Dealing with Centrelink is getting harder and harder

Dealing with Centrelink is getting harder and harder

14 November 2017 - posted in Government Benefits and Pre-Retirees and Retirees by Will Chapman

I could fill a book the size of Tolstoy's War and Peace with all the stories of dreadful Centrelink experiences my clients have come to me with over the years. Except it may as well be written in Russian as it won't make any difference to their backlog...

At present, no one is eligible by age to commence a new Age Pension; a legislated change means that the eligibility age has increased from 65 to 65.5 from July 1 this year. Therefore, during this 6 months between July 2017 and January 2018, no one new is commencing an Age Pension (unless they are already 65.5). I think I can be forgiven for assuming that Centrelink would focus on fixing the many recurring issues that have plagued them for years while they don't have as many new applications to process.

However, in my experience recently, getting and keeping an age pension is hard work. The systemic issues within Centrelink are so challenging, some of my clients who are eligible for an age pension would prefer to not deal with them and forgo their entitlement; something I don't condone but certainly understand.

Most Age Pensioners rely on the age pension to live fortnight to fortnight. Their very eligibility for the age pension suggests that don't have enough financial support to survive without government assistance over the long term.

Nevertheless, rather than getting bogged down in the negative, let's have a look at some of the things you can do to make your Centrelink experience better (more accurately less bad).

Update your details online:

Open a MyGov account; it is much easier said than done but persist. It's worth it as you can (usually) update the value of your assets on Centrelink via your MyGov account on your computer or your smartphone app.

Avoid the Centrelink Office:

It is not worth the stress. They generally aren't resourced to fix your problem in person so you will be put in a corner to speak with someone on the phone but you will still have to wait. You may as well call them from home and put it in speakerphone while doing your morning chores or sipping a tea.   

Call them at 8am on a Tuesday:

I haven't seen Centrelink's phone queues but empirically I understand that this time has a shorter wait time. Not at 8:05 or 8:15 but 8am sharp (ACST). It may still be a 30 minute wait but it's better that 90 mins...

Update your assets online in the right order:

Let's say you have transferred $100,000 from one bank account to another; you don't have more or less money but still need to let Centrelink know. On MyGov, change the balance of the account that has decreased first. Then increase the other account immediately after. You don't want the system to think that you have $100,000 more and accidentally cut you off the age pension by doing it the reverse way. I've seen it happen and it's a mess to clean up.

Don't assume Centrelink can work it out:

People can easily lose interest in the complicated forms and lodge them half complete or with the attitude "Let them work it out". I promise you, they won't work it out. They'll simply not process it and delay your benefit, without the back pay.

Be prepared to challenge them:

Centrelink make mistakes. Often really simple mistakes that are to your financial detriment. Be prepared to fight them but have evidence that shows their error.

Keep your correspondence:

Retain a copy of everything, including evidence of when you have updated Centrelink online or who you spoke to on the phone and when. It's getting physically easier with Centrelink now emailing information but I've seen a couple recently save over $20,000 in a complicated Centrelink dispute because they kept one simple piece of paper.

Use the fax:

It may be out of fashion but it still works and we have seen reduced process times via the fax compared with the mail. Plus it gives you a receipt confirmation rather than it disappearing into thin air.

Ask your financial planner:

If you have enough financial assets to only get a part pension, you likely have enough investments to warrant paying a financial planner who can cut through a lot of red tape and Centrelink jargon. More importantly, when something with Centrelink goes wrong, a financial planner may be able to detect it earlier or identify the best path to fixing it before it gets worse.

I truly hope you have a seamless relationship with Centrelink if you are eligible for a benefit. Odds are you'll have a hiccup at some point but hopefully the above points make it a little less difficult for you.


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