Media Release by The Hon Bill Shorten MP

Secure and Sustainable Pension Reform: Increased payments and better assessment for disability pensioners

Joint Media Release with:

  • Wayne Swan MP, Treasurer
  • Jenny Macklin MP, Minister for Families Housing Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Indigenous Affairs

Around 720,000 Australians receiving the Disability Support Pension will receive pension increases as part of the Government’s Secure and Sustainable Pensions Reforms.

Many disability support pensioners face complex and serious social and economic barriers. Financially, they are among the most vulnerable in society.

As part of the Government’s Secure and Sustainable Pensions Reforms, disability support pensioners will receive the full benefit of pension increases in line with the Government’s commitment to deliver a fairer, simpler and sustainable pension system.

From 20 September 2009, the Secure and Sustainable Pension Reforms deliver increases to Disability Support Pensioners of:

  • $32.49per week for singles on the full rate; and
  • $10.14 per week combined for couples on the full rate.

The total increase will comprise an increase in the base rate for single pensioners and a new Pension Supplement for all pensioners.

This builds upon the Government’s 2008 extension of Utilities Allowance to disability support pensioners, now valued at $518 a year. In 2008, the Government also extended lump sum payments to disability pensioners for the first time as part of the Economic Security Strategy package.

The Government is also introducing better and fairer assessment procedures for the Disability Support Pension (DSP). The existing eligibility criteria for the DSP remain unchanged.

From 1 July 2010, DSP assessment will be simplified to fast-track more claimants who are clearly or manifestly eligible due to a catastrophic, congenital disability or cancer, enabling them to receive financial support more quickly.

In cases which are not clear cut, people will now have their eligibility for DSP assessed by Senior Job Capacity Assessors. This will make sure claimants are seen by an experienced assessor and receive a thorough assessment.

To assist Senior Job Capacity Assessors, the Government will:

  • introduce new, clearer guidelines on the assessment of work capacity, including explicit consideration of prior work history in determining current capacity to work; and
  • establish a new Health Professional Advice Unit within Centrelink to give Assessors advice on medical issues including treatment, to complement the claimant’s doctor’s report.

The Government will also provide new payments for claimants’ treating doctors when they provide additional diagnostic or further information on the claimant (with the claimant’s consent) at the request of the Health Professional Advice Unit. The fee will be set at $80 for telephone advice, or $150 for a face to face consultation or the provision of a written report. This will help Assessors make a better assessment.

The Government will also update the Impairment Tables used for DSP assessments, to make sure they are consistent with contemporary medical and rehabilitation practice. For example, the assistance that can be provided by hearing aids is not included in the assessment for hearing impairment, however sight impairment is assessed with glasses. The Impairment Tables were last reviewed in 1993. The new Impairment Tables will be developed in consultation with the medical profession and disability stakeholders and are expected to be introduced by 1 January 2012.

In total it is expected an estimated 1,500 people, previously ineligible for DSP, will now be granted the pension.

In addition, it is estimated that 6,500 claimants, who would otherwise have received DSP, will no longer be eligible.

These new assessment procedures are expected to result in net savings of $8.4 million over the forward estimates.

This will be further complemented by the Government’s National Mental Health and Disability Employment Strategy, in particular the pilot program that will trial incentives to provide more jobs for people on the Disability Support Pension. The pilot will begin on 1 March 2010 in line with the commencement of the Rudd Government’s reformed Disability Employment Services and will identify, recruit and prepare 1000 DSP recipients to find work.

These changes are part of the Government’s Secure and Sustainable Pension Reform to deliver a stronger and fairer pension system and provide security and sustainability into the future.