The federal government has come under fire after Centrelink threatened to withdraw the pension of a 102-year-old woman unless she provided proof-of-identity documents.
The extraordinary case was raised in Parliament this week, when Labor member for Watson Tony Burke explained how he was contacted by a relative of 102-year-old Annie Hawkins, who was living in the heart of locked-down Sydney, and was being asked to provide identity documents.
Mr Burke told Parliament that Ms Hawkins was “102, bed-bound, had been a pensioner for 40 years and, were it not for the intervention of my office, would have had to travel in an ambulance to Service NSW to keep her pension”.
According to a report on 10 News, Ms Hawkins was unable to provide proof of her identity beyond her Australian citizenship certificate and when her family raised this with Centrelink, she was advised to obtain a NSW proof of age card.
Ms Hawkins’ son Frank told NCA Newswire he spent hours on the phone trying to sort the situation out but was unable to convince them to find alternatives.
“It was extremely frustrating for me and my family,” Mr Hawkins said. “We protected mum from as much of the aggravation as possible. Telling her was a worst-case scenario.
“We’ve been locked down since the last week of June. This letter arrived on the 30th of July. It arrived during lockdown. It is pretty unreasonable that Centrelink should be asking people to show up to a service centre in the middle of a lockdown.”
Services Australia general manager Hank Jongen apologised for the situation but explained he was unable to comment on the details of the case.
“We can’t comment on the details of this case for privacy reasons but we are working closely with Anne and her family. We sincerely apologise for any inconvenience caused,” Mr Jongen said.
“The health and safety of customers and staff is Services Australia’s highest priority, and we are strictly adhering to the health orders set down by the relevant state governments.”
Mr Jongen also explained that there are special arrangements in place to support customers who are unable to attend a service centre to prove their identity.
“When customers are sent letters advising of the need to provide proof of identity we do provide options if they are unable to provide documents in person,” Mr Jongen said.
“This may include a nominee completing an alternative identity assessment on their behalf. We also provide a number to call if they require more time.
“We are currently reviewing our procedures and staff communication on identity requirements to ensure all staff are aware of these special arrangements.
“We also update and strengthen our proof of identity requirement over time and this may result in a new request to provide identity documents.”
Mr Burke said the agency owed the family an explanation for it request.
“They actually wanted her to put herself at risk by leaving the house so she could jump through ridiculous bureaucratic hoops,” he told NCA Newswire.
“The government now says they’re going to look into how this happened – and that’s good. But why are they sending any threatening letters to pensioners in lockdown zones right now? It shouldn’t be happening at all.”
Government services minister Linda Reynolds said that she sincerely apologised for the inconvenience caused to the family.
“I am also looking into the precise events to determine what exactly has occurred and any need for changes to the Services Australia’s procedures and communication,” Ms Reynolds told NCA Newswire.
“The health and safety of customers and staff is Services Australia’s highest priority, and the agency is strictly adhering to the health orders set down by the relevant state governments.
“They have special arrangements in place to support customers who are unable to attend a service centre to prove their identity, and advise customers of this.”
Earlier this week, YourLifeChoices reported that Centrelink had sent debt notices to 11,000 JobKeeper recipients, claiming that they have been overpaid.
“As at 30 April 2021, approximately $32.8 million in debt has been raised through completed reviews,” the agency told a Senate estimates committee.
Have you received a proof of identity request from Centrelink recently? Why do you think Centrelink would make this request of someone who had been receiving the pension for 40 years? Do you think this is fair? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?
If you enjoy our content, don’t keep it to yourself. Share our free eNews with your friends and encourage them to sign up.