33m Centrelink calls unanswered

Almost one-half of the 3000 respondents to a YourLifeChoices survey over the past week say the Age Pension is too complicated to understand properly.

If these people were attempting to contact Centrelink for information, they may well have got only a busy signal, with the Department of Human Services admitting that 33 million calls to Centrelink between July 2017 and January this year went unanswered. That was an increase of nearly 550,000 on the same period in 2016-17.

The numbers were revealed at a Senate estimates hearing last week.

Labor Senator Lisa Singh also referred to figures showing the length of wait times for callers. She said that in the 2016-17 financial year, 339,000 Centrelink clients had waited for more than 30 minutes and 167,000 waited for more than an hour.

Private multinational contractor Serco took over the department’s call centre work last October in a three-year pilot program that is costing the Government $51.7 million. Serco staff take calls relating to online support for myGov, general online support, questions around BasicsCards and reporting of employment income.

The department says staff cuts are not to blame but rather complex call-queueing technology. It says the problem is improving.

“The idea that this is occurring because we are reducing staff on the phones is not accurate,” Department of Human Services secretary Renee Leon told the hearing.

“I think there’s a reduction of a few hundred in the past year, and that’s been only because we really took a big attack on processing backlogs. That meant we shifted the balance of staff between phones and processing for a particular period at the beginning of this financial year.”

She said problems with technology and auto-dialling calls from phone apps were responsible.

Ms Singh told the hearing the figures showed Centrelink needed more staff.

“It does show the fact Centrelink is under-resourced and understaffed because for the last three years, you’ve had the same problem,” she said.

Greens Senator Rachel Siewert added: “Yes, there are problems with the technology, but it is a multifaceted problem and more broadly, the department needs more resources to cope with this issue.”

Have you tried to call Centrelink recently? Did you get through or been left on hold?

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Written by Janelle Ward

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