I have tried to be fair. I have tried to be understanding of the good work WINZ does, and their well-intentioned policies, and to work within those structures. I have tried to be grateful for the support I do get.
But I have had ENOUGH of the sheer and complete incompetence that ensures that I have suffered, that I continue to suffer. That I suffer like I have suffered today.
Maybe I should start at the beginning, because you may have not been following this story. It’s a doozie so you may as well get a drink now.
I am on a ‘Jobseeker Support’ benefit, which in itself is a misnomer. I have a job – I’m too ill to do it. I have multiple medical certificates to prove it. Recently, my benefit, and the Disability Allowance, which is the separate small payment I receive toward my medical costs, came up for “reassessment.” This meant a whole new round of forms and evidence to prove I’m entitled to the support.
Here’s the key points from the post I wrote when this started – February 14.
1. I’ve returned the multiple forms, along with every receipt I’ve kept of doctor’s visits, food bills, and medical costs like prescriptions, plus the form signed by my GP which includes details from him about how often I visit and what for.
2. My case manager rang today to say they “need more proof” which I knew would happen because they always do.
3. Eftpos receipts are now not considered proof of costs. I need to return to all my medical providers and get a signed printout of my annual costs. This obviously takes a lot of time and effort for a sick person. It’s not an easy ask. It causes me a huge amount of anxiety, and physically doing it causes me exhaustion and pain.
4. A grocery receipt is not enough to prove my dietary requirements, I need several week’s worth to show the pattern of food I buy. They said they will then calculate the difference between the “usual” cost and “my” cost, and grant me this.
5. Until I get all these things, I will live in anxiety that they are going to remove my support. Anxiety and stress make me sick. That’s written on the fucking form I gave them.
Following this post, I got together all the additional evidence they wanted, which took considerable effort. I dropped it in to the office, somewhat gingerly, because they have a proven history of losing things.
I wrote this post a week ago:
My case manager informed me on 14 February (the day before I was going to Wellington for a week) that I had until 14 March to supply new information, or my support would be removed. Getting this new information wasn’t going to be an easy task for me, and it’s fair to say I felt terrified and distressed during that phone call.
My case manager also said she would send a Special Food Grant application form to me, which I needed to provide to them along with at least a month’s worth of receipts to show my grocery expenses.
While I was away, I made phone calls and sent emails in order to get the requested information from my medical providers. As soon as I got back, I labelled them all and took them in to WINZ. That was on 25 February.
Since then, I have sent several emails and left several voice messages, none of which have been returned. My online account shows “no applications pending.” I haven’t received any letters or application forms in the mail. Meanwhile, it’s now less than a week until my support will be removed, and I have no idea if I have provided the necessary information to stop that from happening.
I find it increasingly ironic that WINZ want me well enough to go back to work, yet they consistently subject me to behaviour and systems which stress the fuck out of me, and make me more ill.
Did I say ironic? I meant frustrating, depressing, anxiety-inducing, dehumanising and debilitating.
Yes, WINZ, I agree with you. The sooner I can go back to work, the better.
This week, I realised I still hadn’t heard anything, so I tried again to make an appointment with my case manager. I got no response, so I just made one through the online service.
I was incredibly nervous about the appointment. It’s pretty difficult to walk into this place when you have no idea how you’re going to be treated, and when their role is not to help you, as it would appear, but actually do all they possibly can to get you back into work – even if that’s to your detriment.
Did you know, WINZ has an actual policy to publicly celebrate when people get work? I witnessed this today. A bell was rung, and all the workers stood up and clapped – meanwhile, the poor man who supposedly the happy recipient of this “positive reinforcement” sat still and looked utterly and completely mortified. Apparently WINZ says clients enjoy this.
It was fucking horrifying.
All this, while I myself was sitting meters away with tears of frustration streaming down my face. While I cried, the WINZ worker I was talking to stopped what he was doing, and clapped.
Oops, I’ve skipped a bit. Let’s go back, shall we?
So, I turned up for my appointment. As usual, I was seen about half an hour late. Standard WINZ procedure. Because my case manager had been unreachable (I saw her at her desk across the room), I was randomly assigned.
The person I was assigned to, it’s fair to say, was the single most unhelpful “customer service” representative I have ever had the pleasure of dealing with.
Here’s the key points:
1. He didn’t know what was happening with my Disability Allowance – only, yes, “the system tells me it’ll stop tomorrow.”
2. He suggested I talk to my case manager. When I said I’d been unable to contact her, he said I needed to “make an appointment.” Um, that’s what I thought I was doing right now?
3. They have no record of the information I provided on February 25th. It’s simply not there. He suggested I go back to my doctors (more appointments I will have to pay for), and get the information again. He was totally unmoved when I burst into tears because of the stress this will cause me.
4. He gave me the Special Food application that was promised and never sent. I have to get my doctor to sign it, even though he wrote to them about the food I need in the Disability Allowance Reapplication Form I gave them last month. (Another $37 appointment). Lucky I’ve been keeping all my grocery receipts.
5. The interview ended with him saying blankly “I can’t help you. Ring the call centre and make an appointment” and me walking out in tears.
So: the bus trip, the pain, the fatigue, the stress and anxiety of an appointment – all for nothing. I still don’t have any information about my Allowance. Well, I do. I know it stops tomorrow – even though I have done everything right, and provided everything as asked for, when asked for.
I’m tired. I’m so tired of this. I almost want to force myself to go back to work because trying to stay on a benefit is more stressful than working fulltime with a debilitating chronic illness.
Let’s just say – I won’t be going to those offices alone again.
I guess my presence in the office must have influenced something, because my case manager finally emailed me tonight.
Verdict: My Disability Allowance is being reduced by $40 per week because, on paper, my medical costs have reduced. At least they dated that decision to today, which means I’m not in debt. They could have dated it from the date of reapplication, in which case I would have owed them. They took great care to point out that this was done for me.
Don’t ever let anyone say I’m not grateful.