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Minister in denial over drop in Centrelink service standards

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Minister for Human Services Stuart Robert continues to deny that there are significant services problems at the Department of Human Services (DHS).

Yet irrefutable evidence from the DHS Annual Report, Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) reports, Commonwealth Ombudman‟s reports, Senate Estimates answers and citizens‟ experiences, shows that standards have dropped.

“The evidence is damning and overwhelming - Centrelink service standards are dropping.” said Senator Cameron

“The number of calls answered by Centrelink (initially by its Interactive Voice Response system) has dropped by 3 million in one year. The percentage of calls answered dropped by 11.1 per cent. Centrelink is now only answering 64.3 per cent of calls from customers, down from 75.43 per cent in 2013-14.

“And even if they improve on calls answered, that doesn‟t mean people‟s problems are resolved. DHS needs to develop, along with Centrelink users, better performance indicators that actually measure the effectiveness of the whole system, rather than just whether the call has been answered.

“We know that dealing with Centrelink and DHS is becoming more, not less, difficult day to day. The dread of having to try to get them on the phone when you have a problem is palpable. The DHS Annual Report shows complaints are up 18.8% on last year, and customer satisfaction is down by 8 per cent.

“The evidence is very clear, DHS is not heading in the right direction when it comes to customer satisfaction or the number of calls answered.

“And forcing people online isn‟t working either - 37 per cent of people using the Medicare mobile app have experienced problems using it. 40 per cent of calls to Centrelink arise because of difficulty using the apps or website.

“The Government has only itself to blame. They initiated a WorkChoices-like assault on their own staff when they got into Government, and they still haven‟t resolved those negotiations more than 20 months after they began. They should settle the industrial dispute and get on with improving services.

“Work organisation and management systems also need to be improved, but that requires a Minister interested in making improvements rather than trying to defend the indefensible.

“The Minister‟s go-to response when faced with these issues is to say that the Government is spending billions on the welfare infrastructure payment transformation program. But they‟re only spending $60m over the next four years, and it isn‟t due to be completed until 2022. It‟s very hard to see how wait times or service standards will improve over the next four years if that‟s their only response.

“This Government is incapable of delivering basic services to the Australian public. Despite the change of leadership in the Liberal Party, they continue to focus on each other instead of delivering timely and quality services to the Australian public.” Said Senator Cameron.


DHS is beset by problems:

 The Australian National Audit Office‟s Management of Smart Centre‟s Centrelink Telephone Services Report showed that approximately 40 per cent of all incoming calls result from failed online or self-services and the growth of digital transactions has not reduced demand for call centre services as was anticipated.

 The New Year‟s Day glitch that caused 70,000 people to be told they owed up to $800 to the Government.  DHS Annual Report shows complaints are up 18.8 per cent on last year, customer satisfaction is down by 8 per cent.  For over 20 months DHS has been under a WorkChoices-inspired ideological attack

on the wages and conditions of staff. The 2014-15 Australian Public Service „State of the Service Report‟, shows that only 59 per cent of APS staff believe they are paid fairly, down from 67 per cent last year.  The Minister has failed to respond to Audit Office and Ombudsman reports which

note service delivery failures in customer identity protection, call wait times, online and face to face services.  The Commonwealth Ombudsman‟s follow-up review of service delivery complaints at Centrelink has revealed that problems have persisted for more than 18 months

after his initial report was published in April 2014.

 2015 has been described by informed independent observers as DHS‟ annus horibilis with call wait times, service standards and IT glitches piling up.