Services Australia has a plan to reduce application processing times

New OCR technology could significantly reduce Centrelink and Medicare wait times.

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Services Australia is trying anything it can to reduce pension processing times.

“Services Australia is an essential service delivering key coronavirus support measures to communities across the nation,” Services Australia general manager Hank Jongen told YourLifeChoices back in July.

“We continue to take every possible step to support Australians as quickly as possible during this time.”

The next step for the government agency responsible for Centrelink, Medicare and other government payments and services is trialling new optical character recognition (OCR) technology that, if successful, will greatly reduce application, assessment and payment wait times.

The median wait time for an Age Pension from application to payment is 49 days, according to Services Australia research.

While some payments can be processed in a matter of a couple of weeks, others can take a lot longer, a Services Australia spokesperson told YourLifeChoices.

“The Department of Human Services processes millions of claims every year and we work hard to do these as quickly as we can,” said the spokesperson.

“The nature of Age Pension claims has changed over time and are increasingly more complex. Nearly 60 per cent of rejected claims are because an applicant failed to respond to requests for additional information or documentation.”

The new OCR tech, developed by digital solutions company Capgemini, may help to overcome this by automatically analysing handwritten forms lodged by welfare applicants and recipients to ensure they are accurate and complete.

It is hoped OCR will greatly reduce the manual labour required to process some 25,000 documents that pass through the agency each day.

The project began in answer to the rapid increase in claims during the pandemic.

“We started working on this in August 2019, so before COVID, and we built a trial – that’s still undergoing testing – and it’s contained to a particular area of [Centrelink] documents,” Capgemini chief Olaf Pietschner told iTnews.

“We had this set up, deployed and tested when the number of digital transactions that citizens were looking to interact with Services Australia [increased].

“And it’s then been a solution that helped deal with increased workloads and increased digital interactions with citizens.”

Automating document checking has already been able to speed up processing times.

“We are able to rapidly improve the time it takes from when a citizen lodges a document to when it's placed in the hands of a caseworker,” said Capgemini public services vice-president Lysandra Schmutter.

As far as how much time the new tech will shave off wait times, Ms Schmutter said: “We’re working with Services Australia through what that really means in terms of quantifying those outcomes.”

The project is part of Services Australia’s seven-year infrastructure transformation program.

Unlike previous government AI initiatives, the OCR project is operating with a high-level of accuracy, said Mr Pietschner, although its accuracy rating of “more than 95 per cent” may still need some work.

“It’s really using an advanced neural language processing model and understanding the importance and the differences of words between documents to define the different types,” he said.

“And then that information is used to do this auto classification and validate that the citizens have uploaded the correct set of documents.”

Testing and proving the project’s accuracy will continue before rolling out across Services Australia.

“Certainly, the solution we developed for this lends itself to a much broader application, really leveraging machine learning, natural language processing and neural networks across a much broader range of applications,” said Mr Pietschner.

“We’re really excited for what this solution can actually prove to government and assist with government, and we think that there’s multiple uses for this type of solution.

“If you think quite broadly across all government agencies, where documents of scale are lodged for any claims or any type of request, we feel that this absolutely something that could be used and harnessed.”

How ‘accurate’ would you say new AI programs need to be before earning your trust – in the wake of the robo-debt scandal?

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    COMMENTS

    To make a comment, please register or login
    The Thinker
    22nd Oct 2020
    10:32am
    Give it to the 400 Melbourne Centrelink workers that were sacked two days ago. The CEO is slipping.
    Rae
    24th Oct 2020
    1:09pm
    Unreal isn't it just as people need help they sack the workforce.

    Pity we can't sack the Government.
    Herbie49
    22nd Oct 2020
    11:06am
    Reducing the number of duplicate forms would be a start, everything is replicated. The whole system needs to be changed. I now get a part pension but it took five and a half months to the day to be approved, continually asking for information already supplied and in thier system, amazing once I wrote to the minister it was approved in two days.
    Chef
    22nd Oct 2020
    11:11am
    The service I and now my wife have received in respect of our pension applications is nothing short of EXCELLENT. Is is critical you submit all information accurately and honestly.
    Mariner
    22nd Oct 2020
    2:57pm
    No complaints for many years from my side either. In the beginning a place in North Queensland was still listed as an asset and my part pension was $140 a fortnight. Once they found my advice of sale of said property everything was in order and stayed that way.
    Al
    22nd Oct 2020
    11:13am
    I have no doubt that some OAP applicants do experience long wait times, however I have praise for the quick processing of my own case. From the date I visited Centrelink to get a personal Centrelink Reference no., (a very pleasant focused visit, very courteous knowledgeable officer, which helped me a lot to do the final work to prepare my OAP on-line application and my Assets & Income on-line statement, to receiving a very polite clear phone call from Centrelink that my application had been approved was just 26 days total and that included 2 delays because of non acceptance of 2 documents which in both cases was not the fault of Centrelink, and CL did help to get both issues resolved. Well done.
    Lippy
    22nd Oct 2020
    11:24am
    In the last 12 months, calls to Disability and Carers line wait is about 5 mins. Great compared to 1 hr waiting.
    MarLin
    22nd Oct 2020
    11:30am
    The biggest problem with Centrelink has always been the inability to talk to someone, and yesterday's announcement of 400+ workers being laid off won't help!
    We've been stuck in Vietnam thanks to Covid travel bans since early February and trying to contact "utilities" in Australia is virtually impossible because they've all adopted versions of AI to replace real people: CBA bank has a great online banking system but it can't do everything, so we're left high and dry, gnashing our teeth to their same old response: "to talk to a human, call 13 xxxx" (no good overseas) or a supposed callback number that only works via landline, which don't exist in the VN countryside! Ditto with Telstra - virtually impossible to talk to a human from overseas. And the UK stopped "adult dependency" pension payments in April but the best that Centrelink could do to fill the gap when I contacted them last year to let them know it was going to happen was tell me to phone "after it happens".
    But then along came Covid-19 and the travel bans! We've tried phoning Centrelink a couple of times but gave up after an hour on hold at international roaming rates. And now even that's impossible as Telstra chose Covid confusion to quietly discontinue their international roaming service!
    We're fond of criticising Americans for thinking they're the only nation on earth, but Australia's "customer service" is every bit as bad for anyone stuck outside the country - and no amount of Centrelink "AI" is going to fix that if the banks and telcos are still struggling with it after so many years since making the same promises that we're now hearing from Centrelink.
    They must think we're all fools - and maybe we are, for letting them get away with it!!!
    Farside
    23rd Oct 2020
    1:08am
    You can call Commbank from Overseas on +61 2 9999 3283 but maybe try using a local sim or skype for lower call rates.
    MarLin
    23rd Oct 2020
    11:04am
    Thanks Farside, but call backs on that number only work via landline and/or local exchange operator - and we have neither in the countryside. Skype only works if the local mobile operator has paid its share of the VOIP licence fee and that doesn't happen very often in VN - and definitely not where we are! We use a local SIM for all calls out of VN - an unfortunate necessity since our Australian so-called 'international carrier' (Telstra) decided to discontinue its international roaming service!
    International calls from VN are relatively cheap compared to the cost of such calls in Australia, but still add up significantly when sitting on hold for an hour or so for CBA, Centrelink, etc - and that's my complaint above: Australian 'utilities' don't really look after anything or anyone outside national borders, and yet they still advertise themselves as being 'international'!
    Why can't they at least offer a callback service where we can contact them and leave a voice or (better still) email message? I've asked many times and the usual response is "We need to protect your privacy"! Grrrrrrr......
    Skiing
    22nd Oct 2020
    11:39am
    I have a chuckle every time I see ‘General Manager” in relation to Hank. He is just the spin doctor and the only thing he manages is his PR team. So many think he runs the show
    Mark
    22nd Oct 2020
    7:51pm
    I had an issue with Centrelink and wrote to Hank. In very short time he arranged for someone to call me and we were able to solve my problem. Thanks Hank.
    Migrant
    22nd Oct 2020
    12:04pm
    One thing which would help Centrelink , would be an automatic system to enable you to restart your part pension, when your assets and income fall below the cut off, instead of having to fill in twenty pages, with attachments which were provided the first time.

    Of course the logical solution would be to pay UNIVERSAL AGE PENSIONs and do away with the need to follow up assets and incomes continuously. All that would be needed would be proof of age and citizenship, to start with and survival to continue.
    No need for hundreds of Centrelink staff to admInister the Age Pension.
    I think that I have had one letter from UK since I started their pension.
    MIgrant
    Mariner
    22nd Oct 2020
    2:53pm
    Don't you get one every year to check whether you are still alive, Migrant? Comes without fail to me and I have to find someone to verify I am still around.
    MarLin
    22nd Oct 2020
    2:58pm
    They've only contacted me twice in 12 years - first to tell me they will be stopping the Adult Dependancy (spouse) payment one year hence, and second to confirm it would be stopping (both of which I uploaded to my Centrelink account as advised by CL). By the time we manage to get back to Oz I'll probably have lost at least a year's payments, so it'll be interesting to see if Centrelink make up the difference (approx $50 pw). Don't think I'll hold my breath waiting for the answer................
    ozirules
    22nd Oct 2020
    12:25pm
    Wait times for online queries vary greatly.....when I informed centrelink that I had a decrease in asset value I waited 3 weeks for the increase in my part pension and it was not backdated however when I later informed them that my asset value had increased with a refund from my cancelled overseas trip, the decrease in my pension took effect same day. I was amazed at how much more efficient they had become.
    Buggsie
    22nd Oct 2020
    12:37pm
    More La La Land spin from a desperate LNP government.
    cupoftea
    22nd Oct 2020
    1:09pm
    The same BS just a different day different topic
    floss
    22nd Oct 2020
    2:32pm
    On the subject of C.Link why do we have to bring Over Seas workers into Australia when we have fit young people roaming the streets on New Start or what ever it is called . Show some balls Morrison and fix the double dipping.
    Ithiki
    22nd Oct 2020
    3:34pm
    Serco sacked 400 good luck people
    Ithiki
    22nd Oct 2020
    3:39pm
    Services Australia run by British Co Serco who run prisons & detention centres. profit from the poor & desperate?
    jaycee1
    23rd Oct 2020
    8:55am
    Yeah, they fcuked it up over there and are now doing the same here while making m[b]illions.
    NOTHING they have their fingers in has been for the benefit of anyone but themselves [and their shareholders]
    Fox7051
    22nd Oct 2020
    4:20pm
    I applied for an age pension online on 2 October. I received my assessment on 21 October and my first payment was in my account that day. Its a part pension. I had to submit a lot of financial info which was fiddley, but Centrelink did not ask for any further info so I must have done it right. The only thing I could not do online was have my identity verified which I did in person at my local office on 2 October ... staff were very pleasant to deal with.
    AngryOldMan
    22nd Oct 2020
    5:37pm
    41 days wait time t get the Aged Pension? thats good going for Centrelink, My application llodged on 22nd March 1967, with MYGOV having trouble signing into the system ect and having to fill out an 81 questionaire to verify I wasnt in a relationship, and appeal,I didnt get my Age Pension until in November 2017, and only back paying me from June Instead of 22 March 2017 ie 3 months that they didnt pay me for. Go in early before you eligability and get them on track, and keep going back to check progress, . I must say the centrelinq people in Toowoomba, were perplexed why I hadnt been paid, as everything was were it should be on the system.
    AngryOldMan
    22nd Oct 2020
    5:41pm
    Well I hope the Officer who stuffed up my getting my Age Pension on time and with all the money I should have received, ( ie minus March to June)
    AngryOldMan
    22nd Oct 2020
    5:47pm
    Age Pensioners, heres a good hint, dont tell them you know how to use the screens/machines, get your Centrelinq officer to do your MYGOV ( sign on to MYGOV) because the depatment MYGOV is prone to foul ups, that way they can add that to the notes on your file. Good Luck people!
    Tanker
    22nd Oct 2020
    9:42pm
    Given the Governments abysmal record with new technology better keep you fingers crossed.


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