A Hunter mother of a disabled teenager was left with just over $300 a week to support her three children, after Centrelink cancelled her carer’s payments allegedly without notice and could not advise when they would be reinstated.
Cliftleigh’s Sharon Field – who had to leave her job as an aged care nurse two years ago to care for her son Thomas – said Centrelink told her it could take up to six months to resolve her dispute.
After the Herald contacted Centrelink this week about Ms Field’s dilemma, the agency advised her that her case had been prioritised and she would receive backdated payments from Wednesday.
Her dispute coincides with the agency coming under fire for sending letters, in some cases wrongfully, to welfare recipients asking for reimbursement for over-payment. “I’m very grateful it has been resolved, but what about all of the people in a similar situation who don’t have a voice or anyone to turn to?” she asked.
Ms Field’s son Thomas has severe global developmental delay, asthma, epilepsy that can cause up to 100 seizures a day and cannot walk or talk. Her carer payment and carer allowance totalling $983 a fortnight was cancelled after Thomas’ 16th birthday in September and replaced with a disability support pension of $325 a fortnight. “But our situation had not changed. I was really struggling and it was breaking my heart – how is anybody supposed to live below the poverty line? I was trying to pay rent, for my car and feed my children, but didn’t know how I was going to cope next week.” Ms Field said she was told she must provide documentation from Thomas’ medical specialists to prove he needed her assistance and be able to reapply for the funding. She was told the paperwork she submitted on December 14 could take up to six months to process.
Department of Human Services general manager Hank Jongen said carer payments for a child could only be made up to when the child was 16 years and three months. He said carers were notified three months before a child’s 16th birthday about “any payment impacts and required action”.
“This may include a request for additional information, to ensure the carer continues to meet the eligibility criteria for carer payment and carer allowance for an adult. If the requested documentation is not submitted within the timeframe provided, and the customer has not requested an extension, the department will send a further notice before payment is cancelled.”
Ms Field said she received a letter in August advising Thomas would soon be eligible for the pension. She said it did not mention the carer payment or carer allowance, or ask for more information. She said she was never told her son must move onto the pension.
Ms Field’s fortnightly Family Tax Benefit was also recently cut from $700 to $321.