How to avoid Centrelink delays and get paid quicker

Satisfying the ever changing Centrelink eligibility rules and completing the necessary paperwork is the easy part. Extracting your entitlements from Centrelink and staying on top of the changes is the real challenge, which is why it’s important to plan ahead and seek advice, Brett Schatto writes.

Centrelink’s official stated purpose is to help people become self-sufficient and to support those in need. Unofficially, it exists to teach people patience, perseverance and self-control.

I’m being facetious but it is not uncommon for Centrelink to take 2-3 months to process an application for benefits like the Age Pension, Family Assistance, Disability and Carer payments and Paid Parental Leave. 

Processing times vary for a multitude of reasons such as the complexity of a person’s situation and the volume of claims Centrelink is trying to manage at the time. People experiencing hardship are also (rightfully) elevated the top of the list.

Knowing this doesn’t make the lengthy delays less stressful for those dependent on government assistance to pay for basic living expenses like food and accommodation.

But it’s not only the poor and vulnerable who rely on social security.

In 2018/19, the Department of Human Services, which includes Centrelink and Medicare, made $184 billion in payments to millions of Australians1 including:

  • 2.54 million age pensioners;
  • 25.6 million people enrolled in Medicare;
  • 1.4 million Family Tax Benefit customers;
  • 820,000 job seekers; and
  • 225,000 students.

It is estimated that 70% of older Australians are eligible for a full or part pension plus a range of other benefits such as the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card.

Thousands of Australian families are also dependant on subsidises to help cover the cost of raising children and child care.

The efficient processing of social security payments is important for all affected Australian households.

To minimise frustration and maximise the probability of getting an application processed in a timely manner, it is important to plan ahead, do your homework in terms of what you’re eligible to claim and submit your application early, completed and accurate.

For example, claims for the Age Pension can be submitted up to 13 weeks before you reach age pension age (currently age 66).  

In our experience, it is currently taking up to 3 months for Centrelink to process an Age Pension application because they need to assess a person’s income and assets.

Things get held up when paperwork is incorrectly filled out or key details are missing. Centrelink commonly requests additional information.

According to research by National Seniors, widespread dissatisfactions with Centrelink isn’t only about delays but also misinformation, conflicting advice, complicated forms and processes, and unhelpful, disinterested staff.

If you or a member of your family plan to make an application for social security, whether it’s the Age Pension, Newstart or the child care subsidiary, it may be helpful to speak to your financial adviser.

They can review your personal situation and inform you of all the benefits you may be eligible for. They can also help you gather the necessary information and correctly complete forms to avoid delays.

Pleasingly, Centrelink is working to improve its processes and adopt technology that will enable it to facilitate more online queries and applications. In 2018/19, Centrelink’s digital assistants responded to over 4.6 million enquiries1.

Last year, Centrelink reduced the time to complete a student claim form to 12 minutes from 36 minutes and halved the time to register a newborn for Medicare. It also conducted 180 Aged Care forums, leading to improvements that mean approximately 110,000 older Australians no longer need to complete a form to access Aged Care benefits.

Over the next four years, the Federal government has allocated $316.2 million to progress the Welfare Payment Infrastructure Transformation (WPIT) Programme.

This will help Centrelink manage its ever increasing volumes.

Already it processes around 700 Age Pension applications per day, totalling around 180,000 per year. Over 66,000 customers visit a service centre daily.

This is only set to increase as Australia’s population grows, ages and lives longer.

To ensure you’re not missing out on any Centrelink entitlements and benefits, please contact Pride Advice on (08) 8168 8450 or 1300 GOODADVICE to review your current payments or help you to apply.

Footnote:

  1. Australian Government Services Australia 2018/19 Annual Report