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Centrelink’s callous message to bushfire victims with welfare cards

Centrelink has told Indue cardholders left stranded during the bushfire crisis to contact them, despite widespread blackouts. Source: Getty

Centrelink has told cashless debit card holders in bushfire affected areas to contact them, despite widespread power outages and a lack of mobile reception. 

The cashless debit card, called the Indue card, is a bank card provided to welfare recipients in some regional areas, which cannot be used to buy alcohol or gambling products, some gift cards, or, importantly, to withdraw cash.

However, as many rural cities have been experiencing power outages due to the bushfires, eftpos machines aren’t working, leaving those with just cashless debit cards unable to use them. 

The cashless debit card program is currently operating in four regional areas, three of which, including Ceduna in South Australia, Goldfields region in Western Australia and Bundaberg in Queensland, have been affected by bushfires. 

In Ceduna, power was cut to 25,000 homes on New Years Eve, as strong winds fanned bushfires across South Australia.

“Can anyone with a voice please ask...how someone on the Indue cashless welfare card can eat and feed their family when the power is down due to fires? Are they just expected to die?” tweeted one social media user.

In response, Centrelink stated: “If anyone is in that situation, they should let us know”.

In a statement over the weekend, the government said it had deployed Mobile Service Centres and extended Centrelink’s phone hours, including opening them on weekends. 

“We recognise the devastating impact for those affected by the bushfires. People can visit, call or contact us here if they're able,” Centrelink tweeted.

“We're also deploying staff in Mobile Service Teams & our Mobile Service Centres are heading to the NSW South Coast and East Gippsland in VIC to help.”

There was no mention of Mobile Service Teams to SA, WA or Queensland.

The Australian Unemployed Workers Union took to social media to express disappointment for the government’s response during this time.

“Our confidence in Centrelink’s ability to respond to scale of human misery resulting from the bushfire crisis, as the Government agency with most influence as to who gets to rebuild their lives in the months and years to come, could not be lower.”

What to do if you’re an Indue cardholder and need to contact Centrelink

From Monday 6 January, Telstra has made all payphones around the country free for local, international and standard mobile calls.

The telco is also allowing free use of the Telstra Air Wi-Fi network at locations where payphones are equipped to provide it.

If you can access either a payphone or hotspot, you should contact Centrelink immediately.

Department of Social Services responds

“To date there has been no impact on Cashless Debit Card terminal availability in trial sites as a result of this year’s fire season,” A Department of Social Services spokesperson told Yahoo Finance.

“The Department continues to actively monitor the situation and will ensure that Cashless Debit Card trial participants have access to their funds should there be an emergency situation in any of the trial sites.

“Any participants travelling to fire affected areas are encouraged to call the Cashless Debit Card Hotline on 1800 252 604 or Indue Contact Centre on 1800 710 265 for further assistance to ensure continued access to their funds.”

If you are on welfare, have been adversely affected by the bushfire and wish to share your story, you may contact me on anastasia.santoreneos@verizonmedia.com

Now read How to make a bushfire insurance claim

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