Income management: Centrelink forgot to pay my rent

July 4, 2014
Photo: Stop Income Management in Playford/FB.

Kirstyn Jones is from Davoren Park near Playford in Adelaide's northern suburbs, where there has been an income management trial for two years. She is the first Playford resident forced on to income management to speak publicly.

She was put on income management, despite being financially competent and working part time, solely because she was on Youth Allowance and not living at home.

She exited income management in May after nine months on the scheme. She spoke to Pas Forgione from Stop Income Management in Playford (SIMPla), a community group that has been campaigning against compulsory income management for two years.


Why were you put on income management?

I was put on income management last year when I found a house of my own. I'd been boarding with friends and family since I was 17, after years of housing troubles with both sets of parents. I was told I was put on income management because it was compulsory in my local area.

The process was very swift. I was given a small bundle of paperwork that didn't really serve much purpose; it just gave me a brief explanation of income management. There was no mention of the fact you could appeal.

I'd been given no real reason [for being put on income management] other than that I lived in this area. There was nothing about my age or payment type. I had no idea you could appeal till I met someone from SIMPla. I thought I had no reason for being on income management since I had a clean record of no drugs, no smoking, no issues with alcohol, no criminal record, and no financial debt with credit cards.

How did income management affect your life?

My life didn't feel like my normal everyday life. I felt like I had no real control over my money or over where I was allowed to spend my “managed” funds.

The number one thing I was thinking the entire time I was on income management was: Why me? What did I do wrong?

It is so unfair. I'd been able to live perfectly well, with or without a job, for three or four years without someone coming in and changing how I can spend my money and insulting my intelligence, telling me I'm unable to take care of my funds.

I received some paperwork from Centrelink that said you have to double-check everything you dedicate your managed money to, to make sure it gets paid. Even when Centrelink take half your payment to make sure it pays necessary things, it still needs to be double-checked.

From full control of my funds for years to having half my funds controlled, it was just a giant pain in the arse. For a long time I'd always managed to pay my rent always on time, until income management came into my life.

How did income management affect your finances?

I went from a clean record to having a black mark against my name. Thanks to income management I got $400-plus behind in my rent. I was told half my funds would be managed. I chose my rent [to be paid through my managed funds].

I thought everything was fine. But three months after being put on income management I was sent an eviction notice saying I had an outstanding debt which had accumulated over three months that was required to be paid within several days.

Centrelink had not paid my rent. I managed to pay that off the same day I received that notice. I rushed to Centrelink, used my managed funds to cover my debt, borrowed money, had some money owed to me, got it covered. I'm one of the lucky ones.

How did income management affect your self-esteem?

There were times when you feel you aren't trusted. Like I wasn't able to prove myself with my past to back me up.

When I said to my family I'm now income-managed the first thing they asked was always, "Are you in debt?" followed up with, "I thought that was for alcoholics and drug dealers or people with drug problems". Just the thought you're kind of pigeon-holed with people like that isn't going to do your self-esteem any favours.

How often did Centrelink check up on you after you were put on income management?

They neglected to inform me of the three-month review. The only review I got was nine months after I was put on. I got a phone call from a Centrelink agent who said she was doing a review. She asked how I was doing, if I'd succeeded with income management, it took a ton of strength to not hurl abuse. I informed her of my rent debt and how I cleared it.

She said I had funds on my BasicsCard and said, "You know you can spend it on clothes or food, put it on a Metrocard if you like?" All she did was inform me of stuff I already knew. She didn't review me at all, just insulted my intelligence.

How did you get off income management?

I was taken off income management when I turned 22. The only reason I was taken off was I turned 22 and switched from Youth Allowance to Newstart. To get off the program, I visited my local Centrelink office and made it clear I wanted off now I was 22.

They removed it promptly, it's the quickest I've ever been in Centrelink. If you don't make it clear you don't want to be on income management they'll roll over income management onto your new payment.

What would you say to people on income management who are frustrated and unhappy and want to do something about their situation?

To everyone on income management who is frustrated and unhappy about their situation, seek help. Nag Centrelink and appeal. Fight for the right to have full control of your funds. You have every right to demand reviews every three months. Seek help from welfare rights, and I cannot stress enough, appeal.

Too many people are too scared to appeal but fight: if it's on your mind and bugging you it's worth fighting for. I hope someone can learn from my experience that it pays to stand up for what you believe in.

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