Your Money, Daily Telegraph - Karina Barrymore

MORE than one million Australians are missing out on government benefits and payments because they don't know they are entitled to the money.

The biggest reason people don't receive these benefits is the adage: If you don't ask, you don't get.

In Australia, it is difficult for people to know if they are entitled to receive a payment or benefit if no one tells them, a 2010 research report called Missing Out found.

The Australia Institute report found that, in many cases, people are reluctant to actively ask for help.

Centrelink policy includes that each person is responsible for finding out what payments are available and to apply for them, Missing Out author David Baker says.

Baker found overly difficult forms and procedures are extra barriers to claiming benefits, followed by the perceived "stigma" of receiving assistance or benefit payments.

"The most common access barrier identified by parents was that they did not know what (assistance) was available or how to find out what was available," Baker says.

Even Your Money's inquiries to the Department of Human Services for help with this story was met with the same response: If you don't know the specific benefits or assistance to ask about, no one could help.

We were eventually sent a host of email links to family-related assistance payments on the Human Services website and told to sift through them.

Financial Counselling Australia is familiar with working with people who need financial help and assistance and don't know where to look or what they might be entitled to.

The organisation recommends people download a copy of the publication A Guide to Australian Government Payments from its website.

This is a government publication updated quarterly, with changes to amounts and basic entitlement details. It is something Centrelink could have recommended but didn't.

The booklet is simple to understand, but you'll still need to refer to the Human Services website, talk to Centrelink staff or get help from an independent community groups.

"It is really difficult for people to find this information. Even the payments booklet runs out almost straight away each time it is put out -   they never seem to print enough," says community support agency Camcare financial counsellor Donna Letchford.

"You can download it from the website but not many people can readily do that.

"However, there are other people out there who will give you the information   - organisations that deal with social security rights, not for profit groups -   they are always helping with social security issues.

"It is an uphill battle, even for someone like me, doing it almost every day."

Letchford says when she sees clients, she always reviews their social security situation to make sure they are getting what they are entitled to.

"But even though I have the ability and access to their information, as a community professional I still have a great deal of trouble," she says.

"The options of going in to see someone or even getting someone on the phone just take such a very long time and is very difficult to do."

It is really important to persevere, Letchford says.

"That money can make a big difference, especially for families. Family tax benefits, allowances and rental assistance can be a huge help," she says.

"People who have never been to a Centrelink before find it extremely difficult and even those who are more familiar find it hard.

"They are often going there during an emotionally tough time for them and the information should be much more readily available."

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Written by NicoleSmith,
Sunday November 4, 2012

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