Centrelink’s automated system is “deliberately designed to make it hard for people”, says a new report from Anglicare Australia.
The automation of Centrelink services is causing mental stress, the report finds, with stories of errors, delays and two-hour phone wait times. Instead of reducing the need for assistance, it says the process increases the burden on clients and the wider community.
Two-thirds of Anglicare’s workers claim Centrelink’s automation actually increased the amount of support clients required by outside sources because clients were stressed and anxious.
“Our research found that people are falling through the cracks as Centrelink services become more and more automated,” said Anglicare Australia Executive Director Kasy Chambers.
“It is becoming harder to talk to a human being.
“Centrelink might believe that it’s saving time and money, but what it’s really doing is shifting the burden on to its clients and the services that help them.”
Over a two-week period, Anglicare staff alone spent the equivalent of seven full-time jobs dealing with Centrelink issues, which, if calculated over a year, would waste around $400,000.
“All staff sensed they were spending a lot longer dealing with sometimes quite simple Centrelink issues,” said Ms Chambers.
“This would be happening to the Salvos, to Centacare, to anybody who is providing this kind of service. It’s not just Anglicare.”
Ms Chambers said that, instead of helping recipients, Centrelink staff directed them to automated phone and online services. She claims that these automated services and processes are becoming increasingly difficult to navigate and are having an unfair effect on Australia’s most vulnerable people.
“The more vulnerable you are, the more likely it is that you have quite a complex issue,” she said. “Automation isn’t a problem in and of itself. But when you have a number of issues, that’s when it’s really difficult to interact with an automated system.
“We are not having a go at Centrelink staff – they are as frustrated by this as we are. But there is a need for more tailored services. There are times when all of us would have a question too complex for a computer.”
The Paying the price of welfare reform report recommends more funding for resources, face-to-face options, flexible services, better assistance for people with low literacy or disabilities, and a commitment to further improvement.
It also recommends an increase to Newstart payments, so recipients could at least “achieve a minimum standard of living”.
Do you find Centrelink’s automated systems difficult to navigate? How do you feel about Centrelink’s service in general?