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Applying for the Age Pension ‘too hard, too complicated and too long’

Older Australians are coming forward in a new research report with complaints about the Centrelink application process for the Age Pension, with many calling it “too hard, too complicated and too long”.

Older Australians say applying for the Age Pension 'too hard, too complicated and too long' (Source: Shutterstock)
Older Australians say applying for the Age Pension 'too hard, too complicated and too long' (Source: Shutterstock)

The joint research, by seniors advocacy group National Seniors and Retirement Essentials, analysed the views of 530 National Seniors members who had applied for the Age Pension since 2016, and revealed that 42.4 percent were dissatisfied with the process.

Following the findings and the feedback given by a  number of the participants, National Seniors Interim Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Professor John McCallum has called for an urgent overhaul of the process, demanding immediate attention to the issue given the Federal Government's reforms to the superannuation system.

He adds that the report has identified clear areas for improvement in Centrelink training, internal processes and management, and reiterates how essential it is that the issues are addressed given that there are more than 700 applications for the Age Pension every working day.

“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,” Professor McCallum explains.

“The complexity of the Centrelink process, 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.”

Department of Human Services General Manager Hank Jongen responded to the report, saying the service is “continually improving” its digital channels to make it easier for people to complete most of their interactions online without having to call.

“More and more people are choosing to do their business online, including older Australians, who can now lodge Age Pension claims electronically through myGov or the Centrelink app,” he says.

“The new online claim process ensures claims contain all the information needed, so they can be processed as quickly as possible.

“We understand online options are not for everyone, and we are committed to improving people’s experience when dealing with us be it by phone, face-to-face or digitally.”

Mr Jongen says staff are available in service centres or over the phone to assist people making a claim, and step them through the process, adding that for those that prefer, paper forms are available from the department’s website.

Professor McCallum acknowledges the system improvements underway at Centrelink, but says they don’t appear to adequately address the frustrations faced by senior Australians, but instead focus on digital options that replace face-to-face services and notes that Age Pension applicants do not appear to be a priority in the short or medium term.

“Systems can be complex, but the entry can be made easy with good design,” he says.

“It’s critical that older consumers are involved in their design to ensure their usability.

“Similarly attention to training and supervision can improve consumer experiences dramatically.”

Retirement Essentials CEO Paul Rogan says the joint 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 says.

“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.”

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