News : Centrelink Blocks 60,000 Calls a Day, Blames Smartphone Apps
Canberra, Australia, Oct 23, 2015 -- Centrelink "blocked" more than 22 million phone calls in the past year with officials complaining that callers are using smartphone apps to bombard the welfare agency with up to 1000 calls at a time.
Senior public servants from the Department of Human Services have told a Senate Estimates Committee that smartphone apps were adding to the phone call headaches with clients using technology to hit the lines with hundreds of calls.
The number of calls blocked, those not allowed into the queuing system when it is handling large volumes, has grown from 13 million in 2013-2014, to more than 22 million in 2014-2015.
The agency and its parent department came under sustained criticism this year after an National Audit Office report found nearly a quarter of the 57 million phone calls made to Centrelink last year went unanswered and that Australians spent 143 years waiting in vain to speak to Centrelink in 2013-2014, before simply hanging up, the auditors calculated.
Under questioning from Greens Senator Rachel Siewert at a late-night hearing on Thursday, senior DHS official Grant Tidswell said the decision on how many calls to block was a trade-off between the demand for service and the department's ability to provide it.
"It's always a trade-off…trying to manage the workload and demand and the challenge between demand and supply, but in previous years we've had far, far higher numbers, well over 30 million," the public servant told the committee.
But it was the emerging "redial" app technology that was really adding to DHS's well-documented telephone woes, Mr Tidswell said.
"Some people have got an application that they can get on their smartphone and it'll just keep pinging and pinging and pinging, so some people use it," he said.
"Some people use it to get concert tickets and win prizes and we're getting people upwards of 800 to 1000 times at that time so we are battling new technology with people doing that at peak demand times.
"So what we're seeing is more and more attempts as people try to get through."
Mr Tidswell said his agency was keeping up its efforts to direct callers to use the website or apps instead of the telephones.
"The last financial year we had more digital transactions than the combined transaction of face to face and telephony, so we're improving in that area," he said.
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Senator Siewert said it made her "heart sink" to hear the soaring figures on blocked calls.
"To hear that 13.7 million has now swelled to 22 million makes my heart sink," the West Australian Senator said.
"From questions during estimates it appears that Centrelink has no interest in taking further action in driving down the worrying statistics.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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Centrelink is a government agency delivering a range of Commonwealth services to the Australian community. Centrelink is a statutory authority responsible, through its Board, to the Minister for Family and Community Services. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, has responsibility for Centrelink’’s day-to-day operations. Centrelink operates under the Commonwealth Services Delivery Agency Act 1997 which formally came into effect on 1 July 1997.
Published: Monday, October 26, 2015
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