Through no fault of mine, I was forced out of the workplace and onto an invalidity pension paid by Comsuper who managed my pension fund. At the end of May, I commenced part-time work. Like a conscientious thing, the following day, having signed my work contract, I emailed a copy of the relevant part of that contract through to Comsuper, advising them of my change of circumstances.
Still being conscientious, having heard nothing from them by September, I contacted Comsuper again, this time by telephone. I was now advised that they had no record of any such information being received from me. Fortunately I was able to forward a copy of that earlier advice, confirming that I had made all reasonable attempts to keep them advised of such changes. However it took several attempts before being able to get that email through. I ended up having one of their staff stay on the telephone with me until, finally, an email does get through. What happened to the other attempts is unknown. All I know is that they did NOT bounce.
Eventually, my pension was reduced.
On October 16, I was advised that my services were being dispensed with by that employer. So I telephoned Comsuper to check what they needed from me to reinstate that pension. On being advised that they needed details of that cessation, it was agreed that I would fax this information through to them, as I could hardly afford a repeat performance from when I first tried to alert them to a change of my status. I faxed that letter through with a covering note explaining what it was about. I then telephoned Comsuper yet again to confirm that they had received it.
All seems pretty straight forward, doesn't it. But here is where things start getting really screwy.
A couple of weeks later, I noticed that I was paid both the partial pension plus a second, much larger amount. Ahaa, I thought to myself. That must be the backpay so things have all been sorted.
Last week I noticed that my bank account balance seemed much lower than it should have been. I examined more closely. Not only had Comsuper continued paying me only a half-pension, the latest one had been inexplicably decreased yet further.
I telephone Comsuper that Thursday. Nobody is able to make sense of the situation. They even disputed the actual amounts that I had been paid. However I was assured that this matter would be placed in the hands of the pension administration area who would contact me further the following day. I advised that I was heading interstate the following Tuesday, the 7th, and would appreciate this being sorted out before then.
The next day, Friday December 3, not having heard anything from Comsuper by lunchtime, I telephoned yet again. Initially I was told that due to an overwhelming number of calls, all they could do was take details for someone to call me back later. I explained the situation and I was transferred to someone in the pensions area. I was now told that I had not provided any such information about cessation of my employment. Yet again there was more disputing the actual amounts I had been paid. The fact that I was quoting things direct from my bank statement didn't seem to cut much ice with this man. To my amazement, he even claimed no record existed of any communications from Comsuper to me last September about the reduction of my pension. Never mind the fact that I had previously obtained electronic copies of same from them. However this man, named 'Luke', stated all they needed was an email from me confirming my change in circumstance and he would have this immediately forwarded to the administration area for actioning on the Monday. It was now that he admitted the real reason for their inability to actually do anything that Friday. It was not a matter of an excessive number of telephone calls. Most of their staff were in fact away at a Christmas Party. So in point of fact, they were telling blatant lies.
I emailed them as requested, noting in the subject line 'attention Luke' as requested and also forwarded a copy of the email containing some of their earlier correspondence that Luke claimed did not exist.
Come Monday, I decide to telephone yet again and see what is going on. And yet again, I was told that there was no record of my having contacted them last Friday. Getting increasingly frustrated I went through my story yet again. I was assured that this was to be handled by the admin area that day and a return telephone call promised that day. However I pointed out that I was going to be in a research library for a while where mobile phones were banned. I was assured that this had been noted.
Well, as you might have guessed by now, when I got out of that library around 4pm, I found a telephone message had been left at 3:30pm, when I was not available (remembering I had already told them I would not be available). So I return that call to the number advised in said message. No answer. So I call the main line and ask for the admin area. I now find myself having to go through the entire story yet again. They advise that 'Katherine' who had called me, was no longer in the office. I was further advised that nobody else would be able to assist me and I needed to speak to Katherine and only Katherine. Yet another return telephone call is promised.
I point out, yet again, that I was departing for inter-state first thing the following morning. I was assured that Katherine would be calling me at 8:30 am the following morning.
So I manage at very short notice to change the travel arrangements.
To my surprise, Katherine did indeed call me at 8:30 Tuesday morning (yesterday). Except we were now back to square one as she insisted that I was actually in paid employment and the pension I was receiving reflected the necessary reduction for that.
I admit to losing it a bit then. She confirmed that there was nothing on file to even show that I had been in contact with them last Friday, let alone details of my emails that day about this matter. Katherine now assured me that they would recalculate things and process ASAP. Except that as it takes three working days for a payment to be processed through the banking system, I would not get paid before next week.
"So what am I supposed to live on in the mean time?"
She did not have an answer for that.
I stated that I would be making a formal complaint about their actions and Katherine stated she would email me the necessary contact details. An email dated Dec 7, 9:09am, was indeed sent to me by Katherine, containing contact details for the complaints area. The email also included the following statement:
I have contacted invalidity so they can recalculate your benefit for you again. I have also requested that your arrears be paid ASAP.
Yet that is not all that occurred in this telephone call with Katherine. She also revealed the following staggering snippets of information:
- that the information available on their system to people answering queries, is not the correct information about what amounts one is actually paid - hence Comsuper staff disputing with me the details of my payments received;
- that their systems cannot cope with a pensioner returning to part-time employment and therefore they need to manually calculate and process each payment for each pensioner in that situation;
- the mysterious one-off payment made to me was not backpay as I had thought but merely an inexplicable overpayment made by Comsuper; and
- the latest reduction in my pension was because their manual calculations had been wrong and they had not been deducting enough tax.
In the meantime, before departing interstate, I telephoned the complaints area direct to express my dissatisfaction. I was assured of immediate investigation.
An email arrived today from the complaints area, confirming yet again that there was no record of any contact from me about the ceasing of my employment other than a note on file that I had said I would be forwarding the evidence.
On my return to Canberra, I shall be searching my records and taking a copy of the materials I faxed to them along with a copy of the fax header and delivering it in person, demanding an apology.
The complaints response however gets even better. It included the following statement.
In order to progress reinstatement of your full pension evidence is required from your employer stating you have ceased work. On receipt of this documentation the Invalidity Assessment team will approve reinstatement of your full pension and calculate the arrears owing to you which will be paid to you with the full pension.
Hold on a moment. I offered to get a copy of that letter scanned and sent to them last Friday, only to be told that they DID NOT need it, that just a confirmatory email was required from me. Yet more incorrect information being disseminated and yet more time being wasted in resolving this matter.
Don't go away just yet - things get even better. I am now told that the turnaround time for an urgent payment to a credit union is 4 days. So a regular thing takes three days, but an urgent one takes four???
Here is a reality check. It does NOT take three and four days to process things through banking systems, including going to a credit union account. My former public service employer, the Australian Bureau of Statistics, had no difficulty in arranging over-night corrections to one's pay. In that most recent part-time employment, I was paying the organisation's bills electronically not to mention the staff pays. These did not take three and four days to go through but no more than two!
So what are the harsh lessons that I have learned?
- if you are dealing with Comsuper, DO NOT entrust them with either email or fax - it seems that registered mail may be the only safe way to get anything to them;
- expect Comsuper to routinely lose things, failing to put them on file, entirely disregarding their legislative obligations to maintain detailed and accurate files;
- never expect to get the same information from any two staff at Comcare - I seem to get as many different stories as the number of different staff I talk to, and so far, none of them seem to have any of it right;
- if you are experiencing financial hardship because of their fuck-ups, don't expect much sympathy from them, just yet more stonewalling.