News : Centrelink Phone Waits Going Backwards, Say Greens
Canberra, Australia, June 3, 2015 -- Waiting times on Centrelink's phone lines have got even worse over the past year, the Australian Greens say.
Greens senator Rachel Siewert says material tendered at estimates on Wednesday morning by the Department of Human Services shows average waiting times are out to nearly 19 minutes this financial year, up from about 17 minutes in 2013-2014.
The committee appearance came just two weeks after the welfare agency's performance was savaged in an Auditor-General's report that found 26 million callers failed to get through to the welfare agency in 2013-2014.
However, department bosses told the cross-party committee that some report findings were harsh and that many of the 13 million people who hung up before getting through to the Centrelink system might have been satisfied customers.
Using average waiting times for the busiest lines in the 2014-2015 financial year, submitted by the department, Senator Siewert calculated that average wait times across the system were out to more than 18 minutes and 40 seconds.
The Department of Human Services has not confirmed the West Australian senator's calculations are accurate.
However, Senator Siewert said the figures showed the department still did not "get it".
"A jump of average wait time to an average of 18.71 minutes to May 25 this year from the average in the ANAO (Australian National Audit Office) report of 16 minutes and 53 seconds means that the service has gone backwards in its delivery of support to our most vulnerable," Senator Siewert said.
"This is simply not good enough, combined with recent news that there were 26 million calls unanswered last year. It strongly indicates the system in its current form is not meeting demands.
"The department doesn't seem to get the frustration that people feel when they can't get through and the increase in average wait times indicates that the department still isn't on top of this issue."
Senator Siewert said she was worried by figures provided to the committee showing that more than a third of Centrelink call centre workers were casual employees.
"To also learn today that just under a third of employees in Smart Centres across the nation are casual workers exacerbates concerns around delivery of this essential service to Australians," she said.
"We now know that 1010 of 3525 full-time equivalents in the department's Smart Centres are 'irregular and intermittent employees'.
"There is strong concern that this will impact [on] service delivery as casual workers transfer calls around when they are unable to handle complex issues."
Department secretary Kathryn Campbell hit back at some of the criticism in the Auditor-General's report, saying it was not clear why there were so many "abandoned" calls and it was possible that people hung up after they got the information they needed from recorded messages.
"We did raise with the Australian National Audit Office that these were very complicated and intricate services to provide," Ms Campbell said.
"The point we tried to make with the ANAO on a number of occasions around what are called abandoned phone calls, is that sometimes it can be that customers have received the information they are looking [for] from pre-recorded messages."
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: Thursday, June 4, 2015