How long will you wait for payments?

Despite thousands more staff, Services Australia clients are still waiting months for their payment claims to be processed.

At a Senate Estimates hearing last week, documents tabled by Services Australia showed that Age Pension applications were taking an average 84 days to process for the first four months of this year. However, people applying for the Disability Support Pension (DSP) will wait the longest. According to the figures it takes an average 107 days to process a claim. Carer Payments were taking an average 68 days to process.

Seniors Health Care Cards were taking 43 days to claim.

Deputy chief executive officer of Services Australia Jarrod Howard told the ABC the complexities of the DSP approval process was contributing to the blowout on waiting times.

“The assessments are made by an allied health professional. We’ve got 70 more allied health professionals coming on board out of a recent recruitment round to assist with these assessments,” Mr Howard said.

“We are seeing good progress in relation to those numbers starting to come down. I would expect that they will continue to come down over the next few months.”

The data also revealed some Centrelink claims that were in the backlog between 1 January and 1 May were taking, on average, nearly half a year to be processed.

The backlog contained 1,522,706 claims on 1 May.

Just under half of these, or 741,938, had been on hand for over 120 days. According to the figures, 7674 Age Pension claims were more than 120 days old, 7333 claims were 90-119 days old and 8458 were 60-89 days old. For the same period, 9664 DSP claims were more than 120 days old.

Call wait times for people ringing Centrelink have also gone up.

In the year to 31 March 2024, Centrelink handled 33,228,257 calls, up from 31,873,109 in the year to 31 March 2023. As the volume of calls increased so did call wait times — the average time to answer was 31 minutes and 55 seconds this year compared to 21 minutes and 19 seconds last year.

Services Australia chief executive David Hazlehurst told the hearing the department had boosted staff numbers to clear the backlog.

    “As I said in February, our first priority has been to clear the agency’s claims on hand — the backlog,” he told Senate Budget estimates last week.

    “At that time, I outlined that Social Security and Health claims on-hand went on to peak at 1.35 million in February.”
    Since then, “with the onboarding, training and now contribution, of more than 5000 staff, we have been able to cut the backlog by more than half,” Hazlehurst said.

    However, Mr Hazelhurst said while they had turned a corner, they were far from “declaring victory”.

    “We know we have more to do on processing and call waiting times and, more to do building safe, easy-to-use digital services,” he said.

      Jan Fisher
      Jan Fisher
      Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.

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