This is a saga that began in days of yore, when I noticed a discrepancy in the accommodation supplement amount. As a student, I received a straight $40. But others were getting as much as $100, or even more. Why was this, I wondered? My questions led me to a friendly man from the Benefits Rights service who explained that my $40 actually came from the accommodation benefit that student allowance beneficiaries are entitled to. While this would have been a helpful number in my carefree student days at Canterbury, where $80 got you a room in a pretty decent student flat, my rent is now double that and to get a place by myself (the ideal for my social phobia diagnosis; I haven’t counted how many meals I’ve missed solely because I didn’t want to walk into an argument or planning for the future or just get in anyone’s way – I have no logical reason why I often wait until everyone’s in their rooms to leave mine) would run me at least $200, plus sole responsibility for power and internet bills.
I had explained quite a bit about my situation to Helpful Benefits Man though, and he suggested something I’ve heard from a couple of doctors before – I might qualify for the invalid’s benefit (now, of course, the supported living payment). Previously the idea of the red tape terrified me more than the extra money might have helped me, because I was living with family with quite low costs and even for a couple of years working sporadically for the first time since I had a nervous breakdown at 19 or 20. Now, that money could be a godsend.
With that in mind, I tracked down the MSD email address for hearing impaired clients and booked an appointment to see someone at Porirua this previous Monday. I asked whether you could get the SLP while studying. She said yes. She gave me a lot of forms and showed them to me, some of which I definitely won’t need (no, I’m not going to switch from student allowance to jobseekers with a medical deferral, that’s stupid) and some I definitely will (disability allowance, come to me, my precious, I need counselling and medical costs and maybe food delivery if I can swing it) plus the all-important supported living payment form.
“Form”, by the way, is a bit of an understatement. I suppose the most accurate term would be “booklet”, but when I think of booklets I usually think A5, 8-10 pages. This one is A4 and 48 pages. They should be paying me $13.75 an hour just to fill it out.
Anyway, I walked away from that appointment cautiously optimistic. I’d have to make an appointment with the doctor in Tawa and go prepared with a list of medical issues and what documentation I have from Sally in Chch (my old doctor, bless her, she’s lovely) and what the physio said about my calfs being shortened and basically my whole medical history. No, Doctor, I’ve only worked over 15 hours once since my breakdown, and I dropped back to 12 quite soon when I realised it was too much, etc.
On Tuesday, I realised that there was a vital point of clarification I was missing. She’d told me I could study while on the SLP… but was there a limit on that? This question has been sticking in my mind all week, through the crash that hit me last weekend, through the cold that laid me down about Wednesday, etc. It’s vital because while dropping to part time wouldn’t be a problem – I even have this handy paper I’m failing that I could drop – doing so would cause me to lose the student allowance. If I did get the SLP I could be out a couple weeks money for rent etc. If I didn’t get the SLP, I’d have nothing. I eventually sent another email to the MSD hearing impaired email asking them to clarify. This was Wednesday night, so I didn’t expect a response until sometime after 9 the next morning.
9.50 Thursday, I get a curt reply telling me that this email address is only for the hearing impaired and to verify that I was allowed to use it or call the 0800 number. Which was a bit rude, really, but whatever, so I told them I have trouble hearing speech through speakers and intercoms just as I had when I was setting up my first appointment. (I guess they don’t have a way to match emails to previous messages from the same sender to verify this shit themselves.) I hoped that would be enough for an answer, but no – the next email wanted my date of birth and client number so “my request” could “be forwarded to my case manager”.
I admit, I was a bit confused here. The woman I spoke to on Monday wasn’t a case manager. She was an intermediary – the person who checks you have everything you need before your appointment so you don’t waste anyone’s time being told no you need to go get a bank statement from nine months ago stamped by a teller in goats blood. Since it was an appointment to ask questions, not to apply, she had no need to pass me to a case manager. So the news that I have a case manager, when I’ve been drawing my income from Studylink for the last two years, knocked me for six for a moment. It seemed to be the only way to get an answer though, so I dutifully told them when I was born and a string of nine single digit numbers that were my magical access into this strange world of mirrors and red tape and wrong turns and inexplicable case managers.
That was late Thursday morning. The only response I’ve had so far is a confirmation that my query has been forwarded to the non-existent case manager. I’m not sure whether the email got lost trying to find someone who doesn’t exist, or if the person who doesn’t exist received it and replied, only for the reply to go unnoticed due to not existing. Or maybe they picked a random case worker who’s on holiday. I don’t know.
Eventually, while emailing with my sister on Friday afternoon, she said I could email a mutual friend who has the Inside Knowledge of the WINZ magical rules and who would probably have the answer. I did so, and half an hour later I had my answer.
As it turns out, I can study full-time while on the SLP. Huge sighs of relief all around. So much of not being poor is being able to afford to take risks to increase your assets or income. If you’re well off and have support, you can take a six months unpaid internship. If I miss a week of my allowance, I can’t pay my rent, and I live with my landlord. My decisions at that point would be to use my meagre $800 savings to pay rent until I start getting money again, use my meagre $800 to put my stuff in storage and hit the streets, use my meagre $800 to go back to Christchurch, or to beg.
Anyway, I don’t know how long until WINZ actually gets back to me with the answer to that extremely simple question; so far it’s been two work days and for all I know it could be more. I’m still getting “we’ve received your message and X MP is considering it” replies from a policy suggestion I made several weeks ago.
In the meantime, I’m going to see about getting into the community mental health system up here. My sister knows about the one in Christchurch so between her and Google and our friends at Te Awa o Te Ora where I used to weave I should be able to figure it out.