Centrelink Q&A: How to cut Centrelink wait times

Centrelink general manager Hank Jongen recently gave some advice on the Mind Your Own Retirement podcast about how to cut your Centrelink wait times. Read the transcript below.

Kaye: I think it’s fair to say Centrelink gets pretty bad press when it comes to call times. So, how many people are calling in? I believe over the past year that wait times have improved a lot. How can a person on a pension cut through and speak to someone?

Hank Jongen: Sure. Look, it’s no secret that our phone lines are busy, and I acknowledge that contacting us at times can cause frustration. Let me just assure you, we are doing everything we can to improve our phone service. There have been a lot of measures that we’ve put in place internally, which means that there are fewer blocked calls. More people are getting through. And we also have other measures in place to make sure people get to the person they need to much more quickly.

John: What are some of the best times to call?
HJ: Like most other organisations and companies our busiest times are first thing on a Monday morning. Yes. And during the lunchtime rush, we’re no different there to banks and other organisations. My advice is to always get in early. We operate normal business times. The earlier you can get in in the morning, the more likely you are to get through. But, look, there are other important avenues that I really encourage people to explore and to use. And one of those is, of course, going online.

We know that a large majority of Australians own smartphone devices. And people now actually expect the convenience of being able to connect online with businesses.

What I always advise people to do is to open a MyGov account and link it to your Centrelink account and then, better still, connect to our express pass mobile app. You can then deal with us in the palm of your hand. Why would you want to join a phone queue, if you just want to change your address?

If you just want to request a new concession card, the best way to do that, once you’ve set up your account, you can take photos of documents and actually submit them to us by uploading them through your smartphone or your iPad, you can even report your income.

So, that’s one avenue. If you’re not comfortable with computers, you can register for phone self-service and it means you just ring us on an automated number 136 240. And you just talk to a computer. You talk to a voice-activated system and you update your earnings.

John: So, that’s a good way, perhaps, for people who aren’t confident with technology. So, we appreciate that. That’s a great idea.

Kaye: Sometimes our members come to us and they’re a bit confused because they’ve had a question with Centrelink and they’ve received some advice and they’ve queried it. And when they’ve gone back, they’ve had a different interpretation. If that happens, how does someone on a pension manage two different pieces of information? What do they do with that?

HJ: Okay. The first thing I’d say, of course, since we put a lot of effort into training our staff and our staff do the best they can to ensure that we provide accurate information. The reality these days, however, is that, particularly for aged pensioners, they have much more complex financial affairs than they have had in the past. People have trust shares, investments and complicated finances. And what we find is that often if they are looking around for different answers, they are asking a different question and don’t include a key factor in one set to another.

But having said that, my advice is firstly, of course, go to our website. Our website contains a wealth of information. We also provide an excellent service called the Financial Information Service. It’s a great place to start for people who want to make informed decisions about their current and future financial needs.

People can either go to the seminars, which are held regularly around the country, or they can also make an appointment with a FISO, a financial information service officer.

John: That’s great. Hank, we’ve certainly covered that and it is a very useful service.

Kaye: And our last question. Some members have informed us that they have waited months for a determination on their pension eligibility. What’s the normal waiting time?

HJ: Remember earlier when I was talking about the complexity of some people’s financial affairs? It really depends on that.

What we’re finding is we’re having to spend much more time assessing people’s claims.

And, in addition to that, often people don’t provide us with all of the information we need. And that means we’ve got to go back to people and get more information. The clock doesn’t stop ticking. It often takes two weeks for people to get back to us. That’s another two weeks of the processing time. Again, a couple of simple tips that I make for people. Firstly, you can claim up to 13 weeks before you reach Age Pension age, 13 weeks. I encourage you to do that. Currently, the Age Pension age is 66. Secondly, I’d urge you to lodge your claim on time. Sorry. Lodge your claim online on time and online. Firstly, the online claiming process is intuitive. So, questions that don’t apply to you don’t appear and you don’t have to answer them.

Secondly, we’ll pre-populate your claim with any other information that we already have. Because you’ve been in receipt of other payments and you just have to confirm and update that you can upload supporting documents. We’ll tell you what documents you need, which is really important. It’ll tell you if you part-way through the claim, if you’re not eligible. So, the online application process is the best way to go.

Of course, paper claims are still available, but, you know, you’ll just find it so much easier to do it online. And as I said, do it 13 weeks before you reach Age Pension age. The other important thing is to give us all the documents we asked for. We need to prove your identity. We need to prove details of your income and assets. Because what are we doing? We’re putting you on a long-term payment, which means we have to be thorough in ensuring that we’ve got all of the information we need.

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Disclaimer: All content on YourLifeChoices website is of a general nature and has been prepared without taking into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. It has been prepared with due care but no guarantees are provided for ongoing accuracy or relevance. Before making a decision based on this information, you should consider its appropriateness in regard to your own circumstances. You should seek professional advice from a Centrelink Financial Information Services officer, financial planner, lawyer or tax agent in relation to any aspects that affect your financial and legal circumstances.

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