Hannah Leacy had worked non-stop since she was 13, until she injured her back on a mining job about three years ago and was placed on a disability pension.
- Government data shows that of nearly 1,200 applications to exit the cashless debit card trial, just 220 had been approved
- Many trial participants, some of who have waited months for their applications to be processed, say they have been treated unfairly
- The Government says participants can exit when they “demonstrate reasonable and responsible management of their affairs, including financial affairs”
Soon afterward, the 35-year-old fell pregnant with her now two-year-old daughter and began receiving a single parenting payment from Centrelink.
She also joined around 10,000 people across Australia whose government payments were paid to a cashless debit card.
The card, being trialled in regional and remote communities around Australia, cannot be used to buy alcohol or gambling products, some gift cards or to withdraw cash.
Many in the trial, including Ms Leacy, said the card was not only not achieving its stated aim to reduce the “harm caused by welfare-fuelled alcohol, gambling and drug misuse”, but was actively making many people’s lives worse.
People on the trial receive just 20 per cent of their government payment as cash, with the rest deposited to what is known as the Indue card.
‘I just use my savings’
Ms Leacy said the card was regularly declined during withdrawal and direct debit transactions.
“It just sometimes doesn’t work, so you can try your card five times in a row and it won’t work, and the next day it will,” she said.
She said whenever a transaction was declined, the process to rectify the situation was laborious.
“It’s gotten to the point where if I’ve got a rejected direct debit, even though the money is in the Indue account I just use my savings and pay it off,” she said.
One-fifth of exit applications approved
The Government first allowed participants to apply to exit the program in the middle of 2019, so long as they met certain criteria — including that they were not at risk of homelessness, dependants were being taken care of, and they were capable of managing their money.
Ms Leacy said given she had no debts, her child was well cared for, and she had no history of drug, alcohol or gambling addiction, she assumed she would easily be approved to get off the card.
But after a year of waiting for a response, she was told she had not been approved, with the department citing records some of her debit card transactions had declined, and she had not provided Afterpay records.
She said neither of those reasons made sense.
Ms Leacy is not the only one: Government data shows that as of June 2020, of more than 1,000 applications to exit the card, just 220 — or around a fifth — had been approved.
‘I’m at risk of homelessness, apparently’
The same data showed that of applications from WA’s Goldfields trial site, the proportion of Indigenous people who were rejected for exit was almost double the proportion of those approved.
In WA’s East Kimberley trial site, 85 per cent of those using the card were Indigenous, and in Ceduna in far west SA three-quarters were Indigenous.
Aboriginal mother of two Tempest Combo, who used to live in Kalgoorlie, said her application to exit the trial was rejected despite her having no problems with drugs, alcohol or gambling.
Ms Combo said card restrictions had made it hard to flee her former partner, who had been domestically abusive.
“It’s not like you can just book into a motel or anything, because sometimes it actually declines for a motel or a hotel,” she said.
A spokesperson for Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said trial participants were “able to exit the program where they could demonstrate reasonable and responsible management of their affairs, including financial affairs”.
The spokesperson also said those on the card could “request urgent transfers if a bill is urgent, which are processed within two to three hours by contacting the Cashless Debit Card hotline”.
Government rejects calls to end trial
Greens Senator Rachel Siewart has called for the card to be abolished, arguing the trial — in its fifth year in places like the East Kimberley — had not achieved its goals.
Australian National University senior public policy lecturer Elise Klein agreed there was a lack of evidence the program had been effective.
She said an ORIMA Research report on the scheme commissioned by government had been found by “academics as well as the Australian National Audit Office” to have “problems with the data collection and ways in which the data was analysed”.
“Because of these issues, there was no ability to draw any conclusions from that ORIMA research,” Dr Klein said.
Ms Ruston’s spokesperson refuted that assessment, saying the Government “took into account a range of evidence in considering the success of the Cashless Debit Card including local feedback from stakeholders, leaders and participants, and outcomes in Cashless Debit Card regions”.