Post-retirement, nearly two-thirds of Australians receive government assistance as their main source of income (ASIC 2018), to meet everyday costs of living. Australian social security payment policy is administered by the Department of Social Services, and income support payments are delivered by the Department of Human Services, through its network of Centrelink offices. There is also a network of services and assistance available designed to improve the wellbeing of older Australians (see Aged care).

A range of social security payments support older Australians (defined on this page as those aged 65 years and over). The most common payment is Age Pension, which is paid to people who meet certain requirements, such as age and residency as well as being subject to income and asset testing. In response to Australians living longer and healthier lives, which has placed increased demand on this payment, policy changes have been made to achieve sustainability of Age Pension system. This includes the incremental increase in the qualifying age for Age Pension (Australian Government 2009). As the qualifying age for this payment continues to increase (from 65.5 in 2017 to 67 years in 2023), there may be increased demand on other associated payments, such as Disability Support Pension (DSP), Carer Payment and Newstart Allowance (see Disability Support Pension and Carer Payment and Unemployment and parenting income support payments).  

This page examines the main income support payments received by the Australian population aged 65 and over. Data are sourced from the Department of Human Services administrative data. Information on government expenditure on payments for older Australians is covered in Welfare expenditure.

As at 29 June 2018, 2.6 million people aged 65 and over received income support payments, equating to 2 in 3 (67%) of the population aged 65 and over. Of these:

  • 95% (2.5 million) received Age Pension
  • 4.5% (119,000) received either DSP or Carer Payment (2.8% or 72,600 received DSP and 1.8% or 46,400 received Carer Payment).

Trends

The 18 years to 2018 saw a 60% rise in the number of income support recipients aged 65 and over, from 1.6 million in 2001 to 2.6 million in 2018. This broadly reflected the growth in the aged population over this period. As a result, the proportion of the population aged 65 and over receiving income support payments remained relatively stable between 2001 and 2018. The proportion rose slightly between 2001 and 2015 (from 68% to 72%) and fell to 67% in 2018 (Figure 1).

For Age Pension, the:

  • proportion of the population aged 65 and over receiving this payment has remained relatively stable, 67% in 2001 and 63% in 2018
  • number of people receiving this payment, however, increased overall between 2001 and 2018—1.62 million in 2001 which increased to 2.54 million in 2016 and dropped slightly to 2.48 million in 2018. Note that before 2014, a substantial number of women under the age of 65 were receiving Age Pension (174,600 in 2001 declining to 26,300 in 2013). This reflects the increasing qualifying age for the Age Pension from 61.5 in 2001 to 65.5 from July 2017 (see Chapter 3 Income support over the past 20 years’ in Australia’s welfare 2019: data insights for more information on shifts in income support data over the last 20 years).

Receipt of DSP or Carer Payment has increased substantially over the 18 years to 2018. The number of recipients receiving these payments rose from 4,200 to 119,000 between 2001 and 2018, equating to an increase from 0.2% to 3.0% of the population aged 65 and over, over this period.

There was some variation in the age profile of Age Pension recipients over time. In particular, between 2001 and 2018, the proportion of the population aged 65 and over receiving Age Pension:

  • fell by 38% for those aged 65–69 (71% to 44%), with the rate of decline faster in recent years (with a fall of 12 percentage points since 2016, compared with 9 percentage points in the preceding decade, between 2006 and 2015)
  • rose by 36% for those aged 75–84 (57% to 78%), with the rate of increase steeper in earlier years (with a rise of 15 percentage points between 2001 and 2008, compared with 5-percentage points between 2008 and 2018).

Age

As at 29 June 2018, the proportion of the population aged 65 and over who received income support payments increased with age, up to age group 80–84 (52% for those aged 65–69 to 82% for those aged 80–84). It fell to 71% for those 85 and over (Figure 2).

The age profile of older income support recipients (aged 65 and over) varied by payment type. Those who received DSP or Carer Payment were typically younger than those receiving Age Pension. Almost 2 in 3 (64%) were aged 65–69, compared with 1 in 5 (22%) for Age Pension recipients. Conversely, 52% of Age Pension recipients were aged 75 and over compared with 10% for those receiving DSP or Carer Payment.

Sex

As at 29 June 2018, among those aged 65 and over, women were slightly more likely to receive income support payments than men—1.4 million (69% of women in this age group) compared with 1.2 million (64%) of men (Figure 2).

Indigenous Australians

As at 29 June 2018, 22,100 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians aged 65 and over received income support payments. This equates to 63% of the Indigenous population aged 65 and over receiving these payments compared with 67% for Other Australians (Figure 2).

After taking into account the differences in the age structures between Indigenous and Other Australians, Indigenous Australians aged 65 and over were slightly less likely to receive income support payments. However, there was some variation by payment type. Compared with Other Australians, Indigenous Australians were:

  • less likely to receive Age Pension—56% of the Indigenous population aged 65 and over compared with 63% for Other Australians. (Note: 90% of older Indigenous income support recipients receive Age Pension compared with 95% for other older recipients.)
  • more likely to receive DSP or Carer Payment—5.4% compared with 3.0% for Other Australians. 

Note: Indigenous identification in Centrelink and population data is voluntary and self-identified. This may influence the quality and completeness of the data and subsequent reporting on the number and proportion of Indigenous Australians receiving income support payments.

Remoteness area

As at 29 June 2018, people aged 65 years and over living in Inner regional and Outer regional areas were more likely to be receiving income support payments (72%) than those living in Major cities (64%), Remote areas (66%) or Very remote areas (57%) (Figure 2).  

Earning an income while receiving income support

Receipt of earnings (from work, investments, superannuation, and/or substantial assets of either a recipient or their partner) influences whether a recipient receives a full or part-rate payment. Income support recipients are required to report earnings from all sources.

As at 29 June 2018, for recipients aged 65 and over receiving income support payments:

  • 37% received a part-rate payment
  • 4.1% declared earnings.

Where do I go for more information?

For more information on Centrelink payments and data, see:

References

ASIC (Australian Securities & Investments Commission) 2018. Income sources in retirement: age pension.

Australian Government 2009. Secure and sustainable pension reform: age pension age.

Alternative text for figures

Figure 1: Recipients of income support payments, people aged 65 and over, 2001 to 2018

The number of male recipients aged 65 and over receiving income support payments increased from 695,500 in 2001 to 1.2 million in 2018. The number of female recipients fell from 940,600 in 2001 to 1.4 million in 2018. The proportion of the male and female population aged 65 and over receiving income support payments has remained relatively stable between 2001 and 2018.

Figure 2: Proportion of people aged 65 and over receiving income support payments, by sex, age, Indigenous status and remoteness area, 29 June 2018

At 29 June 2018, 67% of the population aged 65 years and over received income support payments. The proportion was higher for women than men (69% vs 64%), increased with age until the age group 80-84 (from 52% in 65-69 age group to 82% in 80-84 age group), highest for those living in inner and outer regional areas (72% each), and higher for Other Australians (67% compared with 63% for Indigenous Australians).