Natasha Thomson says for the two-and-a-half years it took her to get on the Disability Support Pension (DSP), it felt like every aspect of her life was being scrutinised.
“It was dehumanising. Throughout the application process my anxiety spiked," she told SBS News.
"My whole life was scrutinised and picked apart, it felt like they were looking for any reason not to grant me support.”
After multiple rejections and appeals - which went all the way to court - the 27-year-old from Melbourne was eventually granted the DSP for her hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, which lead to chronic pain and chronic fatigue. Natasha Thomson spent two-a-half years trying to get the Disability Support Pension. Supplied Now it is hoped a new online resource, DSP Help, which launched on Wednesday, will prevent other people having to go through the same drawn-out process as Natasha.
The free resource - an initiative by independent community legal centre Social Security Rights Victoria and available nationally - includes collated resources and information as well as an online chatbot to help users navigate the sometimes complex application process.
Natasha was on the steering committee which helped develop the tool and says she hopes others won’t have to go through what she did.
“I think it’s great. Throughout the entire application process, it feels like you are drip-fed information. Having all this information collated and upfront helps you create a more solid application, to begin with,” she said. The DSP grants up to a maximum of $860 per fortnight per individual. The payment is for anyone with a permanent disability that prevents them from working.
As of 2018, just over 750,000 Australians received the DSP.
Many in the disability community have raised concerns that the DSP rate has not increased during the coronavirus pandemic, meaning those on the payment relied on the same level of support.
Bryn Overend, the principal lawyer at Social Security Rights Victoria, said the organisation fields calls daily from people needing help to understand the system.
“It can be quite complex and convoluted, particularly the rules around medical evidence and the criteria you need to fulfil to meet any medical criteria,” he said. “Centrelink doesn’t always provide all the information in a digestible fashion when people are wanting to apply for the Disability Support Pension.”
He said while the new tool is not a “silver bullet” for everyone, it has been designed to be as accessible as possible and will help many people gain the information they need to make a successful application.
“It will hopefully see a lot more people get onto the DSP who need it, and a shorter time waiting for that application process,” he said.
DSP Help is only currently available in English. Kylie Anne McArdell was repeatedly knocked back from receiving the payment. Melbourne woman Kylie Anne McArdell has gastroparesis, a condition which means she needs to eat via a machine, vomits several times a day and needs to sleep for long hours. She says when she lost her job as an interior designer she was devastated but felt even worse after being repeatedly knocked back from the support payment.
"Walking in there [to Centrelink] is embarrassing and humiliating and traumatic in itself. For the ease of the process it is going to help a lot of people mentally,” she said.
“It’s just going to help so many people. The first time I used it I started crying out of relief, knowing that there is help out there when you need it.” Services Australia general manager Hank Jongen told SBS News the DSP online claim form had been developed in consultation with people living with a disability.
"The online claim uses smart technology, like digital assistants, and only asks the person questions that relate to them, to streamline the process as much as possible. It also supports people to identify and upload the medical evidence required for their claim," he said.
"Claims are assessed by specialised processing teams and health professionals who can assist if someone is having difficulty with claiming or obtaining evidence." He added that Services Australia had specialist multicultural officers, Indigenous officers, and interpreters to help those with particular circumstances.