Coronavirus: Port Stephens Centrelink offices swamped as workforce seek assistance amid COVID-19 layoffs

LINED UP: More than a dozen people were lined up outside the Centrelink office in Nelson Bay on Tuesday morning.
LINED UP: More than a dozen people were lined up outside the Centrelink office in Nelson Bay on Tuesday morning.

Centrelink offices in Nelson Bay and Raymond Terrace were being swamped this week with workers from tourism, hospitality and small business which have been shedding staff due to the impact of COVID-19.

The Port Stephens business community has been rocked to its core by the latest restrictions on non-essential services in response to the spread of the coronavirus, forcing masses of business closures and job losses.

As of midday on Monday, all indoor venues such as clubs, pubs, theatres, sporting and religious places were ordered by the federal government to shut their doors to the public, while restaurants and cafes could continue to offer takeaway services only.

Further restrictions came into effect at midnight on Wednesday, restricting: food courts (except for take away), auction houses, real estate auctions and open houses, personal services (beauty, nail, tanning, waxing and tattoo salons), spa and massage parlours (excluding health related services such as physiotherapy), amusement parks, arcades and play centres (indoor and outdoor), galleries, national institutions, historic sites and museums, health clubs, fitness centres, yoga, barre and spin facilities, saunas, bathhouses and wellness centres, swimming pools, community facilities such as community halls, libraries and youth centres, RSL and PCYCs, gaming and gambling venues and indoor and outdoor markets (excluding food markets).

The shutdown has left hundreds of thousands of people across the country suddenly rendered jobless and joining long queues to access Centrelink assistance.

The government has responded to the impact of the coronavirus and looming health and welfare crisis with a stimulus package and welfare support starting with a temporary Coronavirus Supplement of $550 a fortnight to new and existing income support recipients from April 27 for six months, on top of their usual payment.

The supplement will be provided to people receiving: JobSeeker payment, sickness allowance, youth allowance for job seekers, parenting payment (partner and single), partner allowance, sickness allowance, and farm household allowance.

Extra Services Australia staff have been brought in as the agency scrambles to ramp up capacity following websites outages, long call centre delays and long queues at Centrelink offices.

Services Australia general manager Hank Jongen said agency technicians had been working hard to boost the capacity of the myGov website from 40,000 to 150,000 concurrent users, and would continue to "progressively" increase its ability to handle simultaneous transactions.

He said that a button had been added to the myGov website to enable people to register, and all applications for Covid-19 assistance would be backdated to Monday in acknowledgement of the difficulties people have confronted in lodging applications.

Mr Jongen said people who already had a Centrelink Reference Number could use that to access services. Those who did not have a CRN could get one over the phone as long as they had some proof of identity such as a passport or driver's licence.

He urged people not to visit Centrelink offices in person.

"You don't need to visit us to get the support you need," Mr Jongen said, warning that Centrelink offices were following social distancing protocols and only allowing a certain number to enter at any one time.

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