Centrelink goes backwards on service

Ian was so fed up waiting for someone at Centrelink to answer his call, he decided to drive to one of its offices while remaining on his mobile.

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He was still on hold by the time he reached the front of the queue almost two hours later.

But while waiting to notify Centrelink about his commitments, Ian lost an offer of four week’s work.

His is among several complaints taken to Commonwealth Ombudsman Colin Neave in the past year, amid concerns Centrelink’s service quality has gone backwards.

Mr Neave wants the social security behemoth to lift its game, more than a year after advising Centrelink to do something about telephone and frontline waiting times.

In his follow-up report on Wednesday, Mr Neave said while Centrelink has done some work to improve, it’s disappointing that not all his recommendations have been implemented.

He found phone services had deteriorated further – even people who want to complain to Centrelink can’t get through to do so.

His office still receives complaints from people referred directly to him by Centrelink staff instead of being encouraged or helped to use its own internal complaint mechanisms first, he said.

An ageing computer system is partly to blame but it will be seven years until a planned new one is in place.

Centrelink wants more people to use its online services to alleviate pressure on phone services.

But Mr Neave’s report suggests there is no point pushing clients online if even that system doesn’t work, with his report documenting several complaints about reliability and quality.

“If (the department) intends to automatically divert people to online service channels, it is imperative that the online service works intuitively,” the report said.

“This is not currently the case with all of DHS’s online service channels.”

The ombudsman said phone service problems won’t be fixed until the Department of Human Services hires more staff.

Minister for Human Services, Marise Payne, said the government was investing more than $1 billion in the new computer system to save customers time and effort.

“The welfare payment system is complex and our customer base is large and diverse with differing needs,” Ms Payne said in a statement.

Labor said it isn’t good enough to argue everything will be fixed when the new computer system is in place, given it will be years before that happens.

Opposition human services spokesman Doug Cameron blames the government for being too focused on a pay dispute with departmental workers.

“The minister has been asleep at the wheel on these issues,” he told AAP.