Centrelink rules in action
We often mention the 80/80 rule of retirement income. For a good reason. This is a reminder that, by their eighth decade, 80% of Australians will be on at least a part Age Pension. A significant majority (67%) currently reach this point in their late sixties. Given that our Age Pension system was introduced in 1908, you would think we had perfected it by now, right? Or at least expect it to be in good working order?
It seems that Centrelink is anything but easy to navigate.
In the Retirement Essentials November 2022 Retirement Pulse we asked whether our members agreed or disagreed with the statement:
‘I find Centrelink very easy to deal with’.
- Some 16% agreed or strongly agreed with this sentiment.
- Another 26% were neutral.
- And a significant majority – 61%- disagreed, with 25% strongly disagreeing.
It’s not exactly a good scorecard, is it, for the national agency trusted with delivering the prime form of income for older Australians.
With more than 3.5 million Australians on Centrelink retirement benefits, it’s worth considering what the problem (or problems) might be.
Firstly, to be fair to Centrelink, it’s easy to confuse the service with the ‘product’. As noted by our board member Deborah Ralston, Australia’s retirement income system is overly complex. It is not the fault of the individual Centrelink officers or phone support staff that the rules are so confusing or difficult to adhere to. It’s actually a design flaw in our income system.
But then there is the secondary issue of service delivery. It seems that the agency is simply not up to the task, with the volume of enquiries totally swamping the service delivery team. Over the past few years, Centrelink customers have been actively discouraged from visiting offices, instead they are requested to go online to submit their applications or enquiries. This is fine if the system is easy to use, intuitive or, hopefully, both.
It’s not. It’s super easy to miss an instruction or misunderstand what is income, what is an asset and the reasons why, for example.
This can actively disadvantage users of the website, so many prefer face-to-face meetings and in most Centrelink offices, this might involve a long wait.
Additionally, many senior Australians can suffer from some form of disability, thus exacerbating the effort it takes to even get to an office.
Other aspects of the difficulty in dealing with Centrelink are the much-reported phone wait times, the time it takes for an evaluation of your information, confusion over rules about partners and other family members and getting the timing right to maximise your benefits.
Amongst the key targets published by Services Australia are a 15-minute wait time for face-to-face service and 16-minutes by phone. This means, by phone, a reduction from the recent average of 43 minutes, so this is a serious challenge. Again, to be fair, the ongoing Covid pandemic has placed a lot of unexpected strain on this central agency, so there would always have been a lag in service delivery.
We can only wonder what a well-functioning Age Pension agency might add to the lives of older Australians.
What about you?
Are the above sentiments reflective of your dealings with Centrelink? Or have you had a more positive experience?