Pleas for help from YourLifeChoices members trying to apply for an Age Pension, or who are on full or part Age Pensions and are seeking information from Centrelink pour into our office every week. We try to help everyone, but some stand out as deserving special attention.
Take the case of Henrietta*, who emailed on behalf of her husband on 28 August:
“Just so you can warn everyone reading this ... my husband applied for his pension on 16 February 2018 and he STILL has not received it. It’s 28 August! They are just so busy so we’ll just have to wait! If we hadn’t had savings it could have been disastrous!! Centrelink will only put the application to the top of the pile if we have $500 or less in the bank.”
And George*, who emailed us on 27 August:
“I have been eligible for the Age Pension since 25 June and have replied in person with all the documents requested from Centrelink. I am still waiting for a reply from them and do not have a concession card either. I am not willing to make an appointment with my specialists because I will be several hundreds of dollars out of pocket until they approve my pension. I did ring but was told that they are behind with the applications and have no idea by how far. Surely someone has some idea how long I must wait.”
We sought permission from Henrietta and George to pass their details on to Centrelink’s media department, and their pensions were successfully finalised within days.
We do not suggest staff at Centrelink are not doing their best to respond in a timely fashion to the queries, but the system does not work for many.
In our Retirement Matters 2018 survey, which attracted 5932 responses, we asked for your evaluation of Centrelink. Respondents were very measured but the overwhelming number of written responses decried the efficiency of the system.
Typical responses were:
“I have been told that I am getting a pension, but I have been waiting for over five months. I find them hard to deal with.”
“(They) take far too long to answer phones, and don't give enough information.”
“It’s always difficult to talk to anyone on the phone, and when I go into an office, the wait is ages again and then you only get a number in a queue. (And) I get conflicting information from everyone I talk to.”
“Mainly, very long waiting times, both in office and phone, due to understaffing.”
“They’re ok, just sometimes feel they do not get it.”
“Depending on who you speak to depends on which answer you get.”
“Long wait times on phone – hopeless.”
“Dealing with Centrelink varies; sometimes you wait a very lengthy time before they assist you, and then you are switched from person to person without getting anywhere. Occasionally, it works just fine!”
“I always found the staff very helpful in person but the telephone waiting times are atrocious. The call-backs are a good compromise.”
We asked the Department of Human Services for a guide on what it believed to be acceptable for successfully concluded applications and queries.
A spokesperson said: “The Department of Human Services processes millions of claims every year and we work hard to do these as quickly as we can.
“The median Age Pension processing time was 49 days in 2017–18.
“The Government recently announced measures to boost workforce numbers by 2750 to improve call wait times and enhance service delivery.
“The nature of Age Pension claims has changed over time and are increasingly more complex. Nearly 60 per cent of rejected claims are because an applicant failed to respond to requests for additional information or documentation.
“People experiencing severe financial hardship should let the department know as soon as possible so we can prioritise their claim.”
YourLifeChoices attempts to respond to all emails, but your first port of call for Centrelink inquiries should be Centrelink.
* Not their real names
Is the Age Pension application process too difficult? Does Centrelink need additional staff? And more training of existing staff?
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