Five months and no age pension: Centrelink delays 'not acceptable'
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Five months and no age pension: Centrelink delays 'not acceptable'

Dianne Foley has been waiting five months for her Centrelink age pension claim to be processed.

With no income, she is reliant on loans from relatives.

And yet the 65-year-old has no answers to her claim's impasse – more than three months after Centrelink told her the issues with her pension would be sorted out.

Painful wait: With no age pension, Dianne Foley has had to borrow money from family to pay for her medical bills.

Painful wait: With no age pension, Dianne Foley has had to borrow money from family to pay for her medical bills.Credit:Darrian Traynor

While her wait is unusually lengthy, Ms Foley joins many other Centrelink customers applying for student allowances, ABSTUDY and the age pension forced to wait months for the agency to process their payment claims.

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Many of them, like Ms Foley, are left to survive on their own in the interim.

"This really shouldn't be the experience of pensioners," said Professor John McCallum, chief executive of lobby group National Seniors Australia. "The age pension is something to which people should be entitled."

The group recently released a study that showed, of 530 pensioners surveyed, 43 per cent had been dissatisfied in their dealings with Centrelink.

For Ms Foley, issues surrounding her initial claim were compounded when an accident landed her in hospital in June. She was forced to rely on just $140 a week from what little savings she had.

"I have always assumed that an old age pension would be available to me on retirement for an amount sufficient to meet basic household needs," she said.

Department of Human Services general manager Hank Jongen said Centrelink was doing everything in its power to process the high volume of claims received in a timely manner.

"We process millions of claims every year," Mr Jongen said. "[We] work hard to finalise them all as quickly as possible."

He said Centrelink's policy allowed applicants to submit a pension claim up to 13 weeks before they reach the eligible age requirement of 65.

"The new streamlined online claim process ensures more claims contain all the information needed, so they can be processed as quickly as possible."

And Mr Jongen said the average processing time for aged pension claims was 49 days as of June 30 – longer than the average Youth Allowance processing time of 18 days.

"The department prioritises the processing of claims for anyone experiencing financial hardship and encourages people in this situation to contact us."

Hank Jongen, Department of Human Services general manager.

Hank Jongen, Department of Human Services general manager.

Ms Foley's wait time of almost 150 days and counting is lengthier than most, but she is not alone.

Tareen Winter is a 20-year-old student from Melbourne's south-west. She is still waiting after four months for Centrelink to process her student Youth Allowance claim.

After initially applying in March, Ms Winter's wait is far from the average 18 days.

Having moved interstate for her university studies, Ms Winter relies on about $200 a week from casual work, while living in a share home that divides $350 a week in rent.

She said each visit to Centrelink had resulted in her being told she would be fast-tracked – a call within 48 hours was pledged.

"I'm yet to hear anything," Ms Winter said.

Ms Foley says she is appalled that, after so many years of paying tax, she is expected to wait patiently and borrow from friends in order to live and pay her hospital bills while Centrelink "procrastinates".

But Mr Jongen said Centrelink was attempting to work with those who had issues. "The Department of Human Services has extended an offer to contact these people and provide appropriate support," he said.

For those who watch the age pension space in particular, though, the problems seem more endemic.

"Unfortunately, I think Centrelink culture has grown comfortable with being bad, which is not acceptable," Professor McCallum said.