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The 114 Call Centre For Providing Information Has No Information

The government has set up a call centre for flood recovery, which became operational on Wednesday. The call centre was set up to provide relevant information on the recovery from the August floods, but after calling 114, we found that they had no information either. After speaking to one of the staff, we learned that the call centre operators are volunteers who have only had one day of induction. There are 16 of them, and they have no further information beyond what is written on the internet.

In order to provide all the information after the August floods, the government of Robert Golob set up a call centre with the number 114. We expected to find out all the key information when we called the number and to get all the answers to the urgent questions about what the flood victims could expect and when the promised aid would be paid, but the employees there were unable to answer a single question, saying that “they do not have this information” and that we could read it all on the website.

“Good afternoon, you have reached the toll-free number for up-to-date information on the 2023 flood recovery,” was the automated message we heard when we dialled 114. After more than a minute of waiting, the operator answered on the other end and asked how she could help me. I told her that my house had been flooded and that I was interested in any information regarding assistance and any other information that might be available. “What are you interested in, which direction? Was your home flooded?” she asked me, whereupon I told her that everything in my flat had flooded and that I wanted to know what I was entitled to in terms of help and when I could expect it. The telephone operator repeated what I had said and told me that I had the option of emergency aid as solidarity aid and referred me to a website, saying that it had all the information and guidance on what to do after the floods.

The 114 call centre has no information

Even though she said that all the information was available on the website, I wanted to know more, so I told her that an application for emergency social assistance had already been made on my part to the Social Work Centre and that I wanted to know when the assistance would be granted. The Centre said that they were waiting for the intervention law to be passed, which has now been passed, however, the aid had not yet been paid. “Hm, when will it be paid? When will the aid be paid?” she asked one of her colleagues out loud. “Have you submitted an application to the Social Work Centre?” she asked me again. When I said yes, she asked me the same question again and told me that the deadline was the 31st of December, 2023. I told her again that I had already submitted this application and that I wanted to know when the aid would be paid, as I had been waiting for it for almost a month, whereupon she replied: “Well, we do not have any information on when it will be paid, the only thing I can do is forward your questions.” I pointed out that the matter was problematic because I needed to clean up and restore the place, especially as winter was coming, and that I could not stay in the flat until it was cleaned. “Well, I will forward your question right now, because I don’t know exactly, I will make a note, I will put it in the system – so you want to know when the aid will be paid, right?”. As I wanted to know about the reimbursement of the costs of temporary accommodation elsewhere, I asked her: “Do you know anything about this?” whereupon she said no and that she would forward this question on as well.

The telephone operator said that I would be contacted by “experts”

I also mentioned to her the possible aid from the charity organisation Karitas, to which the victims had also sent applications for assistance, and I also wanted to know when this assistance would be paid, and her reply was: “Ah, so when will the aid from Karitas be paid, is that what you want to know? I will write that question down,” she replied. As far as the energy costs and bills were concerned, my next question was how they would be calculated. The Gen-I energy company had posted on its website that the August bill would be billed as normal, but that there would be a reimbursement later. Even so, because of the drying and dehumidification, all the victims of the floods have used much more electricity, so the charges will be higher, and the payment of the bills has a deadline. I therefore wanted to know whether they knew if the deadlines for paying the bills would be postponed, whether it would be possible to postpone the payment so that there would not be any more shutting off of electricity or additional costs afterwards. I also asked about other things, such as water payments, municipal waste collection, and other costs. “How about the other bills, right? I will forward your specific question, but otherwise, here on the website, all of this is written in more general terms, you know,” was her reply. She asked me for my number and an e-mail and said: “Well, I will write it down, and our experts will contact you.”

As the government also promised municipalities assistance after the floods, I also asked the call centre about the possibility of aid at the local level and whether there was any need to apply for additional funding or whether I had to fill out any additional forms. She said: “I don’t know, it’s up to the municipalities, they probably will, I’m sure they will,” and I asked her again what I needed to pay attention to, because there are deadlines, and I didn’t want to miss them. “Mhm, I know, yes,” she said, repeating the questions after me, because she must have been writing them down. I pointed out that winter was coming, that the heating would be needed and that I wanted to get back home as soon as possible, while the woman on the phone repeated that she “knew and understood.” So far, the only form to fill out at the municipalities has been the damage report form, and still, no one has come to take an inventory of the damage. The call centre worker knew nothing about this and acted surprised that no one had come to take an inventory.

“Look, here on the website, you also have emergency cash assistance to cover the cost of rented housing, did you see that, it’s under the second bullet point,” she said, saying that she had found the form I had asked her about earlier, namely whether there was also cash assistance to cover the cost of temporary accommodation elsewhere (for those whose living space had been destroyed by the flood). She explained that it was solidarity aid of up to a maximum of two times the minimum income, which is not based on an individual’s salary. She read a few sentences from the website to me and told me that I was entitled to two minimum incomes. After we had finished talking, she told me that they would reply to my e-mail within the day, but as I could not find the form for the reimbursement of the rental costs, which was the same as the application for emergency social assistance, I called them again.

“It’s all still up in the air,” and “Sorry, that’s just the way it is”

This time, a male volunteer answered, and I asked him again about the application form in question, and his reaction was even more confused. “The application form for, wait, say that again, the application form for … wait, I’ll check to see if we have it, we’ve only just started today, with the cost of living elsewhere? Just a moment …”, he said, looking for the form on the website. After a few seconds, he turned to his colleague and asked, “Do you maybe know what to do in terms of the cost of living somewhere else during the floods? Does anyone know what to do in terms of the cost of living if you live somewhere else due to the flood?” he obviously tried to get the answer from anyone else in the room, and a woman came up to him and told him to tell me to wait a minute. “Did you mute the microphone?” asked the woman in the background, and the man said he was covering the microphone and continued to ask others about the form for a few seconds. After a few moments, he said that he had “finally found the thing” and redirected me to the website and to the same form as the application for emergency aid. When I told him that I had already filled this in and submitted it and that solidarity aid and the payment of temporary accommodation costs were two separate costs, he was unable to explain to me why this was so and why the form was the same for this, too.

“Unfortunately, I was not involved in these measures, I am just passing on the information, sorry, that’s just the way it is,” were the call centre volunteer’s words when he was unable to answer me. When I asked him about local assistance and whether there were any additional forms, he said, “There will probably be forms to fill in again, because nothing here happens without filling out forms, and those will probably come later, because I don’t see any yet either. Things are not finalised,

everything is changing all the time, it is all still up in the air here,” he said. When I told him that it was not right that “everything is up in the air, especially if they have a call centre set up to provide information for the help that is needed immediately and in three months’ time,” he told me that he was aware of everything, but that he was working on the basis of the information that he had and that was on the website, “if it were in my power, things would be different, but it is the way things are, this is the country we are in, unfortunately,” said the volunteer from call centre, which is designed to provide information to flood victims. Is there anything left to say here?

T. B.

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