Older Australians are up in arms over the amount of time that they are being made to wait before they’re able to speak with a Centrelink representative.
Recent figures show that on average, older adults have to wait an average of 25 minutes before they can get Centrelink on the phone. In addition, over 33 million calls have already gone unanswered in the last nine months. That’s a staggering increase of over half a million unanswered calls compared to the same time span last year.
This has raised concerns that the Government agency does not have enough funds to have enough manpower to answer all those calls.
The Department of Human Services (DHS) secretary Renee Leon however, asserted that the agency remained steadfast in its commitment to enhancing services, and that the predicament could not be blamed on its staff or resourcing for that matter.
“There hasn’t been any reduction in the number of staff on the lines over recent years, at all, so the idea this is occurring because we are reducing staff on the phones is not accurate,” Leon was quoted as saying in a report.
Labor senator Murray Watt stressed that it was simply unacceptable that pensioners were being made to wait six minutes longer to talk to some at the said agency, compared to the wait time from last year.
“In 2016-17, older Australians were waiting 19 minutes to get through to Centrelink and that’s gone up in a few months to 25-and-a-half minutes,” Watt said.
“There has also been a shocking increase in busy signals. If this continues we are looking at 1.2 million times that older Australians call Centrelink and get a busy signal.”
But DHS officials related during an estimates hearing that the department had in fact, amended its record over the last few months, and that improvement would be seen at the end of the financial year.
“We did have a higher-than-normal [number of busy signals] in the first three months of the year,” DHS deputy secretary Barry Jackson shared
“It’s very important to notice that the trend for the last five months shows a 9 million year-on-year decrease [on last year].
“By the end of the year, we will be substantially less than the same time last year.”
A consultancy firm was paid over $400,000 by the Government to help it improve its call centre’s record.
Leon explained that the rise in the number of people utilising auto-dial applications which call Centrelink until a staff member answers, were partly to blame for its busy signals.
But Greens senator Rachel Siewert retorted that the use of these said apps was a clear indictment of Centrelink’s subpar service records, rather than the cause.
“For the department to play down the role of under-resourcing of staffing is just ridiculous,” Siewert emphasised.
“It is clear the department needs to be better resourced so it’s not scrambling.
“Yes, there are problems with technology, but it’s a multifaceted problem and more broadly the department needs more resources to cope with this issue.”
Watt also held the belief that the agency was misleading people when it stressed that its staff level remained steady, asserting that a lot of jobs had been outsourced as the demand rose.
“I think that whatever the department say, this is clearly the result of understaffing in Centrelink,” Watt said.
“The evidence is very clear that Centrelink is grossly understaffed and under-resourced.”
Senator Watt proposed moving Centrelink services online would be much better for Australians. Still, concerns lingered with regards to this idea, said Watt.
“The reality is many of them don’t feel comfortable or have the experience of dealing with the Government online,” Watt said.
“It’s just completely unfair on older Australians to be saying to them, ‘The way to get through to us is by getting on the internet’, when you may not have the experience to do it.”