Centrelink & Overseas Pensions

On learning that we might be entitled to a Dutch pension from time working in Holland we contacted the Dutch authorities who referred us to Centrelink. Centrelink sent us forms which we completed and submitted to our local Centrelink branch in March. Some 5 months later in August, having not heard anything, we wrote to Centrelink asking what the situation was regarding our application. Shortly after we received letters from Centrelink saying that the claim papers were forwarded to Holland on 29th August (over 5 months from submission). Not quite believing this, and wondering if they meant the August enquiry, we enquired and were told claims were only sent overseas in batches!
Is this normal Centrelink practice and if so how can such a delay be justified?


This Centrelink submission process is because of Reciprocal Arrangements and that when the Pension from Overseas is issued Centrelink can then amend their rate of payment to reflect this. I would still lodge a claim directly with the overseas country and on it’s grant would then inform Centrelink. I know you tried to do so directly but sometimes the obscure approach works and in this case may be to apply for a DigiD code (to read about it see https://www.svb.nl/int/en/aow/direct_regelen/dni/) then once registered to use the online system use https://digid.nl/inloggen to log in and submit your claim online.

Once you receive the Netherlands Pension (this should be as soon as you receive the advice not the payments) you should advise Centrelink immediately so they can adjust their records.

Hope that this might help.


I hope that you realise that if you receive any pension from overseas Centrelink will probably reduce your Australian pension accordingly. Worthy of note is that the reduction is by a ‘deemed’ exchange amount, and not the actual exchange amount.

It will also mean extra paperwork annually, having to confirm the quantum of your Dutch pension to Centrelink.


…some foreign pensions are also taxed in Australia regardless of their ‘home country’ tax free/taxed status.

Best to check on your relevant Tax Treaty!


No they don’t have to do that paperwork. This is a result of the Dutch Pension Treaty with Australia. Like the UK Pension the rates are exchanged in both directions so that expat Australians getting a Dutch Pension in the Netherlands have their rate adjusted by any Australian Pension they receive and vice a versa in Australia. Some Pensions do not have these arrangements and any rate adjustments need to be advised to Centrelink (Dept of Human Services (DHS)) within the short notification period allowed, however Centrelink and before them the Dept of Social Security were very involved in getting as many agreements in place as possible, ostensibly to reduce the burden on the Australian Tax system but also to know every particle of a person’s background.

The “deemed” rate of exchange (it is reset each 1st day of each month) was to smooth out any rapid fluctuations in both directions so that pension payments could be more easily calculated than on a daily movement of rates. They use a figure supplied by the Commonwealth Bank in most cases and for some currencies they also use other Banks. From Centrelink’s web site:

"Rates we use

Normally the exchange rate we use is:

  • a buying rate from the Commonwealth Bank
  • available 5 working days before the 1st of each month

For some currencies we get the rates from other banks.

We update the exchange rates we use on the 1st working day of each month."

Sometimes this rate is to the benefit of customers and sometimes not but in general it is considered to reasonably even out over a 12 month period. Family Assistance payments however are different and foreign income is assessed at the rate it was on 1st July of a given financial year ie for this year:

"Exchange rates for 2018-19

We’ll use these rates for the 2018-19 Australian financial year.
    Currency	                           Rate
    Canadian Dollar 	                   1.0172
    Danish Kroner 	                   5.0916
    English Pound 	                   0.5936
    European Currency Unit 	           0.6726
    Hong Kong Dollar 	                   6.0979
    Japanese Yen 	                  86.9800
    New Zealand Dollar 	                   1.1323
    Norwegian Kroner 	                   6.5407
    Singapore Dollar 	                   1.0675
    South African Rand 	                  10.5727
    Swedish Kronor 	                   7.0199
    Swiss Franc 	                   0.8245
    Thai Baht 	                          25.9600
    US Dollar 	                           0.7832"

Sorry I didn’t fully answer this above, but even in the Dutch system they request you submit your application at least 6 months in advance of your possible entitlement date. The delays are long because of all the checks and rate determinations that must be done. The date your paperwork was lodged with Centrelink’s International Services is typically the date that they work any entitlement out from, this is because of the agreement terms that arise out of the Pension Treaty. Your entitlement to a pension based on these terms can include residence in one country being used for entitlement purposes in the other. When your entitlement is determined and if a pension is then granted it will be backdated to the appropriate date within the lodgement period if needed and you will receive a lump sum back pay and an adjustment to your Australian Pension if you receive one. This is why if you apply directly overseas you should advise Centrelink as soon as your are notified of the date of your Dutch Pension commenced and any payments you will receive due to any adjustment due to backdating of entitlement.


My mother receives an o/s accorn pension and has to do the paperwork every year. Obviously no treaty.


Oh there are certainly Countries and sometimes just specific pensions within some countries with which Australia does not have these reciprocal arrangements covering the reporting and in those cases Centrelink do require notification about overseas rate changes that must be done by the client. If the rate is set annually then it would be an annual requirement and if they occur more frequently then the reporting is in line with those timetables, typically Centrelink code an automatic reminder that generates a request if they are aware of what timing of increases is used.

For those who wish to amble through the Netherlands Treaty the link follows…it has a bit of legalese and as such can be a bit wordy and confusing:


For a more complete list of Countries that have these arrangements with Australia see:


The original UK agreement was cancelled some years ago but the reporting of payments does continue. This change came about because the way the UK now pays recipients of their pensions who live outside the UK/EU.


I have been waiting since 26 Apr. 2018 when I lodged a claim for part pension. Before the change to the Asset test I was receiving part pension from NZ through Centrelink Australia. Now that my assets are under the limit applied for recommencement. Every week I get a email from DHS stating they are still working on my claim. Well it’s been about 6 months now. I am an Australian citizen but worked most of my life in New Zealand. Have been into Centrelink twice in the last month but don’t seem any closer to getting an update as to why the delay.


Make a complaint to your Federal Member and to the Commonwealth Ombudsman (https://www.ombudsman.gov.au/). This will create what they call a “Ministerial” and they must submit an answer to those parties within 28 days from memory. Doing this may make them speed up their process as they have a standard of 7 weeks from claim to completion.

Also read this first about the Ombudsman’s requirements re Centrelink:



FWIW I was just reading the Victoria Seniors paper letter to the editors and there were multiple people in the same black hole at 6-7 months. It seems the outcome of severe under staffing, the robodebt fiasco and government priorities that do not include seniors except when they need a vote.

The best advice is exactly as @grahroll suggests,


You have to view Centrelink in the overall scheme of how business and Government works.

In private enterprise, if you continually fail to operate profitably, you go out of business.

However, on the other side of the ledger, Centrelink, who cannot even completely give money away, is able to operate ad nauseum.

Having been a senior manager in the public service, doing their constituency over is not something government agencies chose to do or aspire to.

Actions or inability to execute are foisted on agencies by their political masters directly through who is installed as head and indirectly through budget ‘management’ (eg death by 1 million cuts as well as selective reward through agency heads’ bonuses).

Ire toward Centrelink or any other government agency should be directed squarely where it belongs. 99% at the minister and front bench, and I allow that occasionally they appoint a head for partisan or ideological reasons that is functionally incapable of doing the job and unable to manage the fallout of agency failing.

As with any organisation there are a few bludgers who don’t care, a few who are over-employed (especially in ICT and common sense issues), and many very frustrated ‘stars’ trying to get the job done as best that can be under their circumstances. It is not easy to make staff adjustments to improve the former other than by providing good government (chuckles) → managerial → procedural support and when that fails, through often lengthy and difficult formal processes.

Bottom line is the rules come from above and in most cases even when it looks like a fiasco to ‘us’ the agency is likely doing as told with what it has to work with.


Better that they operate ad nauseum than not at all?

If Centerlink where a private enterprise would the measure of success be how much money they gave away or would it be how little they gave away, retaining the balance as profit for the shareholders?

The current govt may indeed be trying to make Centrelink look like a private enterprise, however cutting management operational costs is not how you deliver services more effectively. Private enterprises that are customer focused and have to respond on the floor and over the counter to customers fail if they do not meet the customers needs. Too few sales staff on the floor can lead to lost sales. Too little sales staff experience and the sales are not closed. Worse if there are poor product recommendations and no repeat customers.

The product that Centrelink provides and their store front as @PhilT has most reliably related are not down to the store. It is the business owner in Canberra that calls those shots and perhaps more truely deserves criticism.

One of our extended family has an overseas based part pension plus a part Aussie one. Yes the process is not simple, however it is at least possible. The alternative is you forget about the overseas component and just claim the Aussie one in full. Which in the end costs us all more! The difficulty is more about the foreign nations systems than Centrelink. It may be a lot to ask of Centrelink to compensate for the failings of bureaucrats in Spain or Italy etc.

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Like Phil, I too was in the Public Service. The view you express is not uncommon, from those who do not get what they want from the Government, or its services. My experience reflects Phil’s that policy platforms and decisions were foisted on Departments, often without any thought to available resources, effect on existing workload and programmes, or likelihood of success.

You probably weren’t aware either of the constant “productivity savings” that Departments had to make, regardless of workload. Therefore each year there was less to do more.

Add to that the frequent ‘machinery of government’ changes when the Government restructures it’s Ministers’ responsibilities, or just how the various programme responsibilities were distributed throughout the Public Service. Every time this happened, there could be redistribution of staff and assets, physical relocation of these, relocation of equipment including computer systems etc., retraining of staff, redevelopment of databases, linking of legacy mainframe computer systems, etc, etc… Remember the co-location of Medicare and Centrelink, and what chaos that was?

This is why Centrelink doesn’t have just one computer system linked to one data base, but several non-linked databases. Also why they are expected to be fully conversant with the intricacies of a myriad of different benefit and healthcare programmes, and the use of many different poorly written legacy computer systems associated with them.

On top of this, consider that these staff require security guards to ensure they are not assaulted by clients. I have seen people ‘off their tree’ (probably on drugs &/or alcohol) threatening staff in the Centrelink office for not giving them what they delusionaly thought they were rightfully due. Unfortunately, the staff were being blamed for Government policy.

There are buffoons, sinecures, sloths, sycophants, coat tail riders, political appointments, and everything else in the Public Service. But the majority do their best to get their job done with the resources they have.

It should also be noted, that in my experience, while most Ministers tried to come to grips with their portfolios, it was exceptional to have a Minister who was truly knowledgeable and fully understood their area of responsibility. Generally, it was these Ministers who actually consulted with their departments before making major decisions to ensure what they were considering was feasible.

So you see the way it works is the Government and its Ministers make the decisions and determine resourcing; and the Public Service implement them with what they are given.

Hence, as Phil said, the maladies you perceive can and should be laid squarely at the feet of the politicians who make the overarching decisions that the public service are legally obliged to comply with.


Well, my previous post certainly upset some former public servants but your responses do not alter my opinion that Centrelink is the most incompetent organisation in this country based on the incompetence and stupidity I have personally witnessed.

One of the very few competent and helpful Centrelink employees I ever came across actually shared the same opinion of his co-workers and the hierarchy, many of who should have been on the other side of the counter.

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Upset is not the proper word for the reaction. Just trying to give perspective of where the underlying problem lies.

That could be the case, whether they started that way or became that way, but the public service laws make it Very Difficult to make that happen, even when justified. Who makes those laws again? Not the agencies!


The problem is that if they fire all the Centrelink staff as you suggest, then they will need to recruit people to cope with the increase in clientele. Having experience, the former staff would be the first recruited. Back to square one.


So is it down to Centrelink or not to deliver your OS pension entitlement and adjustment of your Aussie one?

The answer so far seems to be that in some instances Centrelink can facilitate the whole process. In others it is up to the individual to deal with their previous nation of choice. Self help seems very much like private enterprise. There have been plenty of suggestions on what to consider.

On the divergent topic of Centrelink:
Our experiences of Centrelink and indeed Medicare have only ever been as a customer. So far it’s a staff success rate of 80% helpful, 10% don’t know, 10% don’t care. The online service system, forms navigation and que times are issues. You can either fight them or go with the flow. One option works out better in the end. My mother-in-law has been a faithful customer of Centrelink and their prior versions for decades and copes although she has zero internet skills, as does another family member with an OS pension. They mange the system with little complaint. Just don’t mention the war or Telstra.

Having spent an entire working life in the private sector I’d happily suggest that the mismatching of employees in the private sector, skill sets, aptitude, interest in their job (motivations), avoidance, and outright criminal behaviors are issues in any private business. Responding to them in the private sector is no less difficult than the public sector is my perception. Unions, fair work legislation that changes continually, workers compensation are common to public and private sectors. Did I leave our managerial egos, driven individuals and bosses that don’t sleep and work all weekend?

Hiring and firing in the private sector is also subject to the available talent pool. It can be very shallow sometimes as private enterprises have over past decades stepped away from training. Perhaps Centrelink could take on 457 visa staff instead, and benefit from those individuals expertise in pensions in their home country? I’d hope not.

For the public sector you might suggest the price is pretty much fixed. The quality of service varies. Good or bad the outcome is predictable. Hence some of those amongst us who would return to the good old days of state run generation and a national PMG. It’s possible to see the logic.

For the private sector I’d suggest that the price is highly variable, and that quality varies as well. A high price does not guarantee good service or quality. I’d guess that is why in retail there is only one fundamental - “caveat emptor”.

The last thing I would hope we are asking for here is our pension arrangements to be run like the private sector. Personal super providers have shown how well they can deliver on that.


Thank you for your reply. I have made a complaint via email asking them to phone me. Apparently they have two weeks to do so before I can lodge a complaint with the Ombudsman. So if I do not receive a reply in two weeks time, I will go ahead and contact the Ombudsman.