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Pensioner privacy safe

Tuesday, 12th November, 2013

By Craig Brealey

Pensioners have nothing to fear from a written request from City Council to allow it to verify their pension payments with Centrelink, according to Council’s General Manager.

Some pensioners have been reluctant to answer the letters. They say Council already has their details and suspect that complying with the request might allow Council to snoop on their personal finances.

But this was far from the case and the only difference that a pensioner might notice is that it would save them a trip into town, Council’s General Manager, Therese Manns, told the BDT.

The letter merely seeks approval to allow Council to check a pensioner’s status electronically instead of manually, said Ms Manns.

“We have asked ratepayers who are claiming a pension concession rebate to provide their consent for Broken Hill City Council to verify their eligibility electronically with Centrelink,” she said.  

“This ensures that the process of approving pensioner concessions is efficient for both Council and the pensioner, as it prevents all pensioners having to visit Council to update their records and allows Council staff to confirm eligibility much quicker through electronic means than otherwise is the case manually.”  

While Council does indeed have details about who is on a pension, its auditors require that their pensioner status be reviewed to ensure there have been no changes to eligibility over time, said Ms Manns.

But does the provision of these details allow Council to probe into someone’s personal finances?

“No,” Ms Manns said. “By getting the consent we can only verify if the ratepayer is an eligible pensioner or not so that we can continue to provide them with the rebate. 

“We can’t access their income or personal finances or their asset details.”

The GM said that the review had not been triggered by people claiming concessions to which they were not entitled.

“But occasionally, as part of the checking process, Council staff do notice changes in eligibility and are able to make the necessary adjustments.” 

Ms Manns was asked what would happen if someone chose not to provide their details.

“If the permission is not granted for Council to check electronically the eligibility of pensioners to concessions, then there may be a delay in the processing of pensioner rebates whilst we wait for the pensioner to come in and provide manual confirmation when a review period is upon us.”

As of last month, there were 2969 BH ratepayers getting pension rebate, she said.

“So you can imagine the administration resource that would be required to manually check and confirm each pensioner eligibility.  

“At the end of the day, Council can only get information that confirms pensioner concession eligibility, not any other personal or financial information.  

“It provides a cost-effective process for the administration of concessions.

“The same system is used across NSW and not just by Councils.

Council was also required to make the request as part of its contract with the Commonwealth Department of Human Services, said Ms Manns.

“I do hope that the pensioners of Broken Hill appreciate that this process is not supposed to impact upon them, but rather help them by making things easier and ensuring no delays in concession entitlements.”

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