Older Tasmanians are being pushed into poverty as they wait months for pension applications to be processed, a Tasmanian MP says.
Bass Labor MHR Ross Hart says the delays are getting worse and he blames them on cuts to Centrelink staff.
Council on the Ageing Tasmania is also concerned about delays in processing applications for age pensions and the shift to online applications.
The Department of Human Services argues most age pension applications are processed in 49 days.
“I have been receiving more and more requests for assistance from older Tasmanians struggling to make ends meet while they wait for Centrelink to process their pension application,” Mr Hart said.
“Just this week my office has been contacted by a couple in their 70s who have applied for the age pension and been told by Centrelink it will take eight months to process their application.
“The delay can be particularly difficult and distressing for older Tasmanians with lower levels of computer literacy, who are pushed to using an online system to supply Centrelink with further information.
“The desperate situation many older Tasmanians are finding themselves in is a direct result of the Prime Minister’s cuts to Centrelink.”
Mr Hart said that in the last two federal budgets 2460 jobs had been axed from Centrelink, with a further 1250 jobs outsourced to labour hire, creating an “enormous” blowout in age pension application processing times.
“The median processing times for age pension payments increased from 36 days to 49 days this financial year, but for many older Tasmanians the wait time is much longer,” Mr Hart said.
COTA chief executive Sue Leitch said some older Tasmanians were worried about the time taken to process age pension applications and were reluctant to apply online.
“Digital access is a significant issue and we are worried that people aged over 75 whose super has run down may not be able to apply online,” Ms Leitch said.
“They have to rely on friends, family or service organisations to help them.
Department of Human Services general manager Hank Jongen said processing time could vary.
“A range of factors can cause delays such as failing to submit all of the required supporting documentation with the initial application,” Mr Jongern said.
“This occurs in more than half of all cases and often requires the department to go back to the person on more than one occasion before their claim can be processed.
“Processing times can also vary depending on the complexity of someone’s income and asset information, such as family trusts.”
Mr Jongen said that to ensure a smooth transition into retirement, people could lodge their pension claim 13 weeks before the date they are due to become eligible.
“More than half of customers claiming age Pension choose to submit their claim online,” he said.
“We understand online options are not for everyone, and we are committed to improving people’s experience when dealing with us by be it by phone, face-to-face or digitally.”
Ms Leitch said access to information and social connectedness, via the Internet and other means, was a right that all older Tasmanians were entitled to.
“Businesses, government organisations and services can work to overcome specific barriers to technology use by making sure they provide clear instructions, hard copy alternatives to online forms, and phone contacts and face-to-face options for providing information to the public,” she said.