A Tasmanian with a terminal lung condition and his wife with debilitating chronic illness say they felt dehumanised and intimidated by a sudden Centrelink request for them to prove their Age Pension eligibility.
The couple in their 70s - who did not want to be identified for fear of jeopardising their payment - were at a loss as to why Centrelink contacted them out of the blue last month and sent them more than 20 pages of forms to complete including questions on their income and assets, identification and their marriage details.
They believed their financial situation had not changed for years while on the Age Pension.
The man, of Hobart, said a Centrelink worker told them over the phone it was a "random" review, while the letter included a comment that their payment and concession card could be cancelled if they were uncontactable.
He said the resultant paperwork required him to search back through decades of records, took seven hours to complete, and then could not be uploaded within the 5-megabyte limit on the Centrelink website. The couple have severely limited mobility meaning posting mail is a difficult task, and they feared they would miss the deadline to provide the information.
"There were 18 pages for one document, five or six for the other, all sorts of questions and information that surely they would have had from our original application," he said.
"I'm a retired IT system administrator, but for someone who isn't IT savvy they wouldn't have been able to do it.
"Why is this sort of information needed now? It's beyond me. It was a horror show, a nightmare.
"You get the feeling that the government is just trying to save money somehow, which is fine if there's a valid reason, but in this case I'm not impressed at all. People just don't come into their equation."
The couple are now waiting for a response after managing to submit the paperwork on time, and were told that if there's no discrepancies, they would not receive a response at all.
"You just sit there and wait for a call or a letter, it's a bit scary," the man said.
They receive $729.30 each per fortnight, and say they are lucky they own the house they live in, given spiralling rent costs in Hobart. A single person on the Age Pension receives $967.50 per fortnight, putting the vast majority of Hobart's rental market out of reach.
Clark independent MHR Andrew Wilkie raised the matter in federal parliament this week, fearing that it was an indication of a new form of Centrelink debt recovery targeting vulnerable people.
In a letter to Social Services Minister Anne Ruston, Mr Wilkie said he had received concern from a number of Age Pension recipients about "tight timeframes" in responding to Centrelink requests for income information.
"I understand that the legislation provides for a 14-day timeframe for people to provide requested information to Centrelink. But doe to postal service delays it is currently taking an average of 10 days for a person to receive a letter in Hobart, giving only four days to provide the requested information to Centrelink," he wrote.
Services Australia general manager Hank Jongen said it was not unusual for Centrelink to contact people to check if they were receiving the correct support.
"We do sometimes need to contact customers to ensure they're receiving the correct support from us. Information about income and assets is required to ensure customers receive the right support for their circumstances," he said.
"This may include where there has been a change in circumstances or where we need to confirm information as part of an income stream review."
Mr Jongen confirmed that file sizes must be less than 5-megabytes, but up to 10 files can be included in each upload.
He encouraged the couple to contact Centrelink and discuss their matter if they had concerns.
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