Does Centrelink terrorise pensioners?

Article published 16 December 2020

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IN Question Time, the federal Member for Clark, Andrew Wilkie, asked the Prime Minister if Centrelink was “terrorising pensioners” using “demonic algorithms bombarding the elderly with reams of threatening and confusing correspondence”.

Was there now a Robodebt for pensioners, Mr Wilkie asked, referring to Centrelink’s Automation of Income Stream reviews.

An income stream is any income you get periodically from, for example, a superannuation pension, from an annuity or from a defined benefit income stream.

Centrelink collects information from income stream providers electronically and compares this with information it has about social security recipients provided by social security recipients themselves. Because income streams are generally retirement income streams, Age Pensioners are the largest group affected.

The problem many older people have in complying with requests for updated information is that they are asked to go online to provide it. Many older people are not online.

In his response to Mr Wilkie’s question, the Prime Minister pointed out that people did not need to go online. They could also ring up. A phone number was provided.

Nothing to see here, in other words.

However, the Prime Minister was extremely disingenuous in his response.

While there is a Centrelink phone number for people unable to go online, anyone who has ever tried to call Centrelink knows what a nightmare that can be.

Long waiting times.

Being cut off while waiting.

Having to go through all the waiting again when additional information is required.

Unless pensioners respond in a timely manner to Centrelink requests for information about their income streams, they risk having their pension reduced or cut altogether.

But, effectively, the only way for pensioners to comply is by going online. This means that those unable to go online are being “terrorised”, even though income stream reviews are different from Robodebt, where Centrelink would simply raise a debt, which had to be paid or disproved by the social security recipient.

Income stream reviews are a different kind of terror for pensioners who can’t go online.

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