Carers and people with disabilities have shared their experiences working with Centrelink to receive their support payments after a Geraldton mother spoke out about having to continuously provide proof her son “still had” Down Syndrome.
Parents and carers of people with Down Syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, motor neuron disease and even those who had lost limbs wrote to WAtoday to express their concern, and to support Michelle Cassin in her calls for a national permanent disability register.
“We have two autistic children and a diabetic child – we too have had to confirm (their conditions). Neither of these diagnoses goes away either,” one woman said.
“Every time Centrelink makes us jump through the hoops for our son who has a developmental delay I tell them I’d like nothing more than to reply ‘he’s cured of this genetic disability - we don’t need or want your money anymore!’,” another said.
“I understand that there are certain people who require revision of their circumstances but surely lifelong disabilities should be recognised.”
Centrelink payments are administered through the Department of Social Services legislation, which dictates different assessment rules for child and adult care receivers.
When a person turns 16 years old, Centrelink sends a letter to the carer to notify them they need to request a transfer from the carer of a child, to the carer of an adult.
Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John listens to Prime Minister Scott Morrison move a motion in support for a royal commission into the abuse of disabled people, in the House of Representatives.Credit:MICK TSIKAS
Centrelink then assesses the transfer and during this process carers need to provide documents to support their claim. It’s a requirement for carers to provide a new medical report confirming the condition under the legislation.
In Ms Cassin’s case, her son’s doctor was required to sign a medical form confirming his condition had not changed. She was also required to show her level of care would not change.
She said getting the form signed for her son was a battle a parent of a child with a disability didn't need.
Now WA Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John has echoed her frustrations, and said Ms Cassin’s case would likely be “the tip of the iceberg” of the Royal Commission into the Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability.
“You hear about people being asked if their amputated limb has grown back, if Down Syndrome is a permanent disability,” he said.
“People often say ‘of course I haven't engaged with the National Disability Insurance Scheme [NDIS]. All they ever do is send me written letters and I'm blind', or 'all they ever do is call me and I'm a deaf person'.
“These kinds of experiences are common for a lot of people and we deal with them all the time.”
In response to Ms Cassin’s case, Department of Human Services general manager Hank Jongen said the service was striving to make the process as simple as possible, but there were restrictions due to the legislation.
“We understand the important role of carers and do everything we can to support them,” he said.
“When a carer allowance child turns 16, we are required under legislation to transition the carer onto a new payment category – ‘carer allowance caring for an adult 16-years and over’.
“To do this, the carer needs to supply a new medical report about the child’s condition.
“We strive to make this process as simple as possible. However, we are not able to automatically transition people to adult payments outside the criteria set down in legislation.
“We offer training to help staff identify when carers are in crisis or in a vulnerable situation and provide them with tailored support.”
But Mr Steele-John said the treatment of people with disabilities through Centrelink was deeply upsetting and needed to be addressed in the upcoming royal commission.
“This is not inconvenient. This is not an administrative oversight," he said. "This is deeply insulting for disabled people and their families and deeply distressing for parents and family members for whom interaction with Centrelink is often a really scary thing."
“People don't understand this if they don't have the lived experience of it. My family have needed to rely on social services in the past. But every time you get a phone call or a request to go into a Centrelink office, it's likely somebody has punched you in the gut.
“You go into these places and every single thing from the way staff treat you, to the way the rooms are designed, are made to impress upon you that you are a broken failure who should be ashamed of yourself for even going into this building and asking for their support.
“You go through all of that just to be asked if you've still got Down Syndrome is an absolute kick in the teeth for people and they are right to be angry.
“The profound distress that is caused to disabled people and families by the way the Centrelink system treats people ... it's hard to put into words. We are made to feel as though we are cheats, liars, criminals.
“Let's be really honest about this. I have cerebral palsy.
“Cerebral palsy is no less of a temporary disability than Down Syndrome. If people with Down Syndrome are having this experience, you damn well know that other people are having this experience as well.”