A member recently asked us how long it is reasonable to wait for a response from Centrelink. That’s not an easy question to answer. The short answer is, ‘it depends’. The longer answer is equally complicated, as it still depends on many different aspects of your question or application.

Talking about this with Steven Sadler from the Retirement Essentials Customer Services Team, we learned so much useful information. So we decided that it was best to share his insights and tips as they will help fast-track answers for many Retirement Essentials members. 

Currently there are quite long backlogs with Centrelink applications. Centrelink say call wait times have increased from 14 minutes to 20 minutes this year as well. Many people are experiencing much longer than this.  Delays have been confirmed by Centrelink General Manager Hank Jongen, who referred to lower post-pandemic staffing levels as one of the reasons. 

And then there is the processing time line. Here’s what Steven had to say about these delays:

‘A year ago we were seeing Age Pension claims getting reviewed in 4-6 weeks if there was no need for it to be reviewed by a Complex Assessment Officer (CAO).  If it did need to go to aCAO, then it was 6-8 weeks. Commonwealth Seniors Health Card claims were 2-4 weeks. These timeframes have now all doubled this year. We have many customers with Age Pension claims that do not require an officer, but 13 weeks since lodging are still yet to be reviewed. We are escalating them to Centrelink’s complaints team due to timeliness’

Steven’s Handy hint:

Centrelink’s rule is that an application must pass 13 weeks with no action from them before it can be escalated.

Can Retirement Essentials help with blockages?

‘We try to pre-empt problems. The idea of the service we offer is that the claim gets approved upon the first review. So we work hard to clarify your situation and to ensure that all forms are filled in correctly. We then review your supporting documents to make sure they meet the necessary requirements, and hope that the claim is approved first go.

Retirement Essentials can’t promise Centrelink will fast track a claim but an Age Pension (if you are age eligible) is back paid to the date of submission of application.’

Steven’s Handy hint:

Get your application in promptly and accurately.

What are the most common blocks?

Sometimes there are unpredictable curveballs. The most common is when Centrelink has old data on file that contradicts what has been declared in the new claim. The value our team adds is in how we work with you to identify what Centrelink really needs and that what you provide will be accepted.’

Steven’s Handy hint:

Attention to detail on any data shared, at any time, is imperative.

Any other likely hurdles?

‘ common mistakes that could cause you delays include: answering questions incorrectly,poor supporting documents and need for ID verification. 

Another common issue we encounter is that people declare that they were born in another country but then when we ask them if they have ever lived in another country they say no. Centrelink will absolutely pick up on this and delay your claim. They will (by letter) then ask you which countries you have lived in from the day you were born up until today’s date.

Supporting document issues include people giving transaction histories and/or screenshots of the internet banking homepage. These are not formal statements and will be rejected. We often have a similar issue with superannuation statements, people logon and take a screenshot rather than get the formal document.

Steven’s Handy hint:

There is nowhere online you can check this yourself, you have to ask Centrelink. If yes, there’s nothing to worry about. But if no you will need to collate your documents and visit your local branch to get it sorted.

What’s the cost of these types of errors?

‘The cost of these errors in terms of delays is HUGE. You can lodge your claim, wait eight weeks for it to be reviewed and then the assessor finds one or more of the above issues. Now you wait another 1-2 weeks for the letter notifying you of the problem to arrive in the mail. Then you need say one more week to get back to Centrelink with what they need. Now you have to wait another eight weeks for it to be reviewed again (they don’t keep your claim off to the side, it goes back to the bottom). So that silly, honest mistake that you made has now caused your claim to take 18-20 weeks to be approved.’

Steven’s Handy hint:

It’s best to get it right the first time before lodging! Check your submission if you are unsure.

What do you do if your claim is declined?

‘If your claim is declined because you failed to supply supporting documents, then you have 13 weeks to collate and supply them to Centrelink to have the declined outcome overturned. Having said this you MUST provide ALL of the required documents in one go. Centrelink have already asked you for these documents, if you give them one and not another they will not say “thank you, here’s another 13 weeks to get the other one” they will decline your claim as you have still failed to deliver what was asked. Should either the 13 weeks expire or you only provide some documents and not all, then your claim is completed and the only option is to lodge a new one.’

And most importantly …

 …know the likely outcome before you apply

Check your entitlements using our free Age Pension Entitlements Calculator before you start your application. This gives you an accurate estimate of your likely Centrelink benefits. 

Knowing what you should be getting puts you in a  much more powerful position throughout the application process and will encourage you to persevere if things take a long time. If you are unsure of any aspect of your entitlements, make sure to get this clarified before you start.

Need further support with an application? Retirement Essentials Maximising your entitlements consultations can help answer all your questions and assist to get your benefits as quickly as possible.

How did you go?

Have you experience longer delays in your dealings with Centrelink?

How have you handled this? 

Did you manage to resolve things to your satisfaction?

Are there any other sticking points we didn’t cover?