National Seniors Australia has called on the federal government to allow groups such as it access to the Centrelink online portal, so it could apply for the aged pension on behalf of retirees to speed up processing times.
CEO of the peak advocacy group for older Australians, Professor John McCallum, said urgent action was needed to improve waiting times for the aged pension. The average processing time was reportedly 49 days, but National Seniors had been contacted by members who had waited up to seven or eight months.
Prof. McCallum also welcomed a federal government commitment today to better publicise that retirees can apply to Centrelink for the aged pension 13 weeks before they leave the paid workforce.
According to Minister for Social Security Michael Keenan, Centrelink has adequate resources and processing times are improving. He told ABC Radio Gold Coast this morning the government became aware there was a backlog in July.
“It was unacceptable and shouldn’t have happened in the first place,” Mr Keenan said. “It is now being rectified and providing people lodge all the necessary information when they make their application, they can be processed in a couple of weeks.
“But often it’s a case of us waiting for further information. So, we encourage people to apply early, look at the instructions very carefully and supply us with everything we need. Then the process should very quick and they can start getting paid as soon as they retire from the workforce.”
Mr Keenan said Centrelink made efforts to communicate that applications could be lodged 13 weeks ahead of retirement.
“If there is anything we can do to improve that messaging, we certainly will,” he said.
Prof. McCallum said with 5.8 million baby boomers aged 52 to 72, and roughly two thirds potentially eligible for a full or part pension, there would be four million applicants over the next 20 years.
“That’s about 200,000 on average a year, or about 4,000 per week,” Prof. McCallum said. “So, additions to Centrelink staff, which are welcome, will continue to be just papering over the cracks. The government can’t solve this problem alone or by pushing people to apply online, because many older people just can’t use computers, especially for complicated processes such as the lengthy application form for the pension.
“Currently, groups like us can only help by submitting the 38-page paper forms, which is not desirable for the applicants or the government. But if we could access the online portal and complete applications on behalf of retirees, we are confident processing times can be slashed.”
National Seniors’ Interim CEO Professor John McCallum is available for interviews.
Media contact: Lynda Schekoske 0488 047 380 or 07 3233 9134.