“Many people are calling us when they simply do not need to,” that’s the claim from the Department of Human Services which suggests some people calling Centrelink are wasting staff time. Okay…
Time wasters or not, many of these callers are parents who are struggling with existing technology and branch-level services.
Among those blocked and frustrated callers are seasoned parents and first-timers, like Daniel Petrie, who says he made 40 calls before receiving the wrong information, only to then have it corrected.
Problem solved. Not quite.
These types of stories are happening every day and what’s making them worse is that Centrelink staff are not just under resourced, but the department is also unable to provide customers with a finish date for the current roll out of phone and service “improvements”.
“Due to the scale of our operations, these initiatives take some time to be implemented and customer benefits will progressively occur throughout the project,” says Department of Human Services general manager Hank Jongen.
“Prior to July 2015, the department made limited use of place-in-queue technology on some lines.
“This service was ceased as we found callers who did not choose the place-in-queue call-back option were being adversely affected.
“The new telephony platform we’ve rolled out provides the department with the capability to make scheduled callbacks, and we are exploring opportunities to utilise the new technology without these unwanted side effects,” Jongen says.
The department said that last year it received 55.8 million calls to Centrelink, Child Support and Medicare services.
It’s estimated that during the past five years, around 5000 staff have lost their jobs and many of them replaced with mostly casual employees.
So how do you get through to the other end of the telephone line when there are so many people trying, the phone lines aren’t the best, the department is strained and staff are under resourced?
Community and Public Sector Union deputy national president Lisa Newman recommends calling the “complaints” line.
“We’ve seen both Labor and Liberal governments use the public sector as some magic pudding that they can keep shrinking as the population increases,” Newman says.
“I know some members [Centrelink staff] that break rules to get the right outcomes for the people they deal with. They actually really give a stuff about the people that come through the door and meet their needs.”
Jongen says while wait times for services vary, customers could try the following:
- Avoid periods of high caller volume, this is typically Monday mornings, Friday afternoons, and daily lunchtime periods.
- Avoid seasonal\ busy times such as the beginning of the school year or financial year reconciliations impacting phone lines.
- Call earlier in the morning when there may be shorter wait times.
- Take advantage of self-service options for many a range of activities, such as checking on child care rebates, updating payment information or study details, and requesting advance payments.
For its part, the department says it has been upgrading its “antiquated” telephone systems since the middle of last year but is yet to confirm when the work will be finished.
The department has promised, “improvements will continue” to be rolled out to help them better manage an estimated 220,000 callers a day.
“Many people are calling us when they simply do not need to, and they could instead use our express-plus apps, online services, and phone self-service to complete much of their routine Centrelink and Medicare business,” says Mr Jongen.