Friday, 24th June, 2011
By Craig Brealey
What started as an attempt to find out who was still eligible for the pensioner rate rebate has created a headache for the pensioners, City Council and Centrelink alike.
Three hundred or more pensioners received letters from City Council this month stating that, according to information from Centrelink, they were no longer eligible for the rebate.
This resulted in Council and the Commonwealth welfare office being inundated by calls and visits from confused and angry people.
Council's Acting General Manager, Peter Oldsen, said yesterday that the trouble was caused by a "mismatch" of data between Council and Centrelink.
One pensioner who lives in Zebina Street showed the BDT a letter that he received from Council's chief financial officer. It was typical of the letters sent to other 300-odd pensioners.
It told him that before the start of each financial year Council confirms with Centrelink the details of who is entitled to the rebate and had been "advised by Centrelink on this occasion that your Pension Concession entitlement is no longer valid".
The letter goes on to say that the rebate will be cancelled within 14 days but that "if the information provided by Centrelink to Council is not correct" they should contact Centrelink to set the record straight and then inform Council.
Unfortunately, the information provided by Centrelink was not, it seems, correct but Council still had to make sure.
"It was a record-checking exercise," said Mr Oldsen. "We had to get back to people to make sure they were entitled to it.
"We apologise for that but we have to get our data right," he said.
Mr Oldsen said Council and Centrelink had been swamped by people coming in to complain and to find out what was going on.
"There have been lines of people over there just like we've had here," he said, referring to the Centrelink office in Beryl Street which is just across the road from Council.
Comment was sought from Centrelink about how the mistake happened and it has promised to reply.
Mr Oldsen said Council sent out similar letters from time to time when circumstances changed for ratepayers.
Pensioners who have to go into a nursing home, for example, are not entitled to the rates rebate because their home is no longer their "principal place of residence."
The BDT received a letter this week from a local woman who complained that her mother was being "penalised by the Government" because she had lost her pensioner rebate after going to live in a nursing home.
Mr Oldsen said that had always been the case although it did not mean that a pensioner had to live in their home all the time; they could live there temporarily as long at their house remained their principal residence.
He gave as an example of this a pensioner couple going on a six-month road trip around Australia: they might not be living in their own house but it was still their home and the rebate would still be paid.