Centrelink to boost staff by 3000 to cut wait times

Call wait times for Centrelink will hopefully be slashed with a new government funding plan.

The federal government announced this week that it would fund an additional 3000 staff as part of a $228 million package designed to improve claim approvals and call wait times.

The new staff will cover Centrelink, Medicare and child support services.

The Guardian says 800 staff have already been recruited.

However, there are concerns that may not be enough. Services Australia staff numbers have fallen from 31,000 in 2012-13 to 26,600 at last count.

Centrelink has been in the public eye for months for its less-than-stellar service. Customers have claimed the service regularly keeps them on hold for hours or hangs up after informing them no-one is available to take their call.

The Guardian reported that only 23 per cent of calls to Centrelink were answered in July and August, compared to 35 per cent of calls in the 2022-23 period.

Processing delays

A claim for the Age Pension is meant to be processed in 49 days, but in August the average was 61 days, up from 33 days in 2022-23 and 35 days in 2021-22.

Centrelink said it had issued about 2.8 million busy messages to callers over July and August 2023.

The fall in customer service is being attributed to a decision last year to cut back on outsourced workers.

Services Australia slashed its workforce in July last year by cutting the workload it sent to labour hire firms by about 30 per cent.

Commentators predicted at the time that the move would create job losses and dramatically increase wait times and payment processing delays.

When announcing the move, Services Australia’s chief, Hank Jongen, said the agency’s funding had “reduced in line with the March budget allocation to reflect this change in expected demand”.

“With COVID-19 measures now winding down and less activity supporting jobseekers, we no longer require the current level of service delivery partner support,” he said.


Unions were shocked by the decision. Community and Public Sector Union national president Alistair Waters last year said the move would mean Services Australia would be “scrambling”. 

“CPSU members have grave concerns that service standards and Services Australia’s capacity to serve the Australian public will fall off a cliff after 1 July because of Scott Morrison’s final budget. It is absolutely critical that the essential services that all Australians rely on are properly funded.”

After announcing the funding, government services minister Bill Shorten said he was committed to “getting things done”.

“We are committed to restoring Services Australia’s funding, replenishing its workforce and getting the agency back on track – and we’re going to get it done sooner rather than later.

“The new staff will be critical to reducing call wait times, speeding up claim payments and giving Australians back some time in their busy lives,” Mr Shorten said.

Frontline staff

“Services Australia will be bringing on the staff as quickly as possible, with more than 800 Australians already accepting jobs at the agency.

Mr Shorten said most of the new workforce would be frontline staff hired outside Canberra. 

However, even 3000 may not stem the tide. At a Senate estimates hearing on Tuesday, a report was discussed – but not tabled – that claimed 180 workers were leaving each month and 20 per cent of the workforce said they planned to leave next year.

The Guardian claimed the agency was struggling to retain staff due to falling morale and onerous working conditions.

Have you recently tried to ring Centrelink? How long did you wait? Why not share your experience in the comments section below?

Also read: 60 per cent of eligible Aussies missing out on energy rebates, research finds

Jan Fisher
Jan Fisherhttp://www.yourlifechoices.com.au/author/JanFisher
Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.


  1. This new funding allocation is welcome news. I’m an aged pensioner & the last two times I’ve tried to call Centrelink the wait times were over an hour which is absolutely ridiculous & I’ve given up. Certain issues can be complicated & require a conversation with someone.
    My partner is on jobseeker & trying to call is also a nightmare.
    I feel sorry for anyone that has to regularly make contact via the phone.

  2. Seems, to me, that this is an admission that their policy of reduced front line staff, reduced telephone answering service was, in fact, an inane, inept policy.
    Heads of the Department and all those idiots who made this decision should be removed forthwith!!!!

  3. My application for the age pension was submitted 79 days ago. Centrelink’s response is ‘We are sorry to take so long. You do not need to contact us we will let you know when a decision has been made’

  4. I am an age pensioner who does casual part time work. I like to travel so when i am off grid camping or going overseas I have to get taken off fortnightly income reporting. I April when I went away for 3 months it took me 98 mins on the phone to speak with the relevant person. About half whey thru the call I spoke with someone who asked what I wanted, I repeated what I said when the call was first answered and the person said they would transfer me to the older persons line which is the number I rang. Another 48 mins listening to music and i was finally able to get the job done. At the time I said thats me done for work if I have to go thru BS like this, but my employer begged me to return due to cronic staff shortage so I did. Here I am as I type this on the Phone to Centrelink trying again to get removed from fortnightly reporting and its exactly the same , ring the older persons line tell the digital response what you want then after 34 mins today someone asks what i want then tells me they will transfer me to the older persons line and now its 73 mins on the phone with music still playing. I wish you would tackle Hank Jorgen about these real life issues when you interview him , he is a disgrace to service of clients of his department. No wonder people get angry on these phone calls. Up to 80 mins and still waiting, what a disgrace

  5. I’m a 65 year old JobSeeker recipient, and was fulfilling my mutual obligation requirement by volunteering in an office for 30 hours per fortnight, until I was diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2022.
    Since then, I’ve had a mastectomy, 5 months of chemo, and 5 weeks of radiotherapy.
    Over the last 14 months, I have lodged several Medical Certificates, the most recent ones stipulated that I had a serious illness and the duration of the exemption was longer than the standard period of 13 weeks.
    I have lodged some of the certificates by uploading them to my Centrelink online account, and others I have lodged in person at my local Centrelink office.
    Throughout this entire process, none of the exemptions were coded for longer than 13 weeks, even though the medical certificates clearly stated otherwise. I knew this because I received auto-generated letters from Centrelink advising that the exemptions were expiring several weeks before the expiry date stated on the medical certificates.
    I called the customer service phone line several times, trying to establish why the medical certificates were not coded coded correctly. The longest wait time on hold was 2 hours and 10 minutes. The result of this call was that the customer service officer assured me that the medical certificate was now coded correctly – this turned out to be a lie.
    After the most recent incorrect coding of my medical certificate, I lodged an online complaint to Centrelink on 28 June. I received no response for several weeks, and when I phoned the Centrelink help line, it was explained to me that Centrelink funding and staff numbers have been cut, and that my complaint was deemed to be ‘not a burning issue’ and expired after 2 weeks of lodgement.
    In mid-September this year, I received a call from my employment services provider explaining that my exemption was expiring, and I explained that Centrelink had assured me that the expiration date was correct when in fact it wasn’t. The employment services provider told me that there are specific documents and forms required for serious illness exemption. None of the numerous Centrelink staff that I’ve been dealing with over the previous 12 months mentioned this requirement to me.
    After dealing with the trauma of breast cancer treatment over the last 12 months, and because I was getting nowhere with Centrelink, I lodged a complaint with the Commonwealth Ombudsman. 7 working days after lodging the complaint, I received an email response from the Ombudsman.
    On 10th October, I received a call from Services Australia regarding my complaint with Centrelink.
    The Services Australia officer was very apologetic and allowed me to tell her the whole story of my dealings with Centrelink, and the incompetence, and misinformation that I’d experienced. I’m glad I kept a diary of all of my dealings with Centrelink.
    The phone call lasted almost an hour, and the Services Australia officer assured me that she will be passing on my feedback about my poor experience to the relevant departments and staff members. She also said she will call for a policy upgrade and revision of the proper process of coding medical certificates for long-term illnesses such as cancer.
    The Services Australia officer also told me about the section covering ‘Incapacity due to serious illness’ of the Social Security guide, which can be found on the website at: guides.dss.gov.au/social-security-guide/3/11/5/10
    It’s now too late for me to gain any benefit from these policy updates, but I hope they are well in place for other Centrelink payment recipients so that they don’t have to go through what I’ve been through.

  6. Last time I went into a centrelink office to see a customer service office I was told I need an appointment. I had just returned from overseas in which time Centrelink had cancelled my pension.
    I told the security bloke at the front entrance how do I make an appointment. He said you have to ring Centrelink. I said, Really, Ring Centrelink for an appointment when I’m overseas. No way am I ringing from overseas and being on hold for hours possibly days.
    After a bit of a heated altercation he finally let me in.
    Why haven’t Centrelink got an online appointment booking or at least a separate number for bookings only but a separate booking number won’t work either. They need an online booking service like Doctors use now. Each office can have their own Booking system.
    Centrelink is broken. The current pension system is broken with a complex and unfair income and assets test.
    Old Hank says communication with Centrelink on line is the best way. Upload required documents etc etc.
    BS, they don’t look at it until you ring them.

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