Age pension application process needs major overhaul

The Centrelink application process for the Age Pension needs an urgent overhaul, according to the key advocacy group for older Australians.

National Seniors Australia Interim CEO Professor John McCallum said today Age Pension applicants had described the process as “too hard, too complicated and too long”.

Prof. McCallum said the Centrelink application process demanded immediate attention given the Federal Government was reforming the superannuation system.

Joint research by National Seniors and Retirement Essentials showed most applicants were dissatisfied with the service provided by Centrelink staff, whose job it was to help eligible retirees benefit from the security of the Age Pension.

The joint research analysed the views of 530 National Seniors members who had applied for the Aged Pension since 2016. It showed less than four in 10 – or 38.5 per cent – were satisfied with the process, 42.4 per cent were dissatisfied and 19 per cent ambivalent.

Applicants said their time and needs were not valued or recognised by Centrelink staff, describing the application process as “generally appalling”, and staff “unhelpful, disinterested and reluctant to answer questions”.

One applicant said the mission of Centrelink appeared to be “to prevent as many people as possible from accessing income support”. Others complained of long wait times (whether phoning or visiting Centrelink offices), complicated forms and processes, and of receiving conflicting advice from different staff.

Prof. McCallum said 82 per cent of seniors sought assistance from Centrelink, financial advisers, friends or family when applying for the Age Pension, rather than attempting it independently. Despite this, many applicants remained dissatisfied with the experience.

The report had identified clear areas for improvement in Centrelink training, internal processes and management.

Prof. McCallum said it was essential the issues were addressed, given there were more than 700 applications for the Age Pension every working day, with a total of 174,000 applications processed in 2016-17.

“Our study provides clear evidence that senior Australians face unnecessary hurdles to access the Age Pension entitlements they rely on for their essential living expenses,” Prof. McCallum said.

“The complexity of the Centrelink processes, combined with insufficient call centre operators, long wait times and insufficient Financial Information Service Officers, is frustrating for older Australians.

“The complexity of the Centrelink processes, combined with insufficient call centre operators, long wait times and insufficient Financial Information Service Officers, is frustrating for older Australians.

“Today, Centrelink’s assistance is at the end of a long wait on the phone or in a queue at the local Centrelink office, an under-resourced (albeit competent) Financial Information Service, or an online service that has been poorly designed for the physical and digital capabilities and service needs of older people.

“While there are system improvements underway at Centrelink, they don’t appear to adequately address the frustrations faced by senior Australians. They are focussed on digital options that replace face-to-face services and Age Pension applicants do not appear to be a priority in the short or medium term.”

Centrelink call centre wait times increased last year, with almost 500,000 abandoned calls to the seniors help line. Prof. McCallum said the Federal Government’s announcement of 1000 additional operators would help ease the burden on busy phone lines.

But other issues, such as the overly complex Age Pension application process, needed to be addressed.

“Systems can be complex but the entry can be made easy with good design,” Prof. McCallum said. “It’s critical that older consumers are involved in their design to ensure their useability. Similarly, attention to training and supervision can improve consumer experiences dramatically.”

Retirement Essentials CEO Paul Rogan said the research went beyond the anecdotal descriptions of Centrelink being a “nightmare”, to a better understanding of the cause and scale of the problem for senior Australians. 

“It is clear the system is not geared for seniors to independently (and confidently) apply for the Age Pension,” Mr Rogan said. “Centrelink and other groups must work together to make it easier for those who are eligible to access the entitlements they rely on to fund their basic needs in retirement.”

The full report can be accessed here.


National Seniors’ Interim CEO Professor John McCallum is available for interviews.

Media contact: Lynda Schekoske 0488 047 380 or 07 3233 9134.

Retirement Essentials Founder Paul Rogan is available for interviews. 

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