SNOWED UNDER: Centrelink is working through a long backlog of claims for the age pension.
SNOWED UNDER: Centrelink is working through a long backlog of claims for the age pension. JULIAN SMITH

Age pensioners left for months without an income

NEW aged pensioners are having to wait months to receive their entitlements with the Department of Human Resources issuing an apology but failing to answer questions about the size of the backlog or the amounts of money involved.

Department of Human Resources general manager Hank Jongen said while aged pensions took longer to assess, some customers had experienced delays.

"We sincerely apologise for this,'' Mr Jorgen said.

"The lead-up to the end of the financial year, and the first few months afterwards, are traditionally very busy for us across a number of payment types.

"We've prioritised Age Pension claims and put in place a number of strategies to reduce the number of claims on hand to ensure outstanding claims are assessed as soon as possible.

"This includes increasing the number of staff dedicated to processing these claims.

" We strongly encourage people claiming Age Pension to ensure they have provided the department with all the supporting paperwork required for their claim, as any delay in supplying necessary documentation can lead to a delay in processing."

That hasn't helped one Sunshine Beach retiree who has been left waiting for three months for his age pension entitlement despite taking steps well in advance of his 65th birthday to register with Centrelink.

Former Sunshine Coast Daily and Noosa News photographer Geoff Potter said when he decided earlier this year to retire he went to Centrelink with all the paperwork in early May.

He finished work after a long and stellar career on May 26 and turned 65 on June 19 becoming eligle for the age pension from that date.

Having heard nothing since from the Australian Government he approached the office of newly-elected Member for Wide Bay Llew O'Brien.

Mr Potter said he was told all his paperwork was in order but that he was in a queue because the department was still processing March requests.

While he will eventually receive a back payment for the amount owed, there would be no money coming in before then leaving him to survive on a small return from his self-managed super fund.

That fund leaves him well under the cut off point for the pension to which he is entitled.

"I'm surviving,'' Mr Potter said.

"I had wanted to have it all done before I retired. I was back to Centrelink three or four times, answered all the questions and went through all the hoops.

"I think part of the problem is they are so under staffed. There are 20 desks at Noosa Centrelink and only three staff when I'm there.

"Every day I wait for the postman. I haven't even got a pension card.

"I've been working and paying taxes since I was a kid.''

Mr Jongen said anyone experiencing severe financial hardship should let the department know as soon as possible so it could prioritise their claim.

"Once granted, payments will be backdated to the first day of entitlement,'' he said.

However his department failed to address three key questions the Sunshine Coast daily put to the government.

They were:

1. How many qualified age pensioners are in a queue still waiting to be paid?

2. When does the government expect to clear the backlog of people who have been qualified for payment and are yet to receive it?

3. What is the quantum in dollar terms of back payments accumulating while people queue to receive their entitlements

In August the federal government announced it was "embarking on one of the most significant digital transformations in its history to streamline and speed up the processing of welfare payments".

The Government has today taken the next step in the selection of the principal commercial partners that will support the Welfare Payment Infrastructure Transformation (WPIT) Programme. A Request for Tender seeking experienced systems integrators is now live.

Minister for Human Services Alan Tudge said the Government would work with a commercial partner, but would keep full ownership of the Welfare Payment Infrastructure Transformation (WPIT) Programme.

"This is a once-in-a-generation project that will transform Government service delivery to meet the challenges of the digital age," Mr Tudge said.

"The system is one of the largest and most complex in the world, delivering more than $110 billion of payments to over four million households, through more than 100 million transactions each year.

"Our new programme will streamline the payments system to ensure processing is efficient and timely."

The government has also been promoting its Taskforce Integrity cracking down on welfare fraud.

The joint initiative with the Australian Federal Police (AFP) has proven very successful at cracking down and recovering incorrectly or illegally obtained welfare payments since starting on 1 July, 2015.

It conducted operations in multiple states during the last financial year which included 12,000 compliance reviews, 135 investigations and the referral of 16 cases of suspected fraud to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.

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