Centrelink staff not ‘productive for customers’, report finds

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A survey of Centrelink staff has revealed that staff feel pressured to meet performance targets, which often results in them manipulating their work practices in ways that are not ‘productive for customers’.

The results of the survey from the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) found that frontline staff in Centrelink offices did not feel trusted or respected by their employer and their work was negatively affected by their treatment, according to a report published in The Guardian.

The survey was completed by 1571 members of the Services Australia staff, with 90 per cent feeling pressured to meet performance targets and 63 per cent admitting to manipulating work practices to meet those targets in ways that did not necessarily work best for clients.

The CPSU said that the excessive oversight of staff, which included intrusive questions about toilet breaks, were having a “negative effect on staff wellbeing, customer service and workplace culture”.

CPSU national president Alistair Waters told The Guardian that there not enough secure and experienced staff to get the job done.

Around 71 per cent of the survey respondents said that the average time they were given to finalise a work task was unrealistic.

One survey respondent said: “It is doing an incredible disservice to our customers and putting unrealistic pressure on us, so if you care about your customers and actually giving them assistance, you will then be asked to explain yourself in coaching. It’s disgusting.”

Another said: “The claim you are allocated might be extremely complex and take a considerable amount of time. It really puts you in a difficult position, if you take the time to ensure the outcome is accurate for the customer then it can take a real hit to your productivity.”

Last month, in response to a report that showed Centrelink wait times had blown out this year, YourLifeChoices members shared some of their frustrations in dealing with the agency.

“The government is forcing older Australians who are technologically illiterate to apply for [the] Aged Pension online. They give you the option of allowing a third party to do this on your behalf but that necessitates that person knowing a lot of very personal information. Some staff give incorrect information, others just point you at a terminal or telephone. Different centres can give very different levels of service so it pays to shop around,” wrote YourLifeChoices member Unikat.

“Even before COVID the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison Liberal government has slashed staffing levels in Centrelink to a point where the remaining staff simply cannot cope with the duties the parliament has given them,” wrote Crazy Horse. “No amount of spin from #ScottyFromMarketing can change this fundamental fact that anyone who has to deal with Centrelink knows to be true.”

“My daughter walked out of the Centrelink office recently, having waited 20 minutes just to register to get to see someone. The place looked understaffed and the number of people waiting to see someone suggested at least an hour wait. With car parking in the area monitored by enthusiastic parking officers the choice became a financial decision,” wrote inextratime.

Services Australia general manager Hank Jongen said that the survey covered only a small proportion of CPSU members’ views and was not representative of all staff.

“We manage people respectfully, using performance processes and systems that are widely used in the customer contact (call centre) industry, and we await the results of the 2020 staff census,” Mr Jongen said.

He explained that the agency had completed a staff census in 2019 that had a sample size of 25,000 staff that found that 87 per cent of respondents reported that their supervisor treated them with respect.

Do you feel the staff at Centrelink try and rush you when you have a query? Or do you feel they take the necessary time to answer all your questions?

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Written by Ben


Total Comments: 19
  1. 2

    I have 2-3 Questions Id like answered with centrelink, but I’m not going to wait ages to get through..They need to be given more staff, especially at the moment.

  2. 1

    I’ve had 4 visits to one suburban Centrelink office, last one about 8 months ago. I can’t praise them enough, from joining the queue to 5 minutes later telling the reception lady my reason for visiting their office to 10 minutes later speaking to polite knowledgeable officer, and the excellent work the officers did to get my OAP application finalized including fixing a road block because of a wrong number on my birth certificate and then the very prompt processing of my application. Then 26 days later a polite call from a young man who advised me my application had been approved, with a first payment in my bank account the next morning. I have no complaints whatever, and I appreciate their courtesy, focus and clear explanations. Well done!

    • 0

      you have been unbelievably lucky. The staff are great but it it the stupid onerous rules they have imposed on then let Mutton Dutton work one day a fortnight incognito to staff and customers let us see if it is great place to work and this to be continued across differing Centrelink offices. he would quit after a month. The comments I hear from politicians just shows me how little they know and how out of touch they are. both sides of parliament are the same with a few exceptions. who are hard workers
      i am lucky to be reasonably computer literate but l still have trouble in understanding their rules and regulations. I avoid attending Centrelink offices preferring to use the electronic communication system which gives me a written record of my dealings with Centrelink

  3. 0

    Given the staffing levels cuts over recent years no wonder it is difficult to get good service. I have, on the rare occasion I have contacted Centrelink, found the staff to be very helpful but when time limits are imposed on the length of time a staff member can spend on an individual’s issues then of course service suffers.
    Many businesses also apply this time limit nonsense on customer service which actually bites them on the b*m as unless the answer supplied is satisfactory another call has to be made and handled.
    I believe some of the Centrelink staff are in fact contract workers from a private company so no wonder there are difficulties. Privatisation has never worked for the ordinary consumer.

  4. 1

    Asking employees about their toilet breaks is downright invasive. If they have an issue with an employee that takes far far too many toilet breaks on a regular basis it should be up to the supervisor to deal with that person.
    My personal experience at my local Centrelink branch has been ok.

  5. 2

    I have been dealing with my local Centrelink office for 20 years and they have always been the same, in one word, SLOW! The reason – never enough staff to cope with the volume of ustomers. I once suggested that if they put half the unemployed in front of the counter to work behind the counter, two problems would be solved in one hit!

  6. 2

    I can understand the pressure they are under which is probably quite stressful. Worth remembering though that it is not unique to govt services australia staff as it is endemic throughout and especially private enterprise. Also what about the even worse stresses experienced by farm workers. which is well documented recently.

  7. 3

    Most systems used to calculate the services that centrelink provide are overly complicated which is why the demands on the service is so high. Robodebt a classic example.
    The whole system needs to be revised, simplified and explained. However it may result in a decrease in centrelink staff and an increase in unemployment stats, and that would be a black mark on the government.

  8. 3

    I have found the experienced Centrelink staff excellent to deal with over the years. But the difficulties for them have escalated once work was outsourced to private companies. They have a “cost-minimising” focus, never a “service” focus. Experienced staff are undervalued, and pushed out, especially if they are older. Performance targets are put in place that are narrow, misleading, and dysfunctional, and drive all the wrong behaviours. KPI’s are on “tasks” (inputs), not on ” outcomes” (end results). And the management style sounds like it comes out of the 1930s. I have seen this happen so many times, that well run bureaucracies are completely destroyed by being outsourced to “private enterprise”. The organisations that this work is outsourced to are multi national conglomerates. They pay the staff as little as they can get away with, reduce service levels, and cream off massive profits for the overseas owners, & shareholders. In Britain many welfare recipients went unpaid for months and were thrown into poverty because critical welfare work was outsourced, and there was no avenue of complaint. Problems were only resolved when the issue was picked up by the press – much like our Robodebt fiasco. But the government doesn’t seem to learn. There are some critical functions that should never be privatised. Bureacracies can become very cost conscious and efficient, but retain a focus on “effectiveness” – the right outcomes.

  9. 1

    Vanessa, you’re 100% correct and on the ball. It is pure Josh Friedeggsandburgers and his Treasury Department ‘s greed to claw back funding to CentreLink. The LNP couldn’t give a rats arse about the importance to recipients of Centrelink services. Handing over a well organized and efficient Department to a private contractor, was the pits of degradation. Here we have Hank (or is it Hang) Jongen, telling us all is rosy, the service provided is excellent and don’t upset his well paid job, managing inadequate staff and sucking up to Josh at every turn. What a spin doctor, bullshit artist and liar. No wonder Centrelink is “Fu*ked”

    • 0

      As someone who worked for them for many years the staffing issues were Just as bad under Labor when they were in power. What they did to some of the people I used to work with was unforgivable.

  10. 3

    I’ve had good dealings and good outcomes in my favour from Centrelink. But what they did to my son with Robodebt is unforgivable. It was a true nightmare you wouldn’t want to enter. The Centrelink system is designed to piss you off, so you don’t want to claim from them or ask for assistance. That was coming out of the mouth of a friend of mine who has worked for Centrelink for over 40 years.

    • 0

      I’m sure the long wait on the phone is designed so you get sick of waiting and hang up. The people at our local Centrelink are very nice and helpful on the odd occasion I have had to go in.

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