machine. You can imagine my frustration. I thought a vein in my forehead was going to rupture.

I called this Academic Reassessment Team a few more times, leaving voicemails of increasing aggression. After the third phone call, I finally got to speak to a real person and had my Youth Allowance reinstated.

They had all the information about my transfer between universities. No one bothered to check my details before suspending my account.

I wanted to make a complaint about how things were handled. This Academic Reassessment Team didn’t even have call holding. So I call the feedback line, which was another 15 minutes on hold. I told them how dissatisfied I was with my experience, but it didn’t feel like enough.

Would anyone act on my complaint? Would anything change? Would anyone care? I wanted people with influence to know I wasn’t happy, and I wanted results.

I wanted a fucking resignation in blood.

You need names, email addresses, and phone numbers.

I had to do their job for them, so I invoiced them for my time. It took me two hours to fix this problem with Centrelink, so I wanted reimbursement. I’m a hardworking copywriter, anything less than $100 an hour is an insult for a pain in the arse job like this.

The Department of Human Services website is a slippery one. There’s no email address or phone number to contact. The best I could find was a request form for them to contact you.

So I did some resourceful googling, and came across the fucking holy grail of complaint departments: The Government Directory. This website lists everyone who works in government or for a government department.

I wanted my complaint sent to the big dogs. Conveniently enough for me then, the directory has a page of everyone at the executive level at the Department of Human Services.

I used the organization structure in the corporate section of the Department of Human Services website to find the names of everyone I wanted to send my invoice to.

With the organizational structure I found names and titles, and used the directory to find their phone numbers and email addresses.

I sent my $200 invoice to over 50 people, from the Secretary of the Department of Human Services to the Head of Human Relations (HR).

Use evidence (dirt) to support your argument (throw in their faces).

I sent out my email to everyone at the department. This felt good. Holding them accountable felt even better.

In my hunt for contact details I came across some papers published on the Department of Human Services. Namely, the Ombudsman’s report: Investigation into Service Delivery Complaints about Centrelink, written by Ombudsman Colin Neave.

Even The Ombudsman’s report stated that call wait times were unsatisfactory. It was written in April last year, I had this debacle with Centrelink in October.

I also used the Department of Human Services 2013-14 Annual Report. In case you’re unfamiliar with annual reports; they are legal documents, so everything inside must be true and is legally binding. On page 14 it states call wait times should be less than 14 minutes and 26 seconds. So I wanted to know why I had to wait for over 45 minutes and 15 minutes respectively.

(Another interesting fact: Face-to-face wait times are meant to be less than 16 minutes and 48 seconds. So watch the clock next time you go in.)

I made sure to have this information handy when I decided to follow up my email with some phone calls.

Follow up, rigorously.

If there’s one reason to take your complaints straight to the department, it’s to skip the wait times.

Sometimes I got assistants, sometimes I got the people themselves. But I never got a fucking robot or elevator music.

You should feel sorry for Brendan Jacomb, in charge of Service Delivery Performance and Analysis. He bore the full brunt of my tirade on annual report figures and Ombudsman’s reports.

I put him on the spot asking why my wait times were so out of line with what’s stipulated in the annual report, and why nothing had been done since the Ombudsman’s report. He said he’d have to get back to me.

I made some more phone calls to the head of HR and the Secretary herself. I even sent my resume to the woman in charge of recruitment. I’d love to work at a place with such sloppy standards.

But did anything change? Well, I’m happy to say I got some tangible results.

Call them enough, and they’ll call you.

I didn’t get the resignation written in blood I was hoping for, but I did get my problem resolved.

It must have been opposite day at the department, because someone actually called me. A nice chap said they were going to use their ‘legislative leverage’ to get to the heart of my problem.

As it turns out, I hadn’t paid my Student Service and Amenities Fee. That’s a pretty fucked up reason to suspend someone’s Youth Allowance, but I’m chasing that up through La Trobe University now.

Did I get my $200? Nah, that was just to make a point. I could have pursued it, but I’d had my fun.

And the issue with the call wait times? I received a letter from the department a couple of weeks later.

Centrelink now has a call back feature. You now have the option to be placed in a call back queue during peak times, so you don’t have to be physically on hold while you wait. It doesn’t make call wait times any shorter, but it makes them less annoying.

Give this a go next time you need to deal with Centrelink or Medicare. Heck, that directory has every government department in there. If something involves the government, there will be someone you can contact in there.

I hated dealing with Centrelink when I had a problem. Now I know how to contact a whole department that’s happy to help.