MANY victims of the Banksia collapse will breathe easier after the federal government cleared the way for them to receive Centrelink payments.
The changes have come none too soon for Warrnambool couple Roger and Lynette Lee who were facing the prospect of asking for a handout from community welfare organisations after Banksia’s collapse put them in serious financial difficulties.
The Lees had a substantial amount of money invested with Banksia and the loss of their interest payments left them with no income.
Mr Lee, 67, was hospitalised for five months after a motor vehicle accident earlier this year and was paying big medical bills.
He said the couple’s application for assistance to Centrelink in late October, soon after Banksia shut its doors, had been rejected because of the money they had in Banksia.
However, after Centrelink reviewed their situation again yesterday, the couple were told they would receive a hardship payment by the end of this week.
“It makes Christmas look a lot better,” Mrs Lee said yesterday.
Federal member for Wannon Dan Tehan welcomed the federal government’s decision to change the eligibility criteria for Centrelink payments but said the change should have happened quicker.
“It would have saved a lot of angst,” Mr Tehan told The Standard yesterday.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Human Services confirmed the change, saying money that people had invested in Banksia Securities or the Cherry Fund, another company associated with the Banksia Financial Group, would no longer be considered as receiving an income.
The change meant that Banksia victims who had previously been ineligible for hardship payments might now be eligible for a payment or pension and those who had received a part pension might be eligible for a higher pension rate.
The spokeswoman said the change would be backdated to the date when receiver McGrath Nicol was appointed to oversee the two funds.
“Since this change we have been contacting people who receive Centrelink payments to discuss how this affects their payments,” the spokeswoman said.
“Existing customers don’t need to do anything — we should have contacted all of them by the end of the week.
“We still encourage people facing significant financial hardship to speak to Centrelink about their options.
“We encourage people impacted to contact us to discuss their individual circumstances on 132 468.
“Those affected are being given priority access to support.”