VULNERABLE residents are among those calling on Echuca's Centrelink Service Centre to open its doors to the community.
Last month, the centre started turning locals away under new guidelines to protect staff and customers from COVID-19.
Instead, it is urging people who need access to payments to go online and call service options rather than visiting service centres.
One of those turned away last week was Leitchville pensioner Kim Ford, who is a carer for her 65-year-old husband who recently started back at work.
“I went to Centrelink to report my husband's earnings but I was refused entry,” she said.
"I don't understand why they aren't allowing people in when banks, supermarkets and even Maccas are. Their office is big enough to social distance.
“I travel 45 minutes to Echuca once a week to do my shopping and go into Centrelink and now I'm being told to go away and do it over the phone or internet.
“I only just got a phone and I don't want to be on there for hours and hours trying to figure out what to do.”
Member for Murray Plains Peter Walsh said he could not think of a single reason Centrelink offices should not be working as usual – with the necessary COVID safety measures.
“This time, more than ever, Centrelink needs to be more accessible, not less, and telling everyone who comes to its front doors to go away and go online simply doesn’t pass the pub test,” he said.
“Many people still don’t own computers, or are not sufficiently tech savvy to navigate the intricacies of websites – often these are our more vulnerable citizens, the unemployed, the homeless.
“Also, many of our senior citizens, who grew up in a world where you went in to see the person who could assist you, have not necessarily made the transition to technology so telling them to go home and go online is doing them a great disservice.”
Mr Walsh said you just had to look around Echuca and see the supermarkets, banks, Bunnings and most other offices and businesses that are open – and have been since the pandemic began.
“The bureaucracy is not a separate class of people, they need not think they need to be treated differently to anyone else,” he said.
“With the changes about to start with JobKeeper and JobSeeker – plus routine matters from pensions to declaring extra income for payment adjustments – there will be even more people looking for help.
“If the doors are open, and there are people behind counters, Centrelink should be there helping those who need it.”
Services Australia general manager Hank Jongen said people could do most of their Centrelink and Medicare business online or over the phone.
“If someone attends a service centre and they can undertake their business via online or telephone, they may be asked to leave and use one of these options instead,” he said.
Mr Jongen said centres remained open in Victoria for vulnerable members of the community.
“We have strong controls in place to protect vulnerable people who need to visit a service centre in person, including entry screening, physical distancing, the wearing of facemasks, hand sanitiser access and polycarbonate screens,” he said.
“We are encouraging people to use our online and phone services to do their business where they are able to.”
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