Centrelink is giving you the wrong information: staff

Centrelink wait times are down, but staff says callers are getting the wrong information.

Centrelink is giving you the wrong information: staff

Human Services Minister Michael Keenan may be spruiking the use of external contractors to cut Centrelink call wait times, but Centrelink staff claim that private call workers are giving welfare recipients the wrong information.

In a recently delivered ‘secret’ report, Mr Keenan boasted that Human Services Department phone wait times and engaged signals were dropping and said Labor’s claims of external contractors being expensive were unfounded.

“They answered more calls each day, had less down time between calls, were cost effective and ranked equally for customer satisfaction,” said Mr Keenan.

“This dispels many of the myths perpetuated by Labor that outsourcing leads to higher costs and reduced standards of service.”

Mr Keenan also claims that complaints about external contractors are fewer than those made about internal staff, and that contractors answer more calls, and take less down time and fewer sick days than public servants.

But Centrelink officials say private operators are giving out the wrong information to clients, meaning simple problems may take weeks and multiple calls before they are resolved. They also claim that contractors mostly end up handing calls over to public servants to resolve problems.

“They’re transferring everything from simple change of address queries right up to the most complex cases,” said Community and Public Sector Union deputy secretary Melissa Donnelly.

“It’s telling that the Government is providing no data on how many calls these private call centres actually resolve.”

Centrelink officials say that while call wait times may have reduced, contractors were making errors because they are unfamiliar with, and found it difficult to interpret, welfare policy and rules.

“It’s not a good model to deliver correct, accurate and timely services,” said one official.

“There’s a lot of Human Services staff who are responsible for fixing a lot of the problems.”

In addition to the existing number of private contractors currently taking calls, the Coalition promised an extra 1000 contractors in April at a cost of at least $200 million, and an additional 1500 in August, bringing the total to 2750 – all while shedding its own internal staff.

The Coalition may claim that contractors are cost-effective, but the cost of the department having up to 50 internal, mid-ranking staff supporting the contractors, and the financial and emotional cost to welfare recipients are not considered in the report.

Department staff repeatedly fly across the country to support private call centres, and repeated phone calls from clients receiving incorrect advice also adds to government spending, officials say.

“There’s a lot of hidden costs they are not being open and honest about,” said Centrelink officials.

“It’s people’s lives we’re talking about.”

Understandably, Mr Keenan’s praise for contractors has also demoralised many of his department’s staff, an official said.

The secret report is being treated with scepticism until the Government releases the findings.

“Paid consultants reviewed Centrelink contractors and found that Centrelink contractors were okay,” said Labor’s human services spokesman, Ed Husic.

“Now they won’t release the report so we can see if the claims stack up in reality. If the Government is fair dinkum, they’ll release the report.

“The Government is playing with the figures in an attempt to mask the reality again. They have chopped and changed how they measure phone calls to try to make it look like phone call numbers have dropped; people aren’t buying it.”

However, the Government appears to be ignoring the criticism.

“The fact is our service delivery partners are making a very positive contribution towards reducing wait times and busy signals and improving outcomes for customers,” said Department spokesman Hank Jongen.

Have you noticed reduced call wait times? When you last called, were your problems swiftly resolved?

Are you eligible for an Age Pension? Do you know your rights? The PensionChecker™ tool has all the information you need.

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    COMMENTS

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    ozrog
    14th Mar 2019
    9:55am
    Centrelink staff take years of training and have experience in policy and know their job. No contractor can leam all that knowledge in a a couple of weeks of training. We need more staff employed and trained by centrelink.
    Cowboy Jim
    14th Mar 2019
    10:45am
    Spot on ozrog. I go to a centre that deals with Medicare and Old Age pension issues only.
    No job seekers etc. A long trip away but have only had good experiences with them. My local Centrelink office gave me the tip.
    Mojobomber
    14th Mar 2019
    10:47am
    Exactly right ozrog.

    I worked for a Government Department as a Grade 2 classification. They offered packages and 25 of us took one. Since then quite a few people have received a forced redundancy or have left of their own accord having had enough. What has the Department done? Replaced them with contract staff as Grade 1 classification. And they don't keep them longer than their contract so any contract staff hoping to get a permanent job stays till they are uncermoniously dumped. And after the training and experience they have gained, the Department gets new staff and trains them at cost to the taxpayer.
    Mootnell
    14th Mar 2019
    11:25am
    where can I find that office in SA, please?
    we are at the desperation stage with CL. Have been waiting 4 months have sent over 140 pages of data and still no pension. They don't contact us if they want info but wait until we ring. We are ringing fortnightly they say they have everything and then weeks later ask for more of the same paperwork. Id love to find an office that just deals with OAP.
    jackie
    14th Mar 2019
    12:23pm
    ozrog....That may have been the case before Centrelink got privatised. Now it's all mainly a casual workforce.

    The call centre has been outsourced to American Serco. This company runs our privatised prison system too. All the money for this company does not stay in Australia.

    I tried to call Centrelink on Monday their phone was constantly engaged all day. I called on Tuesday and a computer responded. I was kept waiting on the phone for over an hour listening to music before I finally spoke to a person.

    Centrelink calls this an improvement. Why can't the CEO manage the call centre? What does he do that it has to be outsourced? Why aren't unemployed Australians being trained and given these jobs? It would be cheaper and more efficient if Centrelink had its own Human Resources Agency instead of outsourcing its positions.
    Greg
    14th Mar 2019
    2:28pm
    Mootnell - very common for OAP applications to take months to process, same with any Centrelink application, our Low Income Health Care Card took 5 months and I've read about longer for the OAP.
    GeorgeM
    14th Mar 2019
    8:52pm
    Absolutely correct, ozrog, no way the external contractors will pick up the complex Centrelink rules in a short timeframe. Shocking disregard for experienced staff by getting rid of them.

    I wonder why this news is being released by the Minister now as I understand he is leaving his MP role at the next election soon - wonder where he has lined up his next job?
    Will the next Parliament set up a Federal ICAC to investigate all jobs obtained related to the work the ministers did before leaving?
    Will the next Parliament ban Ministers from accepting jobs in related industries to their portfolios after Ministers leave parliament say for 10 years?
    I am expecting a deafening silence from BOTH political parties to these questions.
    Not a Bludger
    14th Mar 2019
    10:36am
    This article is essentially a litany of bitching by the union controlled civil servants in Centrelink.
    And, this union hates the use of more efficient contractors with a passion.
    Mojobomber
    14th Mar 2019
    10:51am
    The Union is trying to get people permanent employment, good conditions and realistic wages. Contractors become union members too you know. Why are you are so negative? What does Not a Bludger mean anyway? What is your status? Are you a pensioner, on Centrelink payments or employed? If you have ever been employed you have enjoyed rights and conditions fought hard for by Unions so stop knocking them.
    arbee
    14th Mar 2019
    11:05am
    You are absolutely right, Not a Bludger, but don't expect much support from this left wing site that is dominated by left wing respondents. My wife and my experience's of Centrelink workers would be that they are mediocre to say the least. It is very common that you could talk to five different people and get five entirely different answers to the same question. Unfortunately the whole system is riddled with the public service mentality of inefficiency and slackness.
    Anonymous
    14th Mar 2019
    4:33pm
    The LNP trolls are trolling today. Their beloved verminous COALition has cut Centrelink to the bone. Small wonder it's falling apart.

    Spare us the union-bashing.
    thommo
    14th Mar 2019
    6:30pm
    Not a bludger...er just a leaner...
    Anonymous
    14th Mar 2019
    8:22pm
    My dealings with Centrelink were when Labor was in power and I found staff grossly incompetent, arrogant, rude and lazy. I was horrified by the way a senior staffer treated my partner and I wasn't alone. When I made a very strong complaint, a Centrelink social worker was appointed who said she was shocked and appalled at the way we had been treated. In response to my complaint, the incompetent, rude lazy senior staff member was promoted!

    My daughter was compelled to go in personally with a seriously disabled baby just out of ICU and on oxygen and feeding tubes, and was kept waiting all day, then told to come back the next day because nobody had time to service her.

    I went with her recently to a Centrelink office and found them mind-bogglingly efficient. She had phoned to say she was coming in and she was serviced and sorted satisfactorily in less than 30 minutes. Maybe a case of which office you visit or maybe the luck of the draw - whether you get someone who knows their job or not?
    Anonymous
    14th Mar 2019
    8:22pm
    My dealings with Centrelink were when Labor was in power and I found staff grossly incompetent, arrogant, rude and lazy. I was horrified by the way a senior staffer treated my partner and I wasn't alone. When I made a very strong complaint, a Centrelink social worker was appointed who said she was shocked and appalled at the way we had been treated. In response to my complaint, the incompetent, rude lazy senior staff member was promoted!

    My daughter was compelled to go in personally with a seriously disabled baby just out of ICU and on oxygen and feeding tubes, and was kept waiting all day, then told to come back the next day because nobody had time to service her.

    I went with her recently to a Centrelink office and found them mind-bogglingly efficient. She had phoned to say she was coming in and she was serviced and sorted satisfactorily in less than 30 minutes. Maybe a case of which office you visit or maybe the luck of the draw - whether you get someone who knows their job or not?
    sunnyOz
    14th Mar 2019
    10:59am
    Last year, Centrelink made a big mistake with my part pension when my hours at work decreased. So much of an error that they stopped my pension, because they read the figures wrong. Trying to sort it out was a nightmare! Most of the time, it was ME giving them figures.
    At one stage, a CL staff member did not have a clue about the Pensioner Work Bonus - and then stunned me by saying he had worked for CL for nearly 20 years! I had a spreadsheet of what the figures should be, and he said he would have to pass it on to their Finance Experts. This took over 9 weeks to sort out, then got an odd amount of back pay which CL do not have to break down. Even my accountant says the amount is totally wrong (grossly underpaid) but CL don't have to give a summary.
    With the problem of Robo-debts arising years later (funny how they haven't got a similar system to advise SHORT payments) -the whole experience has made me very wary of taking on any type of reportable job as I simply do not trust CL to calculate figures correctly, especially as they don't have to justify their figures. We have to justify ours.
    arbee
    14th Mar 2019
    11:07am
    You would just be one of many tens of thousands who have experienced the same problem.

    14th Mar 2019
    11:22am
    Sorry but my cynicism kicks in when I read about a union rubbishing the use of contractors.
    flowerpot
    14th Mar 2019
    11:57am
    My husband has suffered similar problems with Centrelink giving him the wrong information/stopping payments/being unable to sort out a reduction in his payment when he has done any part-time work (he always notifies them) and then having a computer system which insists he does the work all year round when in fact it's random at best. Consequently, payments are stopped again. He reports online then goes back to the office when that fails. It's a bureaucratic mess but outsourcing only makes things worse. There is a lot of knowledge and experience gained over a number of years in any job. If each consultant was given personal responsibility for a number of cases, things would improve. The problems start when the claimant has to deal with numerous people who have no personal interest or connection with their case and the claimant becomes a number not a real person. It's basic psychology -if you are invested in a person and feel responsible for them you will go all out to help them and find out the answers -not just hand them on to the next person. I'm a retired teacher and have also worked extensively in admin; that's how it works.
    KSS
    14th Mar 2019
    12:19pm
    "Centrelink staff claim that private call workers are giving welfare recipients the wrong information."

    Pot, kettle, black. if the comments regularly espoused on this site are anything to go by.
    Rae
    14th Mar 2019
    12:45pm
    The whole system is fraught. It doesn't appear to work in real time. Casuals should be able to upload hours each fortnight into data base set to accept variety. It's not rocket science.
    fairplay
    14th Mar 2019
    12:26pm
    Mootnell,
    I had similar issues with Clink , went 7 times just for the discount cards ( not the OAP) ...on the last visit specifically asked had we supplied all the info, was told...I THINK SO , then waited and waited , rang twice ( timeframe of abot 7-8 weeks)...got fed up and called 5AA (82230000) and once they got involved got many calls from Clink after 48 hours and eventually got the cards within about 4-5 weeks.....reckon they should outsource to the radio station !!!!!
    Cowboy Jim
    14th Mar 2019
    1:16pm
    What are discount cards, fairplay? Senior Card? Do not know of discount cards available from C/Link but always willing to learn.
    Dave R
    14th Mar 2019
    12:30pm
    Centrelink has been slashed to the bone and only a change of government is going to fix this. Waiting times for reviews of many decisions are now 12 months or more and there are no updates provided along the way.
    gold miner
    14th Mar 2019
    1:26pm
    Centrelink wrongly docked my age pension when my superannuation fund which paid my super to me merged with an industry fund. I should come under grandfathering rules and not lose any pension. I wrote to the Appeals Officer in Canberra 6 months ago with all the evidence but have heard nothing. have now complained to my local Federal MP for help. They are grossly understaffed and poorly trained. I would hate to work there.
    thommo
    14th Mar 2019
    2:08pm
    gold miner, you have been dealt a gravid injustice.....Once Centrelink stuffs up like this, there seems no remedy can reinstate the status quo.. That indicates that they system itself is stuffed, and the whole age pension provisions are unrealistic..
    Centrelink's administration of the age pension, and the age pension itself, really is a waste of resources and taxpayer funds. They micro manage recipients of the age pension which causes serious anxiety among pensioners, because you don't know what they are going to do next.
    The best thing to do is bring in a decent UNIVERSAL AGE PENSION. This will cut out the administrative nightmare that it currently is, and let the taxation system sort out incomes over and above the tax free threshold. This will obviate the necessity of thousands of admin workers, and save the budge millions of dollars, which can be better spent providing a decent pension.
    But that would be too simple for our governments, especially the LNP who are idealogically opposed to a universal pension...Well lets just get rid of them.
    fairplay
    14th Mar 2019
    1:33pm
    Cowboy Jim,
    was talking about those cards they give you if you do not qualify for a pension...the low income card + the CSHC ...does not give you a lot....cheap scripts at the chemist really
    Cowboy Jim
    14th Mar 2019
    2:41pm
    Thank you for your explanation, fairplay. Health Care Cards I am familiar with.
    Sundays
    14th Mar 2019
    1:41pm
    Outsourcing complicated information does not work and I’m speaking from personal experience managing large processing Teams The Government thinks Centrelink is a processing area, but it takes years of training to fully understand all the various payments and legislation. No wonder people are given the run around. However, they seem to have their online portal through myGov. working. I recently helped a friend apply for the Pension. We did it 13 weeks ahead and uploaded all in the information. Had to go into the Office for them to check her identity. They sent her weekly texts and just before her first payment was due, she received a letter detailing her payment. Correctly paid on time. It was straightforward however.
    Jim
    14th Mar 2019
    1:44pm
    Without getting into an argument regarding the current efficiency of Centrelink staff compared to Centrelink staff of the past a couple of examples that I can relate to, in 1989 the company I worked for was closing down, we arranged for Centrelink staff to come to our workplace to advise our employees of their rights and options when the doors finally closed, most of our employees were given good advice, many others were not, and they got some really bad advice, causing many of them to lose a large part of their payment package, after been told that they couldn’t claim benefits until they had used up all of their money including savings, one guy in particular went to Centrelink about 12 months after losing his job, and the person at Centrelink asked why he had taken so long to apply, when he told them of the advice he had been given they just said sorry but you were ill advised and there is nothing that could be done, another incident actually happened to myself in 2010, my pension was stopped when I notified Centrelink that I was going overseas, then they rang to say it was only the concession that would be affected and the energy supliment, that would be affected after 6 weeks, when I was overseas I got an email saying my pension had been cancelled because I hadn’t notified them that I was going overseas, when I asked them to check, because I had definitely notified them that I was going overseas, they came back with an answer that I was supposed to notify them within 48 hours and because I had notified them about 8 days prior to going overseas it didn’t count as a notification, it was all sorted out in the long run, I ended up speaking to someone in a senior position, who explained that there are hundreds of circumstances that things like this happened, and you couldn’t expect everyone to know all of them, so it would appear that there have been problems for at least 20 years.
    Snowflake
    14th Mar 2019
    1:53pm
    Probably the Liberals being caught out on their lies and spin. Bunch of tossers.
    arbee
    15th Mar 2019
    10:34am
    Snowflake, at least you got your name right, no substance and floats around in the wind depending on which way it is blowing.
    Misty
    15th Mar 2019
    6:40pm
    Don't be so rude arbee, mind your manners please.
    Charlie
    14th Mar 2019
    2:02pm
    Fortunately I haven't had to deal with Centrelink for a few years.

    But other big service providers, for example, Telstra, that use off shore complaint resolution services, drive me nuts, because they "do not pass on a copy of the original written complaint or question."

    Somebody who speaks poor english, phones, wanting to know, how they can be of assistance..?

    I am quite stunned when I find out that simple common sense procedures are starting to drop out of the system. These are things that are not checked because they are just taken for granted.

    There is another one like this, just happened to me today.
    I phoned the local bus service in Rockhampton Qld and asked them which bus route stops at the local railway station. They said there are no local city bus stops within 10 minutes walk of the railway station.

    How can they even think of a tourist industry when there are great gaping holes in the public transport system. It seems there are just too many common sense things that have disappeared from life.? That's why things are failing?
    Play Fairly
    14th Mar 2019
    2:13pm
    I agree with what you say, and can't understand WHY any Australian government should have the right to employ people in offshore call centres to meet the staffing requirements of any government department, and, more particularly, at a time when high unemployment, poverty, and homelessness, is obvious for all to see.

    Apart from that, how many times has the question of information security been raised?
    Play Fairly
    14th Mar 2019
    2:13pm
    I agree with what you say, and can't understand WHY any Australian government should have the right to employ people in offshore call centres to meet the staffing requirements of any government department, and, more particularly, at a time when high unemployment, poverty, and homelessness, is obvious for all to see.

    Apart from that, how many times has the question of information security been raised?
    luddite
    14th Mar 2019
    3:15pm
    I have found it is much easier to front up to centre link in person.I find that they are always wanting to get you to use the internet of phone but I decline. Some of the phone people don,t have the same scope of knowledge as fronting up you get to speak to someone in that field
    Cowboy Jim
    15th Mar 2019
    7:41am
    Always go and see the people in person, OK wait for 10 minutes, but still faster than hanging on the phone for an hour or more.
    floss
    14th Mar 2019
    3:18pm
    Why not use a call centre out side of Australia as most people on the dole come from there.Only joking.
    Cowboy Jim
    15th Mar 2019
    7:45am
    Not all that wrong, floss!
    floss
    14th Mar 2019
    3:24pm
    Turn away as soon as you two words Privatisation and Deregulation.
    Bruce
    14th Mar 2019
    4:10pm
    If. You talk to Hank Jorgensen. There aren't any problems. I believe he is part of the problem. He needs to be replaced..
    Cowboy Jim
    15th Mar 2019
    7:43am
    Never heard of that one. The boss is called Henk Jongen; he speaks sometimes on the wireless. Miss the magazine he was fronting a few years back.

    14th Mar 2019
    4:31pm
    Typical - yet another Centrelink screw-up brought to you by the inept Lieberal-Nazional Party, soon to be in opposition.
    MD
    14th Mar 2019
    5:41pm
    “Paid consultants reviewed Centrelink contractors and found that Centrelink contractors were okay,” said Labor’s human services spokesman, Ed Husic."

    Well he would say that wouldn't he, after all, it's his nose against the wall and therefore his arse that's facing the firing squad. Why on earth he would bother paying some of his network mates to tell him what he wants to hear when he could have sought direct feedback from existing Centrelink clients astounds me.

    Oh we all can quote our respective grizzles and gripes and proffer our all knowing and learned comments/opinions to remedy the situation, ultimately we're at the mercy of equally all knowing pubic savants - and their contracted lackeys.
    Probably easier to think of the situation as a participant in a casino game of roulette; the C'link staff being the croupiers and the rest of us mug punters... winners and losers all !

    Place your bets!
    Misty
    15th Mar 2019
    12:00am
    You got that wrong MD, Labor is not yet responsible for Centrelink, it is the current LNP govt, outsourcing everything as usual, so it is not Ed Husic's nose against the wall, as you like to put i but the LNP MP Michael Keenan.
    MD
    15th Mar 2019
    3:55pm
    Yep Misty touche', you're definitely on the ball! I still wonder whether Mr Ed would be crowing quite as loudly were he the one with 'his nose against the wall' ? Matters little either way as the mug punters are yet left in the lurch.
    Misty
    15th Mar 2019
    6:43pm
    Yes MD, with such a big department they will probably never be able to satisfy all the people all of the time.
    Jacka
    14th Mar 2019
    10:19pm
    Good evening Jacka here, today I had the misfortune to have to contact Centrelink by phone, after pressing the redial button at least 20 times due to line being busy, I eventually got a recorded message. As I do not have a PIN number I was rejected twice, again by a recording. I kept ringing and eventually got through, I waited on the phone for over 1 hour the longest I have ever spent waiting for Centrelink to answer a call. Bravo stop telling Fibs about waiting times improving, what a lot of hogwash. The lady I spoke to took some of the information I wished to supply, however advised I would have to go to a Centrelink office to complete the rest. That wasn't much of a waste of time was it. Good luck to you all out there, Cheers Jacka.
    Colours
    14th Mar 2019
    10:59pm
    I would have thought the government would want to have a world class centrelink service by the end of May, considering how many of their MPs will be unemployed.
    Misty
    15th Mar 2019
    12:03am
    Wonder if they will all apply for unemployment benefits?, or have cushy jobs to go too, not what you know, but who you know these days.
    Hairy
    15th Mar 2019
    11:28am
    Calling Centrelink by phone is a total waste of time and effort. I now line up with the burkas , dare I say smart looking purple people in their suits dripping with gold, .indigenous people pensioners disabled and the unemployed.Inala branch ,and I have never had an un pleasant outcome there.30 minuits is longest I have waited.your details and complaint are entered in an iPad or tablet and your inquiry is directed to someone who can help. My experience has always been attended to in a pleasant manner.and the outcome solved.
    MD
    15th Mar 2019
    3:58pm
    That's the spirit Hairy, good for you - another happy C'Link client, guess that makes at least two of us?
    Cowboy Jim
    16th Mar 2019
    3:37pm
    Right in the Premier's seat - of course the place should be efficient. Also where the C/Link is most needed. Moved to Qld in the early 80s, can hardly recognize the place now!


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