Centre Alliance MP Rebekha Sharkie has voiced concerns over new Centrelink income-reporting obligations for pensioners, which she says are causing stress for those who are not tech-savvy.
Sharkie noted that the changed obligations have been put in place while Centrelink transitions to the Single Touch Payroll system over the next six months. The new system will allow Centrelink claims to be pre-filled with the information employers have provided to the Australian Taxation Office, so individuals won’t need to calculate their income.
“Income reporting to Centrelink is not new for welfare recipients but the new reporting format for pensioners while Centrelink transitions to Single Touch Payroll is new, and it is causing significant and unnecessary stress for pensioners, particularly for those who either do not use the internet, live in a rural area with limited internet access or have commitments that limit their ability to meet Centrelink’s rigid reporting deadline,” the federal member for Mayo said.
Services Australia has been reaching out to affected customers via SMS, emails, and letters to ensure they’re aware of their reporting requirements, and to explain how they can report their income.
“The easiest and quickest way to report your or your partner’s income is through your Centrelink online account on myGov or the Express Plus Centrelink app,” Services Australia general manager Hank Jongen told The Mandarin.
“Customers who don’t have access to digital services can call the Centrelink reporting line on 133 276. This line is available 24/7. Customers can also report by calling us on their regular payment line.”
One of Sharkie’s constituents, aged 72, has worked the same two days a week for the past seven years. As he doesn’t have the internet or a smartphone — and has been left confused by the process for reporting over the phone — he now must drive 106 km to a Centrelink office and back to report his income once a fortnight.
“His fortnightly income has never changed in seven years so he has never been required to report his part-time income in the past but now, thanks to the new requirements while the new system is introduced, he is obliged to report on one specified day in order to keep his aged pension payments,” Sharkie said.
“Another constituent, aged 69, has worked as a receptionist three days a week for the past three years. Her income hasn’t changed but she is now required to report to Centrelink before 6pm on a specified day. That day is one of her busy workdays and she is now so distressed that she will forget to report her income and lose her pension payments that she is considering giving up work altogether.”
While some Services Australia customers have reported their income — or their partner’s income — annually in the past, this reporting timeframe has meant that changes such as leave without pay, overtime and allowances have at times been missed.
“We know a lot can change over the course of a year, and some customers were receiving over and under payments,” Jongen noted.
“Most of our customers are now required to report fortnightly. Fortnightly reporting helps Services Australia ensure we are paying customers the right amount.”
Sharkie has written to government services minister Linda Reynolds asking for the old system of reporting part-time income for seniors to be brought back until the transition to the new system is complete. She has also called on other pensioners who are experiencing issues with the new system to get in touch with their local Federal MP.
“This reporting regime is only temporary while they introduce a new system, which places the obligation for payslip reporting on the employer, so I cannot understand why Centrelink just doesn’t reinstate its old reporting requirements for pensioners until the transition is completed,” she said.
“We want our older Australians who have the capacity and desire to continue working to stay in paid employment. Financially and socially it’s good for them and it’s beneficial for the community.”