More staff to help ease Centrelink call woes

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The wait times when you attempt to call Centrelink are notoriously bad – and have been for years.

Last October, the Federal Government sought to ease the pain by contracting multinational services company Serco in a three-year test program budgeted to cost $51.7 million.

That was after the Department of Human Services (DHS) had paid Telstra $474 million in an unsuccessful bid to shorten waiting times. That tactic appeared to solve nothing, with half of all Centrelink calls still going unanswered and wait times continuing to blow out.

The latest strategy?

The Federal Government is promising to hire another 1000 call centre operators – in Australia – at an estimated cost of around $200 million, although the contract is yet to be put out to tender.

Human Services Minister Michael Keenan says wait times for customers are too long and change is needed.

“We want to make sure that when you deal with the Government, you get the best possible service,” he said.

The Australian Taxation Office has been using private companies for the past decade for their call centre operations (and that) has been very successful. That’s one of the sensible things the Labor Party did when they were in Government.

“There is no reason why private operators can’t do it as efficiently as permanent staff and we’ve trialled this with the 250 people [who] we’ve already employed … and we’ve had independent evaluations done that show this is an effective way to enhance our service delivery.”

Mr Keenan said the extra staff would be hired for three years because after that it is hoped more Centrelink customers would have ditched the phone in favour of their computers.

“Over time, I hope that our digital channels will get a lot better so people will go online; we are investing heavily to make that happen,” he said on the ABC news website.

“But in the meantime we are putting this very big investment into extra call centre capacity and people calling in will notice a far better experience.”

Labor MP Linda Burney told the ABC’s AM program that privacy was an “enormous concern”, a criticism Mr Keenan rubbished, saying no client data would be sent overseas.

Ms Burney said: “The Government is plugging a hole, and that hole will eventually overflow again.

“Centrelink is absolutely on its knees. What the Government would be better off doing is making the 42 per cent of Centrelink staff who are casualised, permanent.”

Have you been left on hold for a lengthy time when trying to contact Centrelink? Did the service improve after Serco staff were added?


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Written by Janelle Ward


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