‘My battle for a Commonwealth Seniors Health Card’

I read with interest the other day the changes to the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card. It would appear that many Australians are now eligible for this card and the associated benefits as the income limits have been raised for us retired folk.

Excellent I thought. I googled how to apply and then tore my hair out in total frustration. It would appear that before I had to start this application, I had to have a Centrelink number. Did I have one? Where would I find it? A bit like looking for my lost marbles as it turned out.

So, in despair and with dire reluctance, I decided to ring Centrelink. One-and-a-half hours later, a kind operator answered the phone, which was just as well as my sanity was nearly eroded.

She efficiently found my unique number, one that I had evidently used 30 years ago (who knew?) and then kindly guided me to the myGov log-in page on my computer. I evidently had to link my myGov to Centrelink by putting in this unique number.

Easy peasy, so far. But then we came unstuck. Another number she gave me bounced back several times and rudely implied that I didn’t know what I was doing!

After repeated pleas and explanations and comments about the difficulty of using technology and trying to apply for the healthcare card, the kind and exasperated operator offered me an appointment at a Centrelink office for help with a real live person. Joy.

I duly arrived at the office the following week, with my printed copies of the required information. I walked up to the desk when my name was called, sat down and began to explain my dilemma – you know, site too hard to follow, my incompetence, etc, etc, and could she help me please? Oh no, I am just here to be your digital coach, I can’t do the application for you! (Digital coach? What the heck? That sounded vaguely rude.)

I was then led to a computer and had orders barked at me. But the instructions were fast, there was no way I could ever repeat them and I was decidedly made to feel stupid. My mobile phone had to be used to photograph and upload my tax statement. What if I didn’t own a smartphone?

The next hurdle came as I presented the 28 pages of superannuation information. My ‘digital coach’ huffed and puffed and rolled her eyes, clearly annoyed that she had to actually do some work for me, to scan and upload this herself. I kept my cool, smiled, relied on my age and again apologised profusely for my lack of digital skills. All the while I was thinking- f*** I pay taxes still, my money helps pay your wage and I am entitled to some level of service and help, not rudeness.

I then wondered about all those urban myths about dole bludgers rorting the system. Good luck to them if they can even access the system, let alone rort it. Here I am with two degrees and some computer skills and still baffled by the complexities of just one meagre application.

The obvious answer to all of these claims and to the endless applications for ‘handouts’ from governments is to scrap the lot and give every person over 18 years a universal basic income. No more Centrelink. No questions asked, no more forms to fill in, no more alleged rorting of the system. A basic amount of money that replaces any other handouts. Then it will be up to the individual to either manage on that amount or supplement it with work of their choosing.

Am I dreaming?

PS: In late news just to hand, Dianne confirms she has been successful and she now has a CSHC.

Is a universal basic income the sensible way to proceed? Did you have trouble applying for your CSHC? Why not share your experience in the comments section below?

Also read: Ultimate guest list: Who would you invite to dinner?


  1. Well done for even attempting it. They really are the least helpful people – sometimes downright rude – around. Surely the government knows how old we are, we tell them our DoB enough times for everything else. Why is this sort of thing not rolled out to every person as they turn a certain age?
    And yes I completely agree, a universal pension scheme would make it easier for everyone and they would save on administering the overly bureaucratic system. There is so much BS we have to give them and they use it to make it hard for us.
    Australia lags behind other countries badly in this regard.

    • Exactly! I am 73, completely qualify, am fluent in English, but not quite tech savvy enough for their questions. Am going to have to make an appt, if I can!
      My gripe is, if I can’t do it, how do the people who can’t speak the language cope? Maybe I should just shorten process and say I am indigenous?🤣
      I am taking my file of ‘precious certificates with me!

  2. Well this has me worried when I can apply for one. I only vaguely remember what a centrelink/medicare office looks like, but I certainly remember the sometimes helpful staff and the staff that think they’re doing you a favour by being there.
    I actually think a universal pension scheme would be a much more sensible option, but can you imagine the uproar of the hundreds if not thousands of staff that would be up in arms at possibly loosing their job or being transferred to another department.

  3. I had very similar experience in getting my Seniors Health card. But my biggest problem was that the person asked me where did my income come from? I said it is on that paper in front of you (supplied by Financial advisor). ” But where does your income come from”? I am self funded retiree! “But where does your income come from? Again I told her it was on the piece of paper in front of her.

    I put my hand through the perspex screen & pointed to paper & said Investments!

    Oh dear, our taxes, of which I am still paying as have all my life, funds these incapable Centrelink people. I think a kid might do better!

  4. You should try applying for the Age Pension!! It is so difficult that I almost gave up. My application was rejected anyway so if I want to try again I have to start from scratch. Not sure I have the willpower. When I got through to the staff on the phone they were quite helpful but I still had to submit everything through the internet. My mother would not have even known how to start so what happens to those people who don’t have children to help them? Agree there should be a basic universal pension which is paid automatically without having to make a claim.

  5. Yes, I had a battle too but eventually got there. I had to upload about 10 documents. The people at my local Services Australia office were nice and helpful.

    I agree about a universal basic income. I have read a couple of articles explaining it and outlining the costs and benefits and am sure it would work really well.

    • this universal basic income , would be helpful IF it would genuinely keep up with on going cost`s.—-WHICH the current pension falls way short of.
      and from all accounts those in parliament house refuse to see the need for.

  6. I also didn’t realise that I had a Centrelink number, so headed off to Centrelink to sort it out. Very helpful staff. Turned out that my number was still linked to my ex wife(divorced 12 years ago) and that all correspondence was going to her address! Quick conflab between three staff members, and I had my own number. Headed home to apply for CSHC card.

    My wife (current one!) had applied a few weeks prior with no problems. Should be straight forward we thought, just fill out form the same. Nope! Was not accepting my Super info. Now a phone call to Centrelink. Website had wrong telephone number!
    Finally spoke to someone after 35 minutes. Very pleasant and knowledgeable lady had me sorted in no time and card arrived in due course.

    Have had some other recent dealings with Services Australia and it’s entities and have nothing but positive experiences with the staff we dealt with.

    • I am past all that, thank goodness, and now of the Aged Pension. I find here in Canberra, not every Centrelink office is equally helpful. If I need to go, I travel to the nicest one. Not possible for everyone, I know. And it shouldn’t be like that.

  7. When I applied they messed me around for months on end and then asked me to send them the same paperwork all over again. I took all the reams of paperwork into Centrelink and told them that I would wait while they faxed it all through as I wanted to keep all my copies. I was spoken to as if I was a bogan bludger who had never worked in my whole life and told he would ask me to leave as he didn’t like my tone of voice, so I requested to see the manager. Some weeks later I received a notification that I was over the Asset threshold so was being knocked back. I knew they were wrong and demanded that they send me the figures that they had assessed their decision on. After pointing out all their mistakes to them they finally agreed that I did qualify. Absolutely disgusting to have to go through all that and still don’t get the pension after 50 years of working and paying my taxes.

    • And it’s not just this card application that has this problem. I know of a young person applying for benefit because of mental health issues, and it went on and on and on. The same papers were taken in several times. At least we are lucky that our local Centrelink office has helpful staff who are not rude

  8. I feel for the people who experienced difficulty applying for the CSHC. We did not have a similar experience. We went into our local Centrelink Office to enquire as to whether we might be eligible under the changed income limits, and the counter staff were very polite and very helpful, and we also did not have to wait long. They explained what we had to do. We both had very old CRNs. My partner’s finances were a little more complicated and they offered an appointment. I was able to do mine on-line easily. As an aside our application was approved quickly and we have our cards.

    • I applied for a Seniors Health Care Card three years ago. I firmly believe there is no need for a 28 page application form. I am computer literate but filling this form was a nightmare. They only need our personal details and our income details. I tried almost three times filling in all the details. Finally was successful. I hope the Minister for this Department will do something to cut the waste and make life easier for the elderly by streamlining the processes involved in accessing the basic benefits we are entitled to. The important benefits with this card is the reduction in the prescription medicines. Nothing else,

  9. A universal age pension is certainly the way to go, I wouldn’t go as far as saying a universal basic income is the way to go.
    Universal age pension is common in most of the developed world, Australia is behind and appears overly stingy when it comes to pension payments. People should not be penalized for having worked hard, payed taxes and saved for retirement. A person that has done so should even be more entitled to get a reward in the form of an age pension.

    • Frankly. I totally agree. Most civilised ‘just’ countries pay their people a reasonable reward for working hard and paying taxes all their working lives and taxing them on any excesses. The only pleasure I get from not having a Health Card is replying to the suprised receptionist in a fairly loud voice, ‘no sorry if you work too hard and pay your taxes you get nothing when you retire.’

    • I am in my mid 70’s and get zero age pension. My financial affairs are arranged in such a way that I pay no income tax but receive a good income (enough to pay Business Class on long haul international travel (usually twice a year for the past 10 years (excluding COVID).

      If I chose I could upgrade my existing very comfortable home to a McMansion in a prestigous area and that way I would qualify for a part pension but I have ethical problems in distorting my financial resources so as to qualify for a part age pension so that my children will inherit even more than they are likely to do so now.

      I am not generally in favour of a universal age pension. I have friends who have experience with such a pension and that experience was not so good. I would rather that those who really need it receive a liveable pension that has a reasonable assets test, including the family home.

  10. Well, as New Zealanders living in Australia (naturalised Australians) we have long wondered why the NZ Universal Age Pension regime was not taken up by Australia. Our conclusion is that we are living in a society managed by complete brain dead morons completely incapable of grasping hyper radical concepts such as this. Our thoughts on this topic have been reinforced time & time again, and the Robodebt debacle is merely the latest confirmation of this.

  11. Any contact we have with Centrelink is through our Financial Advisor. We live in a small city where my husband is related to nearly everyone Including the Retirement Officer, so would have had to do application online or over phone as he couldn’t assist us. He suggested we use our Financial Advisor. After lodging everything we were accepted within a week.

  12. When the new income limit for couples was raised from ~$94,000 to $140,000, my wife and grabbed our last years tax return, marched into Centrelink, checked in at the front counter for an appointment, were seen in 15 minutes, a clever friendly young gentleman filled in the form for us, attached the tax return information to show we were below $140,000 income and sent it off. 30 mins max and 5 days we got an email that CSHC was approved and two cards came through the post the following week.

  13. Yes I also had difficulty with getting one of these cards. We gathered all the information and filled out the appropriate forms and took them into Centrelink to lodge them as neither had a Centrelink number. We were informed that no-one could help us that day and to lodge the forms we would have to make an appointment which we did for the following week. When we went in I thought the person we had an appointment with would go through the forms to check everything was in order, but no she just shuffled all the papers together, clipped them and put them in a basket. She said it would take at least six weeks due forthcoming Christmas and public holidays.
    After six weeks nothing happened. After seven weeks I tried to contact them by telephone but the line kept dropping me out so in again we went to Centrelink.
    I was informed by a young man that he could see our applications on line but they had not been processed. We asked the if he could process them and he said he could not access them.
    We asked them how we were able to contact someone who could process them and he suggested we ring. I told him that that had not worked which is why we were there that day.
    He then rang a number from his phone that was not able to be accessed by the public and put it through to my phone. He then told us we were not able to stay in the office till we got through to someone because of Covid. We went to sit in the car. After half an hour we returned to the office to let him know that I was still not able to get through but was told we would have to persist as that is all he could do.
    After an hour and half, I finally got through to someone who was actually helpful and assured us that she had accessed the applications and processed them..We received the cards a few days later but overall it took about two months from start to finish with a lot of hassle in between.

  14. I have had my CSHC for many years. But try applying for a credit card in your own name, at 75, and being a self-funded retiree and never having had a card before. I have been attached to my husband’s credit card for many decades.
    We receive an allocated pension (tax free) from our own self-managed super fund and do not need to lodge a tax return. Our situation DOES NOT meet the strict lending requirements of the various institutions issuing credit cards. I have been declined once so far. Next, I intend to approach the relevant Bank declaring I am being discriminated against based on age and not being in “regular empoyment”. Wish me luck!

    • I had a similar sort of problem when some years ago I applied for a Platinum Credit Card with my Bank. My taxable income was below the threshold because my SMSF allocation is tax free and my other income while taxable was not high enough in its own right to get the card. Combine the two incomes and I easily meet the requirement. My financial advisor, a Bank employee, made it clear to the card area that I easily had the income and so have had the card for several years now.

  15. I agree totally with Dianne. The hardest part is trying to make a phone appointment with Centrelink. You can’t get to talk with a human being. Nothing but recorded messages wherever you go. Same as with MyGov & Services Australia.

  16. I found it easy peasy, and when I needed information I found the staff pleasant and helpful, I needed help with my wife’s info, which they could only supply to her, while she is not that tech savvy they were very helpful to her, and she signed a document to allow me to act for her for her in the future, number and password to set up a my gov account then and there, they were very helpful. And the reason they can not do it for you is your information is personal, that should be obvious. My sister set hers up as well, and she also is not that tech savvy and did not need a lot of help from me or indeed centre link. A big thing waiting online, patience is a virtue, and you are moved ahead in the queue.

  17. Certainly not our experience. My wife and I took our tax statements in showing our taxable incomes. A helpful young man scanned it and uploaded it to Centrelink and that was it. 2 weeks later we had our C/W Seniors Health Card and what a bonus it is – lower Medicare threshold of ~$700 compared to $2200 so get higher Medicare refunds quicker. Still not as good as what is available via an Aged Pension but better than nothing at all. No GP bulk billing here, GP visit costs $105 for short appt but after hitting the safety limit the refund goes up to about $85.

    • Yes David totally agree. Every time I’ve been to Centrelink with an appointment I have had nothing but good service. Once I explain I’m a computer imbisile, they help you out with forms etc and whatever needs to be done. Perhaps it’s because I speak to them as they are normal people and don’t abuse them, that I don’t have a problem. The number of people that go in there with terrible attitudes is incredible. Jacka.

  18. We are living in decades past if we expect to be treated respectfully at Centrelink.

    Keep in mind that if an illegal and abusive scheme like Robodebt can get approved and survive for years in this system, there is something desperately wrong.

    Centrelink has been deliberately undermined for ideological purposes by right-wing governments who did not believe in public service in any shape or form. The organisation is literally broken. So unfortunately in this context, your experience was relatively smooth sailing.

    Centrelink is beyond repair. It has to be scrapped and rebuilt from scratch.

  19. I have just had a very similar experience as Dianne when trying to apply for the CSHC for my 85 year old mother. My mother has worked bloody hard all her life from delivering parcels in the 1960’s with two toddlers in the van and a baby in the back to running and working in a furniture removals business by herself with us kids after her husband(my father) died in horrific circumstances and finally running and working in a house painting business well into her 70’s until her partner of 20 years died of mesothelioma. She has managed to survive as a self funded retiree until now. With prices for everything hitting all time highs, we decided to apply for a CSHC for her to give her a bit of financial relief but hells bells! the hoops and rings they expect you to jump through had me tearing my hair out(yes, I too have a University degree). I even remarked to my mother on how on earth do these uneducated, never worked a day in their lives, drop outs manage to apply for all the perks that the government hands out to them. So bloody frustratingly unfair!!!!

  20. Must agree or partly agree with all the comments so far. I am far from the sharpest tool in the shed when it comes to technology. I don’t use it that often, other than my daily chores on the phone. However, when you have to sitting down at a Centrelink office or any other office that requires you to complete tasks on a computer, I have forgotten, through lack of regular use, the few elements of knowledge I had gathered. The problem is that the staff, not only at Centrelink but at all offices you do business with these days, are well briefed in the running of various computer systems that they use on a daily basis and unfortunately don’t understand that you’re not. The simplest task for them can be very confronting to someone like me. I do feel for the staff at Centrelink for obvious reasons, however I feel far more for myself and others like me. On attaining a certain age relating to pensions etc., all DOCUMENTATION from the Federal Government and or State Government should be forwarded directly to you by mail. They never seem to have any problem forwarding mail regarding how to VOTE, so this should not be a problem. YOU SHOULD THEN BE ABLE TO MAKE AN APPOINTMENT WITH A HUMAN AT CENTRELINK TO SIT DOWN WITH THEM AND COMPLETE THE NECESSARY DOCUMENTATION, HOPEFULLY HASSLE FREE. Seams simple doesn’t it and it was once prior to today’s technology. However these days we must play the cards where dealt, so good luck to all. Jacka.

  21. I find it hard to accept that so many older people think they are incapable of learning new skills and abilities (ie digital competence).

    I managed my CSHC application online – it was not the most straight forward or intuitive application process. I feel richer and more empowered by having accomplished it.

    Digital literacy is now a core survival skill for people of any generation and there are countless free opportunities (eg Libraries) to improve it, many one on one learning opportunities provided by other older people.

    The need for basic digitally literacy is only going to increase as most key services go to online access only. Resisting or refusing to accept this fact is self defeating.

    The cost of owning and operating a digital device (smartphone, tablet, Laptop) has never been cheaper, certainly cheaper than owning and operating a landline phone.

    Refusing to embrace this change and confront the learning challenge is likely to lead to increasing isolation and missing out on so many opportunities and delaying access to entitlements.

    A willingness to embrace digital literacy and embark on a learning challenge is required, ideally in advance of the current and increasing real and tangible needs to use it.

    Taking personal responsibility for the necessary learning and acting to improve our skills and abilities can be empowering and rewarding.

  22. After helping my mother and my aunt with Centrelink applications it is not easy for older people, I am now authorised on their accounts. I also have problems with my account but every time I ring up the wait time is very long and if later in the day it cuts off when the business hours finish with no warning.
    I made an appointment for my mother and they were really helpful. Tried to my take an appointment for myself but have to ring up and stay on hold.
    Centrelinks telephone service is horrendous but generally have found the staff helpful.
    I will be going to Centrelink to make an appointment, just a waste of time.

  23. My gripe at the moment is with Medicare. I lodged on line application for refund of (“free” , but not anymore, just subsidised) treatments by my chiropractor. Sent all relevant receipts & stated all accounts already paid. Asked for refund to be paid to my bank account with details supplied. After 2 months received cheque to pay to Chiro. He would then have to reimburse me. He would not accept the cheque.
    Hour & half waiting on phone & directed to several different people,to be told I would have to write letter, return cheque & include receipts again.
    It’s now 2 months again & no response & no credit in my bank.

  24. Ditto re difficulties. Promised it would be processed within 5 weeks. Now 9 weeks and still waiting….. Am I lost in the system? Do I really have to phone again and wait another 1.5 hours to check on progress? My gov gives no progress feedback other than application received. In the meantime, prescription payments and receipts build up. Not looking forward to the process of then claiming refunds through Medicare. Nothing is set up to work automatically and simply, despite being all connected electronically.

  25. I am glad people open up about their trouble with Centrelink. You have enough evidence here to forward these complaints to the Honorable Minister, Amanda Rishworth, to see what she can do about it. I had a bad experience in the past. It sounds like Centrelink has gone even worse.
    A while ago, I suggested that Australia should adopt a defined benefit for its citizens, like the rich Middle East Oil Countries. However, this kind of universal benefit may push our country to an authoritarian regime or an extreme-left politic. There is a saying, be careful what you are asking for.

  26. Yep, same problems. What should have taken 15 minutes took hours verifying myself. I don’t even know what the card will benefit me. I had to go to Centrelink to prove my identify. I went through mygov to sign up. he left doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. Good luck with a universal ID…

  27. I am computer literate, I build websites for fun, but I took one look at the online application for the old age pension and decided then and there to employ a company (https://mypensionmanager.com.au/) to do the application for me. They set up a phone appointment for me, spent an hour or so on the phone gently extracting all the details centerlink wanted and organised a visit to centerlink for identification purposes (my case was complicated as my family arrived in Australia in 1960 as ’10 pound poms’ and though I had managed to find on line the ship’s manifest for our trip, only dad’s name was listed, I was simply Fem5, and my baby sister was Fem3) You can imagine centerlink’s joy at my lack of paperwork, but in the 60’s English migrants were considered Australian citizens automatically. All I had was a driver’s license, and my medicare card, my English birth certificate was not acceptable. That was quite a few years ago now, I am very grateful to that company for their assistance, I was granted the pension about 2 weeks after the phone consultation.

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