Services Australia has a plan to reduce application processing 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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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca is a voracious reader who loves words. You'll often find him spending time in galleries, writing, designing, painting, drawing, or photographing and documenting street art. He has a publishing and graphic design background and loves movies and music, but then, who doesn’t?



Total Comments: 28
  1. 0

    Give it to the 400 Melbourne Centrelink workers that were sacked two days ago. The CEO is slipping.

  2. 0

    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.

  3. 0

    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.

    • 0

      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.

  4. 0

    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.

  5. 0

    In the last 12 months, calls to Disability and Carers line wait is about 5 mins. Great compared to 1 hr waiting.

  6. 0

    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!!!

    • 0

      You can call Commbank from Overseas on +61 2 9999 3283 but maybe try using a local sim or skype for lower call rates.

    • 0

      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……

  7. 0

    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

    • 0

      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.

  8. 0

    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.

    • 0

      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.

    • 0

      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…………….

  9. 0

    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.

  10. 0

    More La La Land spin from a desperate LNP government.

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