When Dealing with Centrelink Makes You FEEL ALL OF THE FRUSTRATIONS

I had to call Centrelink today.

I got the “On-Hold to Centrelink (With a Whiny Toddler) Blues”.

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My youngest is starting preschool this Wednesday, so naturally I got a call from the centre director last week to say they were having trouble adding him to their system and that I would need to call Centrelink to sort it out.

The problem is at their end, you see?

It’s the phone call I forever dread, and it seems to happen a lot now that I have children.

“Centrelink bad. You must call”.

I was holidaying on the Gold Coast at the time, which meant that my already-low threshold for giving a fuck was even lower than usual – particularly after several cans of beer – so a number of phone calls and emails bounced back and forth as I did everything in my power to delegate this unseemly task to my husband, who was not on holidays with us at the time.

My reasons for delegating were not entirely selfish: I had no access to any of my logins or reference numbers for the Centrelink website, no access to a landline phone so I could sit for endless hours on hold and – most importantly – no access to a decent length of good quality rubber hose that I could bite down on whilst performing said activities.

Long story short: it was specifically my reference number that needed to be linked to my child’s reference number, because Centrelink are clearly running their systems straight out of the 1950’s, where the female is automatically the primary carer of the child because vagina.

All of this means that in between baking scones, starching my aprons and rolling my hair into curlers so I can look pretty when my husband gets home, I am also the default Centrelink contact for everything related to the products of my womb.

(Disclaimer: I have no idea why they are insisting on this but I’ve got my ranty pants on so I’m not going to let something like actual facts get in the way of self-righteous accusations of chauvinism here, because that’s no fun at all)

I had to fall on my sword and take one for the team.

I dialed the number and immediately got one of those automated menus that asks you a series of simple questions before inevitably failing to comprehend every single one of your answers; working you up into a delightful state of foamy-mouthed frustration before kindly informing you of how many minutes you will be left to stew in those juices while you are on-hold.

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And as much as I enjoy their selection of soothing classical music, phoning the helpline is always my least preferred option of dealing with Centrelink. Even though I can hate it from the comfort of my own home I still hate it more than going into the local office or subjecting myself to the hallucinogenic mind-fuck that is their online services website.

Navigating the Centrelink website is kind of like finding yourself trapped in a David Lynch film. As the main protagonist, you are tasked with solving a mystery that no one else knows the answer to, because there is no answer. Nothing makes sense. You question your own sanity. Like a bizarre dream sequence, it’s the place where logic and common sense go to die, and you are doomed to wander around in aimless circles forever, cursing the witch-doctors disguised as web developers who brought this evil into the world.

The thing I needed to do today was not something I could do online anyway, so I settled in with a raging toddler at my knees and nodded wearily as Voicebot informed me they were experiencing unusually-high call volumes, and that it would take 30 minutes before an actual human was available to answer my call.

Upon informing me of these things, Voicebot then hit repeat on “Random Classical Concerto # 5” before leaving me to breathe out my rage to a literal soundtrack of tiny violins. It was almost poetic.

Forty minutes and several concerto loops later, it became abundantly clear that Voicebot had lied to me.

I did what any irrationally-annoyed person would do, which was to leave a stream of petty commentary on the social media channel I had adopted as an ad-hoc venting board for my on-hold experience:

“Voicebot, you lied to me. I will never trust an automated phone menu ever again”

Thankfully, just five minutes later a lethargic-sounding human being answered the phone. I worked for years in frontline retail as a youngster, so I have a blanket policy of never being rude to service staff.

I recognised a tone of voice that was beaten down, the emotional toll of hours spent swallowing shit sandwiches from angry people who were on hold for 45 minutes and suffering bureaucracy-fatigue; that unique state of frustration and bewilderment we feel when forced to deal with government departments and their indecipherable policies.

When I deal with Centrelink I no longer feel like a confident, tertiary-educated adult who is in control of her life and capable of managing her emotional equilibrium.

Trying to navigate the Centrelink website inevitably makes me feel like a lower-order life form that has just been scraped from the faecal specimen of an even lower-order life form.

Forty five minutes of mouth-breathing had left me in a remarkably calm and almost fugue-like state of tranquility, so I pleasantly stated my business and eagerly awaited the immediate solution to my pending issue, with a zen-like expectation of positive outcomes.

It was like I’d totally forgotten who I was dealing with.

And then it happened.

The operator wearily announced that the thing the preschool told me I needed to call them about had already been done, so I didn’t need to call them in the first place. Just like that. It was all over in less than 60 seconds.

The problem is at their end, you see?

I DIDN’T… NEED… TO FECKING… CALL THEM.

Several minutes of frantic mouth-breathing resumed before I regained my composure, only to realise with dismay that this was not over.

Far from it.

Now we were at the perfect stalemate:

Centrelink says “Not my problem – their problem”

Preschool says “Not my problem – their problem”

Hugzilla says “Not my problem – zero fucks given”.

In other matters: They still have to take my kid, right?

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62 thoughts on “When Dealing with Centrelink Makes You FEEL ALL OF THE FRUSTRATIONS

  1. Haha oh how well we can all picture this experience. But you know what’s worse… Since I haven’t stepped foot in a centrelink since I was maybe 18 (and I may be in the 30 plus interest age range now), they have told me I have to go in person to make my next maternity leave claim to show ID as online isn’t gonna cut it 2nd time round. Nooooooooooo!

      • Haha yes, you think child birth is bad… Wait til you have to deal with Centrelink over and over! This time I have the joy of proving I am eligible through my various sole trading endeavours. It’s gonna hurt!

  2. Yes, I’m fairly sure they have to still take your kid. Just in case though, pack a well equipped bag, and just slide him through the door with your foot. Then run like hell.

  3. I have to do this. Soon. From scratch. The ‘my child is going into care for the first time I have to do the initial application I have no idea what I’m doing AAAAAARGH’ visit/phone call/interweb trek. I DOOON’T WAAANNNNAAA.

  4. I did this dance with Centrelink when I tried to enrol my sprog last year, too. Our preschool was clearly accustomed to such fuckery and so told me that it was no problem to take her while all of it got sorted out (whatever “it” was – I never really understood what was happening). She went for about 6 weeks before somehow, somewhere, someone ticked the correct box and things were fine.

    I don’t understand.

  5. I dread the day I ever have to have anything to do with Centrelink ever again.
    I am an intelligent, confident woman with a freaking Masters degree but talking on the phone to places like Centrelink, my health insurance, Medicare, Telstra, superannuation companies etc. all make me lose my shit and I invariably end up crying (or trying desperately not to) on the phone. They are my kryptonite.

    • This is exactly what I repeat to myself over and over again as I try to wrap my mind around the shithole that is the Centrelink website “I have a MASTERS DEGREE. A MASTERS DEGREE. Why is this SO hard!?”

      And then frustration turns to spite and I think, how are all the uneducated, unemployed, non-english speaking people working it all out? They’re managing to get their dole/ pension/ benefits just fine. How did they figure it out and I can’t!? It really damages my self esteem.

  6. I had to deal with Centrelink a week or so ago. You’re so right about their website but I was ridiculously glad when I was able to do what I needed to on there rather then make a call. Calling Centrelink would zap any happiness out of my day. Then after I do what I need to do I always wait for the letter that says they can’t do what I ask because they don’t have our tax details, then I wait another two days for the letter to say they have done what I need. Same shit every year.

  7. Oh, the stories I could tell about Centrelink…. in my old job I used to have to call them daily – yes, daily.

    My one word of advice – always, always ask for a call reference number – that way your call will never fall into the oblivion of their computer system – and the operator knows you can trace everything they just told you back to them personally!

    Good luck!

    • Thank you Eiza – that is an excellent piece of advice and something I have never heard before. I don’t think any job could pay me enough to call Centrelink daily. That’s one tough gig. LOL.

  8. I just remembered that I need to call Centrelink to let them know I have started studying. Ugh after dealing with the dimwitted dominoes worker (oh your pizza is 2 hours late…so what exactly is your problem) and the Telstra worker who insisted that the 20 times the upgrade job got sent to them despite me only pressing ok once…is not a problem…I am not sure the call centre is ready for me. I might just leave it until next week. I honestly have no idea how people manage to rort the system easily…

  9. It took me a long time to realise that pretty much everything eventually boils down to the vagina so i guess we just have to deal with it. My biggest drama was with putting in Family Tax Benefit claims and Medicare shite. I could tell you a story that would want to make you gouge your eyes out. At least you made your horror story sound funny even if it wasn’t at the time, Hugzy 🙂

  10. All the LOLZ at your expense Hugzy!! “because vagina” indeed! Story of my life.

    Just thinking about that fucking website is giving me a headache.

    Dear Centrelink,
    If you’re reading this:
    1. HOW FUCKING HARD is it to put all the centrelink stuff on one site? Not 18 billion different fucking government portals. Just the one. i.e http://www.centrelink.gov.au for everything related to centerlink. I know it’s a bit out there, but I think you’ll find it easier.
    2. Once we’re on the one site, how about you put up half a dozen big buttons that say things like “FAMILY PAYMENTS” “DISABILITY” etc etc. You know, employ a bit of logic for example. Go to any other website in the universe for some inspiration.
    3. For the love of God, what is the fucking difference between a CRN and a CAN? Why do they need to be different? WHY????

    Love Lauren xxx

    • well, now I’m embarrassed because that link does actually go to centrelink. With the exact same big buttons I just asked for. Perhaps they’ve been reading all my spiteful comments about them online…. hello big brother?

  11. I know that pain too. Hopefully it sorts out soon. I have never been successful in being able to log in to their website (and I am pretty cluely with all things Internet) so it is always the phone and it kills me every time.

  12. This is soooo accurate. When I was dealing with centrelink’s website I got slightly frustrated at the security question about the middle name of my hairdresser’s boyfriend’s next-door-neighbour’s uncle and well, as you say it sucks the life out of you. I did actually have (after the standard on-hold experience and lies from Voicebot) have an ‘pleasant’ encounter with a lady for the ATO – who knew you could have a pleasant encounter with the tax office. It does pay to be nice to the humans in the thick of it.

  13. Hmmmm. Maybe it gets easier as your kids get older, but the times I’ve had to use the website (only to update income estimations) wasn’t that difficult.

    When we weren’t earning an income and had to apply for the Parenting Payment? Oh. My. Goodness. I would come away from every single phone call in tears. I was having to phone in our business details and drop off balance sheets every two weeks. Seriously. No one can be sane and deal with Centrelink every two weeks! Eventually we were classified as a complex case and I had to deal with the same office. That helped immensely. It meant I didn’t have to re-explain my whole situation every single time. Then when we were moving around a bit they suggesting moving our stuff to a new office. I said “Noooooo!!!! They just got to understand us, I’m not going through that again”

    Do you know what the funny thing about it all was? When I phoned to tell them to cease our Parenting Payments because we would be earning too much they tried to convince me I still needed it and they couldn’t just cut us off. I told them they were wrong and I was not risking having to repay them, on top of everything else I had dealt with.

    Now I’m at the other end – your child has turned 18 and finished school. We are cutting your payments. Sigh. She is still a student and still lives at home. She opted for finding a job instead of trying to get the Youth Allowance. Smart girl.

    • I understand that completely. I work as a freelancer so my hours and income vary each week. No one I have ever spoken to at Centrelink can adequately explain the child care rebate that is available to working parents, so I simply don’t bother claiming it because it would come at the expense of my sanity. I did the same as hour daughter, by the way. It was easier to get a job than have to deal with Austudy and Youth Allowances or whatever. Way too many confusing hoops to hump!

  14. I just broke out in hives reading this because I need to place a call to centrelink that may or may not result in me getting back-paid the school kids bonus. I’m guessing I won’t get it, which makes me think I won’t bother, because CENTRELINK and all you just described. I would rather not deal with them, even with the possibility of what…$600??? Maybe I should just do it. Maybe you could do it for me? I know my CRN off by heart? x Aroha

  15. Oh it’s annoying! I was on the the phone with the bank when I saw that status yesterday and I was told I had to go in. Which was what I was avoiding. *sigh*
    As for it being the mother’s number, I think it’s actually because of your vagina. Cause numbers get assigned in hospital at your the one there mostly. That’s what I’ve always thought anyway. Might be wrong.

    • It does seem that way. Then I thought that being a government department that would be deemed as unseemly and politically incorrect. LOL. No one has been able to explain it any other way though.

  16. Ah, yes, I feel your pain, and I have just entered a whole new corridor of hell in regards to centrelink and the NDIS with a brand new diagnosis of ASD under my belt for my little boy. Sigh. Thanks for the laugh though.
    Dani @ sand has no home

    • Oh no, I can’t even imagine trying to navigate that bureaucratic series of landmines. It’s like they can’t keep up with all the policy changes. I can kind of understand that though, as a staff member. It must be incredibly difficult and stressful.

  17. I get annoyed too with the phone calls and the doubling up of paperwork. Filling out firms in person and online when they both ask the same thing!! i can’t stand waiting for ages on the phone either. It’s crap when you have kids to deal with and they decide to play up the moment you get off hold!

  18. I’ve had that happen to me before… on hold for over an hr for the guy to tell me what I needed done can’t be done over the phone and I needed to go into the office. Went there and waited for god knows how long and they changed my name over in 2 minutes but I still had to go online and activate something. Went online to activate it and realised they spelt my name wrong. Had to go back to the office wait over an hr and a half for them to change one letter in my fucking last name that THEY spelt wrong in the first place Argh so annoying.

  19. Arggggh! I have been in this situation and had an impending feeling of doom today that I am about to go through this exact scenario next week. But for now, I don’t give a fuck. And why is it that I always feel the need to thank the person who didn’t help me?!

  20. I too have had a similar experience, where the after school centre told me one thing and Centrelink told me another. In Centrelink’s defense it was the Child Care centre employee that got it wrong and sent me on a totally unnecessary wild goose chase! If only I could have charged the child care centre for the hours of my time they wasted. They love charging per minute if you’re ever late, it’s a pity they didn’t give me a discount for the time of mine they wasted!

    • Aaah yes, the wild goose chase. A form of mental and emotional ping pong, using your head as the ball. I have to drop my kid off for his first day at preschool tomorrow. This is the scenario I’m dreading.

  21. Hilarious!! You speak the truth. Their website is a mind fuck and calling them is just as bad. I feel my blood pressure rising as soon as I pick up the phone. Fortunately I haven’t had to deal with them for a while. It’s just Hellstra Bigpong which is driving me to turn into the incredible hulk.

  22. We have often filled out many a form for Centrelink and got back a big fat zero for all our time, energy and running around. So I avoid the place and only go in there if I absolutely have to. I feel for you xx

  23. Urrgh phoning Centrelink is the pits. And it always ends in the same way – you sit around on hold just waiting, waiting, waiting, then they either make the change needed in one minute or tell you it is something you need to complete online, even though you couldn’t find this when you went on to their website in the first place! The only place I dread calling as much is Telstra … but that’s a whole nother story!

  24. I can’t begin to tell you how much I LOVE your blogs. I drop everything to read them. It’s like my fix of funny for the day. Funny, blended with truth syrup and some pun. Perfect match for me. My work as a parent educator is in positive parenting can be a little on the serious side sometimes. I love your community too, I find myself reading the comments, which is rare for me :). Your blog, reminds me to lighten up, laugh at the ridiculous and to share my voice. THANK YOU!!

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