Infographic: the truth behind Centrelink's waiting times

The time it takes to talk to a Centrelink operator is longer than the DHS suggests.

older woman waits on the phone

Wes Mountain, The Conversation

Senior staff from the Department of Human Services told Senate estimates on March 2 that the average wait time to speak to a Centrelink operator is 14 minutes and 10 seconds. The Conversation

But with reports of some people waiting more than an hour, 28 million busy signals so far this year, and welfare recipients being encouraged to go online rather than speak to someone, this doesn’t match with most people’s experiences of calling Centrelink.

This is because what’s not included in the reported wait time is probably more important than what is.

We’ve created this graphic – based on new data from 2015-16 calls confirmed by the Department of Human Services – to explain what’s really going on when Centrelink says its wait time is under 16 minutes. And you can read an analysis piece by Paul Henman on the issue here.

The Conversation, CC BY-ND

The Department of Human Services reported at Senate estimates that so far this financial year (up to January 31) 28 million calls received a busy signal, and more than 4 million calls were abandoned while waiting on the line.

A spokesperson for the department said that it would not go into detail beyond what was offered at estimates at this time. So, it’s not possible to know whether there has been a surge in calls overall on the current data.

But it is clear that more people are struggling to get through than ever before.

Wes Mountain, Deputy Multimedia Editor, The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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    21st Mar 2017
    I don't bother ringing them go and see them face to face, funny if a crowd turned up just before closing.
    21st Mar 2017
    They only direct you to use their phones in the waiting area. Lose lose.
    21st Mar 2017
    they don't care!! they just send you away till the next day!!
    21st Mar 2017
    You can wait over an hour on the phone
    21st Mar 2017
    I can drive there in an hour (under), sit down the beach and do lunch, get a beer at the club, do some shopping if necessary... sitting at home on the muzak is a killer....
    21st Mar 2017
    Try 3hrs.
    23rd Mar 2017
    I know a young mother who was told she had to come into a Centrelink office to resolve her issue. Shed did. Five times - equipped with baby in pram, bottles, nappies, wipes, dummy, toys, and a host of other necessities. She sat for an entire afternoon before being told ''we can't see you today, sorry. Come back tomorrow'' That happened 3 times before she was seen at 3:40pm on the third day.

    Another friend went in to Centrelink office 20 minutes from her home, only to be told she had to got to an office 1.5 hours away because the staff at her local office were ''reducing productivity'' as a form of protest against work conditions.

    Our local C/link agency tells people to arrive by 9am because otherwise they most likely won't get through on the phones before the agency closes at 2pm.
    21st Mar 2017
    Was there mention of DHS's strategy to improve wait times? Call centres have been hiring 'temps', giving them a day's (at tops) training then putting them on the phones. There role is to answer the call, then transfer to an 'expert'. This has the effect of cutting wait times & making the minister look good. An expensive con job. If you plan on heading into your local office to see someone, take a packed lunch.

    21st Mar 2017
    As before, had to attend a Colonel's office to get paperwork for glasses - very quick, friendly and efficient service. Can't vouch for the phone service because I simply wouldn't try it in the first place. One bad experience was enough.
    21st Mar 2017
    I cringe everytime i have to call centrelink. Took me 46min 14sec yesterday and that was after i had hung up several times. Add that to Apps that crash or don't work and i think centrelink needs a review of systems. Sounds to me that they are using the same IT company as the cenus did. If you call the UK social security they answer quickly and its a real person not press this and press that.
    Old Fella
    21st Mar 2017
    Not mentioned in this article is the deliberate intent of Centrelink to direct people away from telephone and direct verbal communication and across to 'home page' internet inquiries and welfare applications, as part of deliberate yet unreasonable reductions and cutting of Centrelink staff. This policy also provides Centrelink a capacity to ignore Grey areas of Gov't. Policy on human services by limiting inquiry and thereafter disregarding response to those unfortunate enough not to be able to access and or understand the claim form designs and content information available on the internet homepage.
    I find it contradictory that Government "cry's" loudly about increasing Welfare costs of the Nation and increased ageing population , yet targets first above other Government institutions this area, to reduce staff and services. How this action and intent meets and addresses the alleged growing welfare needs of the Nation alludes me.
    21st Mar 2017
    i phoned centrelink in January with a query that no-one could answer (after 42mins waiting) and was told he would get back to me after checking it out. Last week i remembered that i hadn't heard back. (i Have a brain injury) so... I phoned the disability line. After 45 minutes waiting i was told that she didn't know the answer and would put me through to the disability section (that's who i called!!! but the auto choices and the computer didn't allow me to reach a human till then AND it was the wrong one!!
    Finally, I was told that the law had change and the payment was made differently. this call lasted 1 hour and 32 minutes!! why couldn't the first chap know that 3 months ago!!!
    21st Mar 2017
    i was getting mail from centrelink for someone who hadn't lived at my address for many years (if ever). After months of returning it to sender i went and sat at centrelink and said i was NOT leaving until they changed this man's address (child support section) Much faster than the phone - harder to ignore you in person. Take a book and earplugs to tune out the propaganda on the TV which tells you how great they are, BUT nothing at all useful!!
    21st Mar 2017
    That is not correct. It might be for some if you are lucky to get to them. Many times I rung them and was not able to connect even after an hour (2x or more) So it will be useless calling them at home. Best way is go to the nearest centrelink and join the queue and ask to talk to them. They have a direct access and within second/s you are in and you can tell them everything you need and want. Make sure you know or have alist of everything you want to discuss so you will not waste time coming back again and again.The best way to do it.
    21st Mar 2017
    More crap excuses by Centrelink management. Bloody hopeless.
    21st Mar 2017
    I have never been lucky enough to wait 14 mins
    There's been a few times that after 45mins I gave up and if was quicker to drive to there office it's disgusting the way people are mis being treated by gvt Depts
    21st Mar 2017
    You cant go online, they wont talk to you online, they insist its a security risk to talk by email, regardless of how trivial the information. They want the matter dealt with by telephone.

    Even when they ring you, it is doubtful they will leave a message on an answering machine, even just "Centrelink called" is their idea of a security risk. I don't think many Centrelink staff are familiar with the old fashion way of answering phones either, that is, you say "hello whose calling" and the caller identifies themselves first, not the other way around.

    I got a message on my answering machine once to say they had tried to contact me numerous times but were unsuccessful, so they had referred the matter to the Canberra office.

    If they tried to contact me numerous times why was there only one message on my answering machine. Are answering machines illegal in north Queensland or antisocial.

    Of all the Centrelink problems written on this site, one would thing some of it would get thru to the government.

    At least with age pension there is not many ways they can give people the run around regarding the payment of benefits, whereas with disability pension there was some hassle on a regular basis, like the time I had $2000 in the bank and didn't declare the interest payment as income. Not only was it a paltry sum but the interest per annum was somehow converted to earnings per week.
    21st Mar 2017
    How paltry can you get at Centrelink. That interest I would imagine was around 20 cents/week on $2K. You can't even buy anything for 20 c. That is plain ridiculous.!
    21st Mar 2017
    Worse than bloody hopeless, my partner applied for a low income health care card last October on turning 65. She is still waiting after months of appointments and phone calls. They firstly told her that she may be eligible for a part pension, she said no, our assets would preclude that, but they still said take these forms and fill them out anyway. After many contacts with them she was finally told in January you don't qualify for a pension. On asking about the health care card she was told to re-apply for it, this she did and was finally told last week that she didn't qualify. we queried this decision and subsequently she then received a letter from them saying they had make a mistake and her health care card would now be processed. Yesterday she received a text message from them telling her to provide proof of identity. She had previously done this 4 times before at the centre link office and had the POI documents photocopied. At this moment she is at their office again going through the same procedure. Now I know why they have security at their offices and put up large signs saying do not abuse the staff. If they were all as inefficient as this lot at Modbury SA I could understand people losing patience and getting abusive towards them.
    21st Mar 2017
    Last year, waited for 2 hrs and 15 minutes , timed on loud speaker deliberately , gave up! True story!
    21st Mar 2017
    When I asked or a sit down interview to sort out some forms I was informed we don't really do that any more.But to be fair I have all ways found the staff great but I get the impression they are not happy with this present government which I can understand.
    21st Mar 2017
    I have never been answered by Centrelink in under half an hour and most cases at around an hour . I have had them hang up after I have waited an hour without answering. I usually drive in to see them which is an hour round trip but it's better than the phone.
    15 minutes what a joke , they have never managed that in their lives, they are playing with the numbers.
    21st Mar 2017
    Centrelink has always been terrible at answering the phone but it's worse under this government. Ah! But I have a vote and they are definitely not getting it. unemployment will suit them!
    21st Mar 2017
    You can wait over an hour to get through on the phone and then Jorgen's voice says to go on line! What a croc. I can't even update information on line when I want to. Get a message "you are unable to access your account at this time" so I just post the information to Centrelink otherwise I will be in breach of the 14/28 days to notify of changes. What is Labour doing about this? I know Liberals don't care.
    21st Mar 2017
    I have often waited over an hour to get through and told by the staff member that wait time was "standard"
    21st Mar 2017
    Well after reading all of these comments - I am astounded? I have never needed to call Centrelink in the past 6 years (direct) the majority of people's "enquiries" can be dealt with by their "Automated Service" ..... and then "keying" in the #'s as requested??

    There is a Seniors Automated Service # - where you don't need to wait. If it cannot answer your questions - you will get directed to a "real" person immediately!
    Geeez - never ever thought I would type "real person" - lol - what's the world coming to???

    Try the Senors Automated Service # ........ can't be any worse surely? :-)
    22nd Mar 2017
    One advantage of Centrelinks long wait is that we ended up getting a new phone. Our old cordless phone was wearing out, and couldn't handle the hour long wait, the battery would die either before the call was answered, or shortly after, and die in the middle of the conversation. So we ended up buying a new phone. THANKS CENTRELINK>
    27th Mar 2017
    That's absolute crapola re the phone waiting times - I work part-time and cannot ring from work so waste half my time on day off trying to get through - on a mobile!! I actually went into the Norwood office last year sometime as had a fairly complex question, explained the situation and was told have to ring as no-one here can help you. I asked what all the people sitting around were actually doing - why couldn't one of them help me. They said they have other duties so go away! She actually said "go away". I am a very respectable looking 70 year old woman. This time I eventually managed to get through on the COMPLAINTS TELEPHONE NUMBER. Was answered in 1.5 minutes, compared to just prior waiting 25 plus minutes. Guy was very helpful and asked him a couple of questions. You an also email and you will receive an answer in a day or so asking how can they help you. I read this somewhere on line and it does work, but then I had brilliant idea to ring COMPLAINTS LINE and hey presto - it worked. They had made a mistake with my rent assistance - cut me off actually, after I had told them rent had dropped $10 per week - still way above the threshold for cut off - oops, hasn't been actioned yet from when I sent my form in a month ago so they cut me off for "not complying". Disgraceful service - but have to say - when get through and are polite, you do get help and fairly politely - although a few like to talk down to the "loser" on the other end of the phone. Ha ha gotta laugh.

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