I would like to interrupt our scheduled programming of doom and alcoholism for something a bit different. For the past few months I’ve had a…thing ongoing with Centrelink and it had really been weighing on my mind so I thought it would be best to share it here.
I had been meaning to make this post for over a week but I’ve been really busy what with Christmas chores including organising Pea’s house for my parents’ first ever visit last weekend. In that time, the issue actually got resolved, but I’ll get to that.
I receive the disability support pension. I do work, within the limits of what the DSP allows but it is my primary source of income. Without it I would struggle to afford my various therapies. I was put on it in 2010 after a lengthy assessment process which I have been told has gotten much worse.
One of the requirements of being on the DSP is regular assessments to ascertain whether you are still eligible to receive it. Well, I say regular but I hadn’t had one for four years. I had been assessed twice previously and been deemed still eligible for it.
However, in 2011 the eligibility tables for mental illness were re written to be much tougher, and since then many people on the DSP for a mental disability had been reassessed and deemed ineligible. These people had been placed on Newstart instead, Centrelink’s jobseeker’s allowance which is $341 a fortnight less than the DSP. After five years of this, this article claims that now 25% of people on Newstart have a disability.
I’ve heard all sorts of rumours about how the government is cracking down on people receiving the DSP for psychiatric conditions including one article I read that I haven’t been able to find that claimed Centrelink was targeting under 35s on DSP for mental illness. Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? Yet when enough people have been coming forward after having their payment changed from the DSP to Newstart, I did start to wonder about these changes and how they might affect me. But I kept telling myself not to worry until I actually got reassessed.
Fast forward to August of this year and I got a letter from Centrelink saying I was being reassessed. Uh-oh. The only instruction I was given was to get a medical report outlining all the conditions I had that reduced my capacity to work and return it to Centrelink in two weeks.
So I called my psychiatrist and asked for an emergency appointment. And got told by the receptionist that she doesn’t do that (I know for a fact that she does, maybe not in this situation but still.) After a bit of back and forth we decided the best thing to do would be for the doctor to call me back.
She called about fifteen minutes later and I explained the situation. She said she would dictate a report, send it to the dictophone office and the report should arrive back in a couple of days. Easily done.
After a week of me calling the office every day to check if the report was in I called just as the postman delivered it. So I dashed out there and took it to my local Centrelink and lined up for an hour to have one of the aides remind me that I can in fact upload medical reports using my phone. Oops!
So that was done. Or so I thought.
I thought that all I needed to do was provide my medical report and the assessment would be done in a matter of weeks but we were just getting started. The next month, in mid September I received a letter from Centrelink telling me that as part of my ongoing case review I had to have an interview with one of Centrelink’s disability officers and an appointment was made for late September.
I was extremely nervous about this meeting and was expecting to be grilled about my condition but the disability officer I spoke to was pleasant and even though I didn’t express any concerns seemed to be trying to put me at ease. He had with him my submitted medical report plus copies of all doctors letters I had ever submitted to Centrelink, plus some medical records and hospital discharge summaries. He told me that the fact that I have seen so many doctors works well in my favour, because all these letters and reports serve as evidence that I actually have these conditions and they have been impacting my life significantly. .
He asked me questions about my symptoms and the severity of them day to day, tying it back in with the kinds of behaviours that were caused by them. We went through my medications and the doctors and other therapists that I see. He said that the next step for him was to go to my doctors with what I had said about my symptoms to verify it. I gave him the details of my psychiatrist and psychologist and that was it. He ended the meeting by acknowledging that the tables of eligibility were tougher these days but he didn’t think I had any reason to stress.
Now I thought my part was over, that all I was waiting for was for Centrelink to reach out to my doctor and therapist and take their reports to an independent assessor. WRONG. Fast forward another couple of months – in the mean time I was going mad with worry. How long is it going to take? I hear it takes forever to get on the DSP these days, but to get taken off it? What happens when I do get taken off it? Does my payment automatically transfer over to newstart or do I have to apply for that? What am I going to do in the mean time if it’s the latter? – to late November. I get a call from Centrelink telling me it’s time for an independent medical exam (their words.) Shortly after this phone call I get texted an address and a date which is in three days time.
So I show up there, for this ‘exam’ and am taken into a room and sat in front of an ipad which has a skype call set up on it. The person on the other end asks me if I know what I’m here for and I parrot what I was told in the phone call – ‘an independent medical exam.’ She laughed and explained that she is a psychologist, appointed by Centrelink as a neutral party to verify the information provided by my psychologist and psychiatrist.
Our interview was much like the one I had with the disability officer, she seemed to want to check that my story lined up. I had to talk about some stuff that has happened since that meeting like my trouble sleeping and starting on seroquel, but really I was just telling the same story over again.
We had some technical issues and in the end our skype connection dropped out, so we had to finish the call by telephone call. When I told my mum this she was horrified – this woman has to assess whether I am medically able to work based on a telephone conversation? – but I was just glad I wouldn’t have to make another trip into the city for another appointment.
That was two weeks ago, and I thought I was in for another lengthy waiting game. I concentrated on getting my Christmas shopping done and saving for my car registration before I lost my income.
But then last Wednesday I received this text:
“your medical review has been completed. We have determined you are still eligible to receive Disability Support Pension”
All this worrying about having my income cut off has been for nothing. It just goes to show that the system isn’t quite broken yet.
I don’t know when I’ll have to worry about it again, the disability officer said they try to get them done every two years but it’s been four years since my last one. So at worst I’ll have to go through this again in two years time but who knows, I could be ready for full time work by then.