Centrelink under siege

As Services Australia Minister Stuart Robert apologised for claiming hackers had been responsible for the MyGov crash earlier this week, extra resources are being rushed in to shore up the service.

The growing number of newly unemployed Australians combined with Centrelink customers seeking information about stimulus strategy payments has been putting massive pressure on online and shopfront services.

Long lines had formed outside Centrelink offices earlier in the week and the online portal had crashed on consecutive days, despite government assurances that the reinforced systems were working.

The capacity of the MyGov website has been boosted from 55,000 to 150,000 concurrent users, but was still frustrating many welfare applicants.

Mr Robert has admitted there was no evidence there had been a cyber attack on the website, saying: “My bad not realising the sheer scale of the decision on Sunday night by the national leaders. I probably should have waited for the investigation before jumping the gun,” he told 2GB radio.

He said late yesterday that myGov had been upgraded from around 6000 concurrent users last week to 40,000 over the weekend to 150,000 yesterday. “We’re adding more capacity where we can…” he said. “Today [Wednesday], we have facilitated 2.6 million logins to myGov. We will continue to run the myGov service 24/7 and progressively increase its capacity as required, as we have over recent days and months.”

He said that Services Australia had redeployed more than 1500 staff from within the department to assist in taking calls and processing claims and that it was boosting its workforce by 5000 people, although there would be fewer workers at  centres because of social distancing requirements.

In addition, Services Australia had launched an online ‘intent to claim’ function through myGov, making it much easier and quicker to register for financial support, eliminating the need to call or go into a Services Australia service centre to get the claim process under way.

Social Services Minister Anne Ruston outlined the change saying: “You’re no longer required to attend a Centrelink site to provide proof of identity. Changes [are in] place which require you to only provide proof of identity over the phone.”

To access the online intent to claim, you just need a myGov account linked to Medicare or Australian Taxation Office services.

A Services Australia press release said: “Once you’ve linked either of these services, you will see a prompt on your myGov welcome page to register your intention to claim.

“Once someone lodges an intent to claim through myGov, Services Australia will contact them as soon as possible to talk through the next steps. For new customers this will include support setting up a Customer Reference Number (CRN).

“People no longer have to provide separation certificates to claim JobSeeker Payment.”

Call centre hours would be extended to 7am to 10pm from Monday to Friday and from 10am to 5pm on Saturdays and Sundays.

Late last year, about 700,000 Australians were receiving the Jobseeker payment via Centrelink. That number is expected to increase to up to 1.7 million people in coming weeks with forecasts the jobless rate could reach 15 per cent.

A senior Federal Reserve executive has warned that unemployment in the US could hit 30 per cent – worse than during the Great Depression and three times the level seen during the GFC.

Senator Ruston also confirmed the $550 coronavirus supplement would be extended to Youth Allowance students and apprentices. While this was primarily directed at young people, she said it might also assist “older people coming back into the workforce, who would like to do some study”.

Labor social services spokeswoman Linda Burney has urged the government to set up a dedicated Centrelink hotline to help people navigate the welfare system.

“They are scared, they are confused and they are stressed because of drastic changes to their financial situation,” she told ABC radio.

“Get the payments out, cut the red tape and worry about the paperwork later. People need help now.”

Have you had cause to attempt to contact Centrelink in recent days? Were you successful?

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Written by Janelle Ward

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