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Centrelink rejects bushfire victims over outdated maps

A picture of a bushfire relief centre sign, as well as a Centrelink sign and Governnment Minister Stuart Roberts.
Centrelink has denied payments to some bushfire victims due to outdated maps. (Source: AAP, Getty)

Bushfire victims have been denied emergency relief payments because Centrelink is reportedly using outdated maps.

A number of residents around NSW’s south coast town of Mogo came forward saying their application for the $1,000 tax-free disaster recovery payments were rejected because of old maps used by Centrelink that did not include their area as officially bushfire-affected.

The mishap was discovered by the local community which has been attempting to access payments since the New Years’ Eve fires.

To qualify for payment – $1,000 for an adult and $400 for a child – a home has to be destroyed, badly damaged, or contaminated.

Mogo resident Melinda Evans’ property has been smashed by the fires and her home is full of ash, including inside her son’s bedroom.

“We're not in the area according to Centrelink. They're looking at their own map but if you look around here you can tell we're in the thick of it,” Evans told 9News.

“It's hard. A measly $1,000 would mean the world to us. It would mean the world,” she said.

Some workers have also been denied payments even though their hours were cut due to fire danger, power outages, road closures and evacuations, according to media reports.

The government has made over $34 million in emergency payments and allowances on nearly 29,000 claims.

Government Services Minister Stuart Robert wouldn’t say how many people had been knocked back, but said some individual cases would be rectified.

According to a Department of Home Affairs spokesperson, people needed to provide detailed information about how their employers were impacted by the fires.

"We encourage them to contact us to discuss their circumstances in detail," the spokesperson said in a statement.

However, Centrelink has come under fire recently for telling stranded residents to just “let us know” if they are in bushfire-affected areas.

Welfare recipients have been left unable to use the cashless debit card, the Indue card, due to the power outages from the bushfires meaning eftpos machines aren’t working.

“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.

The government said it had deployed Mobile Service Centres to the NSW south coast and Victoria’s East Gippsland, but there is no mention of Mobile Service teams to South Australia, West Australia or Queensland.

Update: 5:31pm

‘Not all staff will have the benefit of local knowledge’: Department of Human Services apologises

DHS general manager Hank Jongen said that Evans has since had their emergency relief applications approved and “sincerely apologises for the delay” and “to anyone who has been given correct information”.

“As part of our community recovery response, staff all around the country have put their hands up to help and they rely on a range of mapping tools to do this. Not all staff will have the benefit of local knowledge of affected areas,” Jongen told Yahoo Finance.

“The last thing any of our staff want is to cause further distress to people affected by these devastating fires – they just want to help.”

“We’d like to assure people that if you are in a declared local government area and meet the eligibility criteria you will receive assistance.

“If anyone from a declared LGA has questions about their eligibility please call 180 22 66. This line is open this weekend from 8am to 5pm local time.”

–with AAP

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