No answer at Centrelink

Having problems getting through to Centrelink on the phone? You’re not alone, with the Senate Estimates Committee being told last week that the agency’s performance when answering calls has considerably deteriorated.

The Department of Human Services reported that in the last year, almost 29 million phone calls received a busy signal and a further 7 million abandoned by customers who simply couldn’t wait for their call to be answered. In the year previous, 22 million calls went unanswered, which, according to the agency, was largely due to emergencies and a complex payment systems.

Although almost 29 million calls couldn’t get through, the Department of Human Services stressed that this does not mean that 29 million individual customers didn’t receive an answer. According to Department Secretary Kathryn Campbell, smartphones enabled customers to call back 80 to 90 times in rapid succession.

Western Australian Greens Senator Rachel Siewert, who was a member of the estimates committee, said the difficulty of getting through to Centrelink via phone was a major cause of frustration for those who most need the assistance.

“Whilst the government likes to vilify people on income support, people are trying to do the right thing and to adjust earnings, and other details or trying to gain urgently needed support.  

“The Government must address these flaws”.

In regards to the 7 million abandoned calls, this, according to Ms Campbell may not be a bad thing, with the caller possibly receiving the information they require from the recorded messages.

According to the last Human Services annual report, the average time to answer a call has been reduced to 15 minutes and 9 seconds. However, the committee was told that some lines, particularly youth and student, clocked up an average wait time of 25 minutes.

Read more at TheAge.com.au

Opinion: Centrelink failure more than just frustrating

If the emails we receive at YourLifeChoices are any indication, then Senator Siewert is indeed correct and the non-answering of Centrelink calls is frustrating customers.

The average time to answer a Centrelink call may have been reduced to 15 minutes and 9 seconds, but the caller needs to be able to connect first. It’s staggering that 29 million calls a year can go unanswered and a further 7 million are simply abandoned because the caller has had to wait too long.

As with most Government agencies, Centrelink has moved many of its operations online and, for a large number of customers, this works perfectly well. But for those who find the system difficult to navigate, have technical issues or don’t fully understand how the rules apply to them, having someone to talk to can be invaluable in such a stressful situation.

And as anyone who has tried to locate information on the Centrelink website and how it applies to them individually, sometimes a plain English explanation by a real person is all that’s needed.

Of course, for those lucky enough to get through to an actual Centrelink staff member, it’s not necessarily the end of their problems. Many feel that they are not given the right information, or are simply fobbed off with a ‘it will be processed when it’s processed’ response. We are receiving a growing number of emails from our members who have applied for an Age Pension only to have received no indication of when their claim will be processed. For many this means living off limited savings that are fast running out.

Only last week it was reported that Centrelink would be advising individuals, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, of how the asset threshold changes would affect their payments. Not much time to plan and rejig your finances before the 1 January 2017 commencement. Yet, the advice given by Federal Cabinet Secretary Arthur Sinodinos is simple, “Any pensioner who has an issue should get on to Centrelink now and get it clarified, and they’re waiting to answer their (pensioners’) questions.” Good luck!

Have you tried to call Centrelink recently to no avail? What’s the longest you’ve had to wait to have your call answered? Once connected, has your question been answered satisfactorily?

Written by Debbie McTaggart

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