Port Pirie, South Australia, Australia, March 24, 2020 -- Centrelink's online portal has crashed for the second day in a row despite government assurances tens of thousands of people seeking welfare because of the coronavirus fallout would be able to access it.
People were again queuing outside Centrelink offices on Tuesday morning, mirroring devastating scenes across the country on Monday when thousands lined up to register for unemployment benefits.
About 123,000 logged on to the MyGov portal on Tuesday morning.
Social Services Minister Anne Ruston sought to reassure people they could now confirm their identity over the phone to Centrelink.
"You're no longer required to attend a Centrelink site to provide proof of identity," she said.
"Yesterday, the changes came into place which require you to only provide proof of identity over the phone.
"Understanding these are exceptional circumstances and we don't want people attending Centrelink sites in person, they will then give you a validation that says: 'Yes you are who you say you are', on the basis of what you've said, and then you go online and register through MyGov."
Some have complained this information wasn't on Centrelink's website, but by Tuesday afternoon there was an alert on the customer reference number information page saying people without one would need to call to prove their identity.
Senator Ruston said the MyGov online portal could now handle 150,000 people at a time.
But by the afternoon, the service was again running slow or not at all.
It crashed on Monday after it was overwhelmed by almost 100,000 newly unemployed Australians, many of whom were making their first approach to Centrelink.
Senator Ruston says no one could have predicted the increased demand even though the government shut down a number of industries to combat the spread of the virus.
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."
Centrelink will boost its workforce by 5000 people to deal with the influx of applicants and extend call centre hours.
But there will be fewer workers at the centres because of social distancing requirements. No pop-up shopfronts are planned.
Many families, workers and business owners have been forced to seek social security as the pandemic throws the national economy into chaos.
Government Services Minister Stuart Robert has admitted he was wrong to blame hackers for bringing the MyGov website down, when it was actually overwhelmed by sacked Australians scrambling for benefits.
"I probably should have waited for the investigation before jumping the gun," he told 2GB radio.
"We prepared over the weekend for 55,000 ... I didn't think I'd have to prepare for 100,000 concurrent users.
"My bad [for] not realising the sheer scale of the decision on Sunday night by national leaders that literally saw hundreds of thousands, maybe a million, people unemployed overnight."
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said that was unacceptable.
"Stuart Robert gave just wrong messages yesterday," he said.
"That's unfortunate and it has consequences for people because it breaks down people's confidence in the system."
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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, March 26, 2020
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