Not all people who need Centrelink support are as lucky as Ms Smith.
Spending time with your new baby should be all that concerns a mother, but as reported by Fairfax Media, that hasn’t been the case for Bec Smith.
Her interactions with Centrelink and the myGov website have left the new mother frustrated, without maternity payments and living off savings and credit cards – not to mention the strain on her relationship with her newborn.
As is required to receive most payments from Centrelink, Ms Smith set up an online account via the myGov website, but a glitch in the system meant she couldn’t verify her identity, or access any correspondence and payments. After several weeks visiting and contacting Centrelink by phone, she is no clearer on what the issue is, or any possible solution. She was told repeatedly that the ‘system is down’, before being advised by her local Centrelink office that “they had no idea what the problem was”. As advised after this revelation, she submitted her claim by post, only to be told it couldn’t be processed as she couldn’t access her myGov account online.
"I came home from hospital on the Saturday and rang [Centrelink] on the Monday; every single day I called and was on the phone for an average of 2.5 hours a day," Mrs Smith said.
"The worst bit is I'm not getting any communication with Centrelink because all the letters are in the myGov account, and I can't get on to see them or change my preferences for correspondence to be sent by post."
And it doesn’t look as though the issue will be resolved any time soon after Ms Smith was told by a member of Centrelink staff that asking for a timeframe in which her problems would be resolved is “unrealistic”.
However, thanks to the power of the media, the Department of Human Services, which is investigating the cause of this issue, has now contacted Ms Smith. In a statement, a spokesperson said, "We have also contacted Ms Smith to apologise for the frustration caused by this error and we are working with her to finalise her claim as quickly as possible."
Read more at The Sydney Morning Herald
While we can all understand the frustration of Ms Smith, she does at least have access to income through savings and credit cards, not all people who need Centrelink support are so lucky. Ms Smith is also physically able to visit a Centrelink office, or spend hours on the phone, as annoying as it may be. For those with a disability, physical or mental, whose first language is not English, or who simply have problems understanding complicated technical jargon, the situation could be a whole lot worse
It’s understandable that a large government agency, such as the Department of Human Services would utilise technology to quickly process payments and handle large volumes of correspondence, but when that technology simply fails, why is there no back up procedure in place?
In May of this year, it was reported by the Australian National Audit Office
that a quarter of the 57 million calls made to Centrelink last year went unanswered. That could be over 14 million people in desperate need of assistance. And if you do hang on long enough to have your call answered, you could wait on average 16 minutes, compared to three minutes and four seconds in 2011-12. Who said progress was, well progress?
And we know you have been affected too. Some of the comments we have received in the past include:
“I went into the office and was told to ring. I tried to ring and the calls were unanswered. I emailed a call back to my mobile and they rang my landline when I wasn't there. I uploaded letters to their page and have been waiting five months for a response.”
“I was in Centrelink today for my daughter and was told not [to] send in anything by mail as it would take too long for it to get opened, read & allocated to the correct file.”
“Self service options are hardly in their infancy and [have] been around for at least the last five years – it's quite a limited service and not always reliable.”
So, if you’ve had unsatisfactory dealings with Centrelink, what can you do? Sadly, other than keep phoning or visiting your local office, very little. You can enlist the help of your local MP, how successful this will be depends on who this is. You can also contact the Commonwealth Ombudsman and hope that it takes up your complaint.
Just remember, it’s often not the fault of the Centrelink customer service staff that you have an issue and, on most occasions, they are doing their best to try and help.
Have you had a major issue trying to contact Centrelink? Do you find the online services easy to use? How would you cope if your payments were stopped due to a glitch?