Applying for the Aged Pension
Updated: Jun 16
As we continue our June-long response to the budget series, Mona shifts its sights to the difficulties facing the senior women in our communities. Council on the Ageing Australia drew attention to the vast inequality between the wealth of aged women and aged men, with aged women less likely to have adequate superannuation, stable and affordable housing and are less likely to find employment over the age of 55. Whilst the 2023 budget has provided some measures aimed to relieve the current cost-of-living crisis, Cathie Cummins knows all too well the hurdles that are placed in the way of many aged women even accessing the aged pension payment and associated benefits. She shares this experience with Mona readers this week.
I tried to follow their system but it defeated me. I was going around in ever diminishing circles of reduced agency and means until stuck, defeated and in tears.
I applied for the Aged Pension at the end of August 2022 and knew it would take 46 days, or so the system specified. With my final pay in early August, I promptly deployed it to finally purchase a new bathroom vanity since the porcelain hand basin was cracked in three places and getting worse. A few days later, I also selected and paid for a new deep bath. It was very low at 350mm and over 50 years old but not in a good way. I wanted one I could actually use, relax into and would assist with my various pains.
I applied for the pension online and the process seemed pretty good until I reached the final section for uploading various proofs of identity, superannuation, bank statements for me and my husband (who was still working). It was going OK until my computer crashed in a major way and went off for an overhaul. You have a sigh of relief every time a document does upload successfully. Alas, I had to take the last few to the Centrelink Office. They were very helpful and pleasant to deal with but not without anomalies.
The first person I saw for a sit-down session was to upload my remaining documents and verify my ID from my Driver’s Licence. He also reviewed what I had already uploaded. Towards the end he looked at me and said “...your birth certificate is very, very, very, very, very old”.
I leant forward and said “Yes, it is the same age as me and that is why I am applying for the aged pension”.
He said they had a few like it recently and they cause some sort of problem. I would probably need to get a new one (I had no intention of doing so unless it came down to the wire).
“Have I now met the requirements for verification of my identity and facial recognition?”
“Yes, you have”. That was another key reason to present at the office anyway. He then said, “And that will take two to four weeks to be processed.” I knew their own system said a minimum of six weeks, but did not contradict.
So, everything is uploaded and all I need to do is await the assessment decision on their deadline of 13th October. I gradually reduce shopping and food storage at home since I have no income other than the minimal stream from superannuation at $201.00 a fortnight.
I had two pre-planned trips away during the waiting period but had paid for any costs when I still had income, and a gift voucher from work covered the remaining shows on our theatre subscription. However, I simplified cooking and let more specialised ingredients run down in the cupboards. I phased out tissues, changed the soap, and cooked less meat.
Counting down the days to my assessment results, I was disappointed to receive an SMS stating: “We’re still working on your claim. Claims can take longer to process if they are complex or submitted during busy times. Do not reply to this SMS.”
Monday 17th October, three days after their deadline, I received a letter through myGov; my claim was 'On Hold’ and further information was requested. The letter gave a new deadline of 28th October. My very old birth certificate and in-person identity verification had not been adequate. I also needed to complete a specific form for my superannuation payment schedule and supply my husband’s superannuation fund details. I rang the number on the letter for Feedback and Complaints to ask someone about the letter. The call was useful, after waiting on hold for 25 minutes, I was advised to take my passport to the Centrelink office for ID verification and ask them about the other two items. Off I went and was fitted in after a short wait. Passport ID addressed. The officer advised me to ring my super fund and request a ‘Centrelink Schedule’ which would formally show how much income stream I was receiving.
After making an appointment for later that day, I rang my super fund from home but no, they cannot email the required schedule…only post it. Hmmm, no bother, a gentleman assisted me over the phone and set me up with online access where I could easily print the required schedule. I returned to Centrelink victorious, with the schedule and my husband’s superannuation information now also uploaded.
Two days later, I checked my application status on the Centrelink phone app, where I could see it was 'On Hold’ and items I had supplied were still showing as required. Back to the Feedback and Complaints line, who advised I actually needed to supply the full 12-page superannuation statement for my husband. This was news to me - I had only uploaded the first two pages. No-one else had mentioned it before. I probably had not realised there were additional pages after the first colourful summary sheet.
Luckily his full superannuation statement for 2021-2022 arrived by post a few days later, a Friday. So, off I went again to Centrelink. The Feedback and Complaints person had told me to request that the Centrelink officer place the claim back in ‘In Process’ when I went in, so I did. The officer was pleasant and helpful and pledged to tick the box for its submission and take it back off hold that afternoon. By Monday 24th October, there was no change, but a quick call to Feedback and Complaints and it finally read ‘In Process’.
Then a penny dropped. They had given me a new deadline of 28th October to submit the required documents. This also meant that they would not reassess the claim until that date, and so I waited. Wednesday the 2nd of November (five days after their deadline) I received an SMS: ”We’re still working on your claim. Claims can take longer to process if they are complex or submitted during busy times. Do not reply to this SMS”. On Monday 7th November I opened myGov to find new requests. This time, I needed to provide details about my business; a profit and loss statement for my husband’s business for the new financial year July to November 2022; and my most recent tax return including financial statements for my business. The deadline for supplying them was 18th of November.
Well, no surprises, I called the Feedback and Complaints line. After a 30-minute wait, I explained that I had not had a business for 15 years and that I was feeling stressed. He said he would remove that bit. It was my second letter and even if I supplied everything in a few days it may not be assessed until the deadline of 18th November. He said to ring back when all was supplied and they would get it assessed straight away. I arranged for our tax returns and profit and loss with the tax agent (which required two visits). Unfortunately, only two documents were uploaded, so I took the third down to the Centrelink office. Fantastic. Time to call Feedback and Complaints to finally be assessed.
After waiting 40 minutes, I was told I still needed ‘evidence’ that I no longer had a business. I was somewhat confused and getting emotional. “Why had the man I spoke to on Monday not told me that?” I was going around in circles and told the person on the line… I tried to ask further questions about their processing deadlines but the line was cut off. They say they will terminate a call if a person becomes abusive. I was certainly frustrated, so I guess that was it. I was in tears then. Christmas was approaching and it seemed unlikely I would have a pension anytime soon.
Brushing those thoughts aside, I found my old ABN and a search showed it had been cancelled on 1st January 2009. I printed the sheet and then scanned it in and successfully uploaded it into my application. I was still quite upset, so rang a friend and after a good chat, decided I should make an appointment with a senior staff member at the Centrelink office.
Friday 11th November and I spent around 20 minutes with a woman about my application, it was at this point that I was able to pull everything together, and tell one person the entire story.
I had been the main breadwinner, who had brought in no income for three months (less the $201 fortnightly superannuation). I had worked part-time for 26 years after having children, I had only worked full-time for the last four and half years and not accumulated a large superannuation. I still had to juggle bills and at first, I was well ahead on a lot of bills but not anymore. I had also been putting things off, a much needed MRI and the optometrist. The credit card had been whipped out for the dentist, the doctor, physiotherapy and x-ray costs, which I'd then been covering by redrawing from the house mortgage. Unfortunately, I had reduced the fortnightly payments to the lowest possible at the same time the interest rates went up, and the amount owed kept increasing. During this time, my husband had also been away in a voluntary capacity and had not earned anything.
I explained about the request for my business details and the confusing information. She reviewed my application online. It was at this point that she told me that every request for documentation is allocated to a different person for review. After a brief discussion with a team leader, she told me she would assess my claim that afternoon and ring me to advise of the result. If it could not be finalised that day, she would still ring to provide an update. And she did.
I was able to write down the fortnightly payment and back pay details. I felt a bit numb as I looked at it. It was less than I expected. However, I was appreciative of her support, so thanked her and let the family know it was finally assessed. Now, I could adjust, relax into my poverty.
On Tuesday 15th November my backpay came through and the letter of outcome from Centrelink/Services Australia with regular payments to commence on Thursday 17th November. It was a great relief and although it is not a great amount, it is ongoing and will enable me to manage costs of living and juggle them as required. If I come across any issues, I suppose I could always call Feedback and Complaints...
Cathie moved to Wagga Wagga in the early 80's after growing up in Sydney and is still unsure if she is a local after 40 years... She wrote 'Confessions of a Shoe Addict' in the 90's when at home with young children, which was published in the Wagga Wagga Writer’s Annual Anthology. She has been a member of fourW on and off over many years, attended their writers’ workshops and has undertaken a range of online creative writing short courses. 'Meeting in the Middle' was published in the fourW thirty-two anthology in 2021. In 2022 she interviewed her six siblings individually about growing up together on the topics of school, shoes, food, house, family traditions, confessions and recurring childhood dreams. It was a wonderful project and the compilation provided to all for the anniversary of our mother’s death.