Some Tasmanian students are being forced to “live on thin air” because of Centrelink delays in processing Youth Allowance applications, says Independent Denison MP, Andrew Wilkie.
He said he has been contacted by parents forced to cover the rent and expenses of adult children studying interstate who are waiting months for their youth allowance applications to be processed.
“Students have been left penniless,” Mr Wilkie said.
“Some students are skipping class to work and others are considering dropping out of university and jeopardising their careers because they can’t live on thin air.
“Their eligibility is not in question, Centrelink is taking too long.”
Bass Labor MP Ross Hart said he had also been contacted by several students on the matter which he believed was only the tip of the iceberg.
“It’s unfair and unrealistic to expect students to survive without support which only places the burden on families,” Mr Hart said.
“This comes down to adequately resourcing public service jobs at Centrelink.
“It’s all very well trumpeting new call centre workers and outsourcing important skilled jobs when our public servants are required to do more and more with increasing complex legislation and or government requirements.”
Mr Wilkie agreed Centrelink staff did the best job they could but they were under resourced.
UTAS psychology student Aisling McCullough said she applied for Youth Allowance in February and waited eight weeks before she contacted Centrelink.
“I tried to call Centrelink 22 times and couldn’t get through but eventually when I spoke to someone they said unless I had an eviction notice they couldn’t really help,” she said.
“I felt a lot of frustration and anger and I was grieving for my studies that I thought I would have to give up because I didn’t have any other options financially.”
Ms McCullough said she missed lectures every week to take on extra shifts and her studies suffered.
Mr Wilkie said problems in processing applications had also occurred last year.
“The Youth Allowance application and payment system is badly broken,” he said.
“These delays happen at the beginning of every academic year.
“Centrelink cannot say it did not anticipate the demand.”
Mr Wilkie said students and their families should not have to wait up to six months to receive any payments, especially if they have moved interstate to study and applied for the living away from home rate.
“The Federal Government should be supporting young people furthering their education, not putting obstacles in their way,” he said.
A Human Services Department spokesperson said the department worked hard to process student claims “as quickly as possible”.
“Recently there has been an increase in student processing times as we are nearing the end of our seasonal student demand period,” the spokesperson said
“Some complex claims can take longer and we understand this can be frustrating.
“Students can be assured that all claims will be processed and payments will be backdated to the date the student lodged their completed claim.”