News : Welfare Changes to Help Manage Crisis at Centrelink
Oct 25, 2013 -- A simpler welfare system would help solve the customer service crisis confronting the Department of Human Services, according to the Abbott government.
New Human Services Minister Marise Payne has broken her silence on the problems of the department that encompasses Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support, saying she understands the frustrations of its customers.
The minister flagged changes to the welfare system, aimed at making it simpler and easier to run, but also said she expected to see improvements in DHS's customer service performance.
The Canberra Times revealed last week the department was experiencing a customer service crisis. Staff at Centrelink call centres were taking up to 16 minutes to pick up ringing telephones and tens of thousands of cases had been awaiting review for months.
Some routine case reviews had been on hold for nine months while Centrelink's parent department has axed 800 call centre jobs, with another 400 to also go.
The Department of Human Services refuses to say how many case reviews are outstanding but insiders say the list blew out to more than 24,000 earlier this year. Departmental sources say Australia's complex web of welfare and family support payments made life hard for service delivery agencies.
Ms Payne said she understood Centrelink users were frustrated by their experience with the agency. ''As you would appreciate, an organisation that serves more than 7 million people is going to receive complaints in the course of its work, and I have seen examples of these come through my electorate office over the years in my time as a senator for western Sydney, so I do understand the frustration that customers sometimes face,'' she said.
''Since becoming Minister for Human Services I have been looking closely at the department's operations and I have to say my first impressions are that the staff work very hard in a challenging role. ''However, there is always room for improvement and, where necessary, to look at adapting procedures. I am very keen to receive feedback on what might be necessary in that regard.''
Ms Payne said Human Services was the service delivery arm of the Social Services portfolio and new Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews was already talking about a stripped-down social welfare system for Australia.
''Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews recently indicated the government wants to simplify the welfare system and plans a review of payments to see how this can be achieved,'' Ms Payne said.
''I look forward to having input into the process of making payments less complex, also making it easier for staff and therefore providing a better service for the community.
''I am confident that this process will also complement our efforts to provide a better service by increasing the department's ability to provide online services for customers.''
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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About Australian Government Department of Human Services:
The Australian Department of Human Services (DHS) is a department of the Government of Australia charged with responsibility for delivering a range of welfare, public aid, health and other services to the people of Australia.
Published: Monday, October 28, 2013