Big spike in demand for professional help with Age Pension applications

But Services Australia says processing goals are met 80 per cent of the time.

Big spike in demand for professional help with Age Pension applications

Does the Age Pension application process need a major overhaul?

The answer, based on the hundreds of complaints and pleas for help we receive from YourLifeChoices members very month, is yes.

These are typical.

“We found that Centrelink will not help to tell you in simple terms whether you qualify for a full or part pension, and will do everything in their power to make it most difficult to achieve an outcome, even though you most likely qualified in the first place.”

“The main application form [is] a horrendous document. Even I (with tertiary degrees) found it difficult to comprehend …”

“It took me a week to assemble all the paraphernalia. Then when the second meeting took place, we were grilled for several hours, at one stage, completed some forms only by looking up their computer and with special permission to access my bank details. They asked so many personal questions, we lost count. After hours of intense scrutiny, the young interviewer pressed a few buttons, auto scanned some 50 pages of documents and said you will hear from us if you were successful in a few weeks. Our jaws dropped.”

“Centrelink is not making it easy. So many times you read or hear people say (including this site) to 'speak to a Centrelink Financial Person'. I accompanied a friend to one of these, both to help her and to prepare myself for when I went on pension. I found them extremely reluctant to offer assistance.”

“A lot of older people give it up, with some feeling not up to it to fight a monstrous Centrelink bureaucracy, thus saving these nasty governments … heaps of money.”

“Even when you get onto myGov it is not straightforward if you have never dealt with Centrelink… I wonder how the designers of these systems ever got it through user testing.”

“We got back our part pension after engaging a financial planner to act for us … Why did we need a financial planner in the first place?”

We could go on, but the point is that it seems the application process for the Age Pension and the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card (CSHC) is confronting and difficult for many.

Financial advisers say an increasing volume of clients are seeking their help to navigate the pension application process.

Retirement Essentials reports that client demand for its services was up 10 times in the March quarter compared with requests at the same time last year and quoted research conducted in in 2018 that found 82 per cent of Australians needed help with their Centrelink benefits.

Services Australia general manager Hank Jongen said that Age Pension claims generally took longer to process than some other payments, such as the JobSeeker Payment, and the reality was that people often had complicated financial affairs.

“We need to review an applicant’s personal and financial circumstances,” he said, “looking at a wide range of information such as their residency, investments, superannuation, real estate assets, inheritances, family and business trusts. We also need to assess the income and assets of their partner, if they have one.”

He said the quickest and easiest way to claim an Age Pension was online through myGov.

“Our digital assistant, ‘Oliver’, can help you throughout the claim by clarifying questions, answering simple queries, and directing to information on our website,” he said.

“Staff are always available over the phone or in person at service centres to assist with completing a claim form.”

Mr Jongen said delays with processing an Age Pension claim could occur if Services Australia was waiting for applicants to provide more documents. “So it’s important to respond quickly to any requests in your myGov inbox for additional information or documents.”

By way of background information, Services Australia offered the following statement.

“We work to process more than 80 per cent of claims within 49 days, and we’re continuing to process Age Pension claims within these timeframes, especially during COVID-19.

“You can lodge an early claim for [the] Age Pension up to 13 weeks before you reach Age Pension age.

“Claiming online means you can save and exit your claim, upload and attach documents, have your claim pre-filled with your personal details if you’re receiving another Centrelink payment, and track the progress of your claim.

“It also won’t let you submit an incomplete claim, stopping any unnecessary delays with processing your claim if we don’t have all the required documents.”

For information on how to prepare for claiming an Age Pension, go here.

Retirement Essentials estimates the value of a full Age Pension for a couple at more than $800,000 over a lifetime. “And the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card can be worth thousands of dollars per year to those too wealthy to qualify for the Age Pension,” a spokesperson said. “So, it pays to know what you’re eligible for.”

However, it says that callers repeatedly complained about the application process.

“Unfortunately, keeping on top of the entitlements and understanding your eligibility is a little more complicated than you’d expect,” the spokesperson said. “And the application process itself is often described by retirees as a ‘nightmare’, full of complex questions and unfamiliar terms. It’s like doing your tax return, only much worse.”

Age Pension eligibility currently begins at age 66, but the average Retirement Essentials client is 69.2 years, which the spokesperson said suggested many people were procrastinating about going to Centrelink and getting information about their entitlements.

“This is hugely disappointing,” says Retirement Essentials chairman Jeremy Duffield, “since there’s no ‘back pay’ on the Age Pension. Many people are losing out on tens of thousands of dollars.”

The CSHC was another area of confusion, he said.

“Many people thinking they won’t qualify for the Age Pension don’t realise that eligibility for the health card is much wider. A higher threshold of income is allowed, up to $89,290 in taxable (and deemed) income for a couple ($55,808 for singles). And the rules on deeming are quite liberal, applying principally to account-based pensions and excluding other assets.”

Do you believe the Age Pension application process could be simplified? Have you sought professional help to complete an application?

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    COMMENTS

    To make a comment, please register or login
    Herbie49
    11th Aug 2020
    10:31am
    Absolutely horrendous we applied April 1st filled in the online application and assumed it was complete. No of course it wasn’t on May 7th I got a letter asking for more information, so now I had to provide three months of bank statements and info etc etc.
    Did all that and got yet another demand, did that as best I could and even wrote a letter explaining some facts that they seem to ignore.
    Hey what’s this, I get a letter last week and I assume, ok it the pension notification ? No it’s another letter asking me to provide the following information, except it doesn’t mention what information. So I rang the number, it answered within three rings to an answering service, which then asked me to set up a voice recognition thing. Well #@%,+ me after three attempts I slammed the phone down. I want to talk to someone not set up a voice recognition service. Oh well it’s a wait in the queue tomorrow’s and see if we can resolve it.
    Centrelink, scrap it, the money saved would pay for everyone to have a pension which could be declared as income, numpties.
    SuziJ
    11th Aug 2020
    5:51pm
    If you asked for your letters to be sent to you online, then the letter should have reached you within 24 hours of being produced.

    If you had researched the prompts online, it would have asked you for your 3 months worth of bank statements in the first place.

    If you do online banking, then you should be able to get your statements electronically, rather than by 'snail mail'. Keep them in your banking folder.

    If you have all your documents scanned (home ownership certificate, share certificates, etc), and kept in one place in your documents folder, then they can then be uploaded on your Centrelink online account at the same time as you're doing your application, unless they're over 5Mb in size, then you'll have to upload them in several hits.
    PJ
    11th Aug 2020
    10:36am
    I have a Masters Degree in Engineering and an IQ of 150. I paid a third party to complete my (part) Pension Application earlier this year and had no problems in getting it approved within a couple of weeks. You just don't want to deal with Centrelink if you can avoid it (I never had in the past). I now have an online Centrelink through MyGov and that is hopefully all I will need going forward!!!
    Tanker
    11th Aug 2020
    11:15am
    My wife and I did not not have any major issue with Centrelink in getting our pension.
    The problem people are having will be because of their complicated financial arrangements giving them the real possibility of simply not qualifying for a full pension. There would then be a complicated procedure to determine if they qualified for a part pension.
    The changes made during the Howard/Costello regime opened the door to many complications in determining who qualified and who didn't.
    Don't forget the staffing cuts made to Centrelink in recent years and you don't have to be Albert Einstein to realise that the less people the slower the service.
    McDaddy
    11th Aug 2020
    11:32am
    Vanilla applications (not complicated financial arrangements) are taking days to process at the moment, provided AL requested documents are supplied at the time of claim. Most are not, or people Improvise in what they are asked to provide.
    justme
    11th Aug 2020
    11:35am
    I can recommend using a financial advisor if you want to save delays.
    I filled out a paper form, attached required docs etc, got f/a to check and put his stamp on the application.
    Approved in good time; amount reviewed by f/a; disputed by f/a; adjusted up to correct $.c.
    McDaddy
    11th Aug 2020
    11:44am
    Financial Adviser stamps mean nothing, more so the application was filled out correctly and all supporting documents attached. No need to pay someone to apply for you.
    johnp
    11th Aug 2020
    11:53am
    Do financial advisers get some sort of priority within Centrelink or superior service ??. It would appear that way.
    Is there is some sort of under the table brown paper bag sort of deals going on here ??
    In any case; simplest to just have a universal aged pension as done in most countries. Then simply continue to pay tax at the marginal rate same as before retirement.
    Would save the govt billions of $$.
    McDaddy
    11th Aug 2020
    11:58am
    No, Financial advisers do not have any special powers, you are wasting money if you pay them to do it for you.
    johnp
    11th Aug 2020
    12:56pm
    Agree with McDaddy. However would like to see any comments re the - under the table issue.
    older&wiser
    11th Aug 2020
    11:58am
    Two false statements above. (1) saying "quick & easiest way to apply for pension was to apply on Mygov". You have to be joking! (2) approval time of 49 days. I am a member of a community seniors group, and a constant comment and complaint from nearly all members is the delay in pension approval.
    There are now local companys advertising to assist seniors in applying for the pension, and they have a steady business. And not cheap. That is wrong. I do agree the whole system is more geared to hindrance rather than help. Asks for some paperwork, take it in, but then want something else. Now, I deliberately have as little as possible to do with them. When I got a small inheritance, I spent some getting a new fence and carport. They wanted to see the invoices, which I refused. How and where I spend my money is my business. They want to know far too many personal details.
    Horace Cope
    11th Aug 2020
    12:21pm
    "Do you believe the Age Pension application process could be simplified? Have you sought professional help to complete an application?"

    The application forms are complex because of the people who are prepared to rort the system and apply for assistance to which they are not entitled and are prepared to lie to achieve their goal. The decision will be made when all of the statements are proven and this involves production of original documents and access to any areas where shares, bank accounts or other assets are held. Those of us who are honest have been caught up in the same net that has been cast to catch the cheats.

    I found the forms onerous but not difficult although I do hold an Intermediate Certificate. I find it interesting that nobody has mentioned the complexity of forms that need to be completed when applying for a housing loan or a home savings grant even though most of the same questions and authorities to check are included in those applications. As with a bank loan, the Centrelink clerk completing the application does not have the authority to approve the application but is required to refer it to a higher authority who will obviously have more than one application to consider each day.
    Chef
    11th Aug 2020
    1:27pm
    I found applying for the, Aged Pension a smoothie process. No issues encountered. The key is to answer every question accurately and submit any relevant paperwork. Simply a breeze.
    McDaddy
    11th Aug 2020
    1:33pm
    Some people have very complex financial situations, SMSF, Companies, Trusts etc. Often these people do not even understand their own affairs, just relying on their accountant. These people struggle to supply the information. These applications will not be done quickly as it is often a paper chase.
    Triss
    11th Aug 2020
    4:26pm
    I’ll bet Hank Jongen doesn’t have any delays or application forms when he accesses his pension.
    MW
    11th Aug 2020
    5:07pm
    My husband applied in mid March. In May he received a letter to say his application would be cancelled as he hadn't forwarded the necessary documents (which had all been forwarded the day of his interview)- they had only looked for said documents after the date of the letter they sent a week after his interview. That got solved. We are now in August and he has been told he can ring at the end of next week to find out how his application is progressing. He has no income, we have assets under the threshold, and still it goes on... And phoning can sometimes take hours to get on. Not sure where some of the paid staff get their information, but he has had a different story every time he has had a problem. Used myGov and visited office. Can't afford to pay for help. but when we die of old age or COVID, they might approve the pension.
    MW
    11th Aug 2020
    5:07pm
    My husband applied in mid March. In May he received a letter to say his application would be cancelled as he hadn't forwarded the necessary documents (which had all been forwarded the day of his interview)- they had only looked for said documents after the date of the letter they sent a week after his interview. That got solved. We are now in August and he has been told he can ring at the end of next week to find out how his application is progressing. He has no income, we have assets under the threshold, and still it goes on... And phoning can sometimes take hours to get on. Not sure where some of the paid staff get their information, but he has had a different story every time he has had a problem. Used myGov and visited office. Can't afford to pay for help. but when we die of old age or COVID, they might approve the pension.
    SuziJ
    11th Aug 2020
    5:30pm
    Being already on a Centrelink payment, I 'should' have quite an easy application.

    I only have household contents, an ageing car and some (a little bit <$200) in my savings account, which is what they already have on me.

    I may have to provide them with updated balance of my bank account, but nothing more than that.

    They already have proof of my residence by my tenancy agreement, so nothing extra there, either.
    McDaddy
    13th Aug 2020
    1:46pm
    You won't have to apply as such, just fill out a form for Transfer to Age pension, update bank accounts and any Super you may have.


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