How ice addicts live off your tax dollars
WHEN Tanya* became addicted to ice in her 30s, she and her partner began concocting desperate money-making schemes to fund their habit.
They quickly discovered that they could dip into taxpayer funds through a variety of government benefits, ploughing hardship allowances and emergency loans into feeding their desire for the drug that has become the scourge of Australia.
"On my many nights of being awake while the world was asleep, I would be staring at my computer screen looking for ways to access money and loopholes around the system," she told news.com.au. "I had to figure out ways to keep up the financing of my habit."
Tanya doesn't fit the mould of a typical addict. She had never even touched drugs before the age of 30, she was well-educated, from a good home and had "good employment history and goals like everyone else".
The one thing she didn't have, she says, was self esteem. "I didn't have the self-worth at the time to say no."
Like most users, Tanya told herself she would never become an addict or allow methamphetamine to take over her life - "the typical lies you tell yourself to justify taking it."
After six months of using, she quit the job she had once loved.
"As soon as I began my shift, all I could think about was the next 'burn' and the desire to be home alone with my ice pipe outweighed my once good work morals and ethics."
What made it even easier to slip into a cycle of hustling for money to buy her next fix was that no one around her noticed something was seriously wrong. Other than weight loss, she displayed none of the obvious signs of meth use shown in the media, such as sores on her face.
After selling everything she had of value, Tanya's next brainwave was to turn to Centrelink, where you can apply for an advance "urgent payment" to be taken out of your next scheduled one. This is designed to assist people in "severe financial hardship due to execeptional and unforeseen circumstances", such as loss of possessions in a fire or flood, the need to attend a funeral of an immediate family member, medical emergencies and medication for a new condition. But that wasn't Tanya's need.
"Every few weeks, I'd call them to report that I had 'broken a tooth which needed fixing' and that is something that falls under an urgent need," she said. "Centrelink would release me part of my payment earlier."
The next time she called, she says, she would tell the agency her fridge needed repairing. "This falls under an essential household item, so once again a payment would be released to me earlier, and taken out of my next payment. The problem with this was, it was a quick fix but then when my next payment would arrive, it would be short. So I had to come up with other ways to support this ongoing effort to support my addiction."
Unfortunately for ice obsessed Tanya, the solution was merely a "quick fix" - like everything in her life at that point. When her following Centrelink payments arrived, they would be short, and she was back in the same position. She had to come up with other ideas to support her addiction.
What she found were rent-to-own schemes through companies such as Radio Rentals or Appliance Direct. "Turns out, they are more than happy to rent out items to Centrelink recipients because they deduct the repayments directly through your Centre-pay. So I applied for things like TVs, iPhone and tablets, which were sent to me, only for me to take them straight down to pawn shops for money," she said. "To this day, I continue to pay for items I don't have in my possession."
But Tanya felt as though she had struck gold when she came up with "the ultimate scam" - although it isn't one, as it's perfectly legal - early release of her superannuation.
"If you are a Centrelink recipient for 26 weeks or more, you can do what's called an early release of your superannuation for hardship. No questions asked. All you had to say is that you're in hardship, fill out a form, and the money is released.
"Within two weeks my partner had pulled out $7000 of his superannuation, and a few weeks later, I pulled out around $5000 of mine. I believe it's capped at $10,000."
According to documents seen by news.com.au, Tanya and her partner withdrew $10,000 in November 2014, $5470 in February 2015 and $3357 in July 2016 - just under $19,000.
Tanya says she and her partner now have no super left. "I admit with absolute shame that the majority of this money went straight into the hands of dealers. That is something I take ownership for, but looking back now, I believe that it's too easy for people to do."
She says she is in favour of the government's proposal to drug test welfare recipients "if it's able to lead into supporting that person into a life without drugs" and thinks it could be even more useful to have tests for those attempting to take out their superannuation to ensure they are capable of making such a decision.
"Now that I am four months into sobriety, I honestly look back in sheer shame and disgust on the measures I took to continue my habit," she says. "This isn't a story to feel empathy for me. This isn't to pass blame, because I take responsibility of that first time when I agreed to try ice, knowing that it was an addictive drug."
Instead, Tanya says she wants to "open the conversation around how easy it is for people like myself to gain access to money for the wrong purposes."
Department of Human Services General Manager Hank Jongen told news.com.au in a statement it was important to note that "urgent payments are not an additional payment" but an advance on a recipient's regular Centrelink payment. "On 1 June 2017, the DHS introduced changes to the way urgent payments are managed, to better support people under financial stress," he said. "In most cases, the number of urgent payments a person can receive in a 12 month period is now capped at two."
People who request more than two will now be encouraged to use other services such as opting to receive their payments in weekly rather than fortnightly instalments and setting up Centrepay deductions for expenses and bills.