Thousands of Queenslanders in the dark over COVID-19 hotel quarantine fee waivers

Nathan Kelly is a single parent waiting to hear if he will be relieved of a $5,600 hotel quarantine bill from Queensland Health – from a stay a year and a half ago.

He and his family traveled to Sydney to be with relatives in December 2020, following the sudden death of the mother of his children.

When COVID-19 broke out on northern beaches and Queensland closed its borders, they were denied a request to isolate at their home in Cairns and were instead directed to a hotel in Brisbane.

Mr Kelly says his professional salary is already stretched with household expenses, which is why he applied for a fee waiver after receiving a bill in April 2021.

“I applied for a financial exemption, which I did in May last year. I followed up in September to ask how we were doing with this, and then just two weeks ago they m ‘ emailed me and said, ‘we need more information,'” he said.

“It weighs on you – no one wants to owe somebody five thousand five hundred dollars. That’s a significant amount of money…I think most normal people would agree.”

Thousands of unresolved waiver requests

Since this month, Queensland Health has issued 84,463 bills for hotel quarantine.

Of these, 21,401 people had applied for a quarantine fee waiver and, to date, 4,639 have been approved in part or in full.

The remaining 16,762 people are either in the process of processing or reviewing their application, or they have been rejected.

Queensland Health issued 84,463 bills for hotel quarantine.(ABC News: Liz Pickering)

The ABC has spoken to several other people requesting fee waivers, who do not want to be identified publicly.

A woman returned from abroad – where she had overstayed her visa and was unable to work – in October 2020.

She paid around $10,000 for a business class flight home, after an earlier economy class ticket was canceled amid international arrivals caps.

She applied for a waiver in December 2020 and was contacted for more information in April this year.

Another candidate is a student who was studying abroad when the pandemic broke out. He was quarantined in Queensland at the end of 2020.

He waited several months to receive his bill the following February, then submitted his waiver request. He had assumed he had been accepted or had been lost in the system, but then received a reply in May this year asking for further documents.

“A robust process”

A Queensland Health spokesperson said travelers can apply for waivers depending on their circumstances.

“We understand that the pandemic has caused financial stress for many Queenslanders, and we were very mindful of these difficult circumstances when we sought payment for hotel quarantine stays,” they said.

“We know the border restrictions and quarantine arrangements were inconvenient, however, they were necessary to protect against the serious health risk of COVID-19 for over five million Queenslanders.

“A robust internal process is undertaken in relation to the assessment of the quarantine fee waiver to ensure that the circumstances of each request are appropriately considered.”

The Pullman Hotel near Brisbane Airport
Health Minister Yvette D’Ath said applications were being given due consideration.(ABC News: Steve Cavanagh)

Outgoing Queensland Law Society president Elizabeth Shearer said individuals had little reason to dispute the bills other than using the waiver process and waiting for a response.

“The situation is governed by amendments to the Public Health Act that the government introduced at the start of the pandemic, at the start of 2020,” she said.

“It gives the government the right to require people to self-quarantine and to pay for that quarantine.

“The Law Society’s position during the pandemic was that the government was in a very difficult situation and that the health emergency warranted emergency legislation, so the fact that the first version of this legislation lacked some of these processes regular reviews, or things like deadlines, was not something we disputed.

“But two and a half years later, we still have a system without some of the usual checks and balances on decision-making by government officials. These should have been reinstated.

“In this case, it would be criteria for decision-making, deadlines for issuing invoices, deadlines for making decisions and an independent merit review process.”

Ms Shearer herself was quarantined at the hotel last year. She received her bill several months later, after looking for it herself.

“I ended up contacting the Department of Health and got a bill, but it was my instigation. It’s a significant amount of money that’s owed…I don’t think it’s unreasonable that people want to know, when will I get the bill and how long will it take for the decision to be made on the waiver.”

The government recognizes that there is a backlog

On Friday, Health Minister Yvette D’Ath said applications were being given due consideration.

“Any requests for a payment plan or waiver, we’re looking to expedite them as much as possible,” she said.

“We accept that there is a backlog as our staff have dealt with many different issues through COVID, but we are working to resolve this issue.”

Since this month, Queensland Health has referred 3,366 overdue invoices – worth $9.6 million – to a debt collection agency – but has not provided any information on how much agents have recovered. collection agent, claiming that he was considered a trusted salesperson. .

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