Vulnerable Australians are “falling through the cracks” and struggling to get help as a result of Centrelink’s increasingly automated systems.
New research from Anglicare Australia has revealed that those most in need of assistance are being let down by Centrelink, with clients being directed towards automated phone lines or online resources, rather than being offered face-to-face support.
The findings, collected during a survey of Anglicare support staff, showed that Centrelink’s automated systems are failing the most vulnerable users, with people reporting errors, delays and up to two-hour phone wait times. It was also found that staff have inadequate training and resources to offer sufficient help, with many users claiming to have been given conflicting information by different Centrelink operators.
Kasy Chambers, from Anglicare Australia, said: “Our research found that people are falling through the cracks as Centrelink services become more and more automated. It is becoming harder to talk to a human being. Staff in Centrelink service centres now direct people to phones and computers, rather than offering help. At the same time, people report spending hours waiting on the phone only to get cut off. And Centrelink’s online system can malfunction and is difficult to use.
“Centrelink might believe that it’s saving time and money, but what it’s really doing is shifting the burden onto its clients and the services that help them,”
The survey found that clients were regularly placed on hold for several hours, with many of those being disconnected or failing to get through to anyone at all, mirroring recent data which revealed that 33 million calls to Centrelink went unanswered and 55 million callers got an engaged signal over the past year.
These failings are leaving frustrated Centrelink clients searching for help elsewhere, with a large number turning to Anglicare, who are now calling on the government to increase the amount of funding assigned to the program. In fact, Anglicare’s support staff are spending so long resolving issues concerning Centrelink that they are dedicating the equivalent of seven full time members of staff per fortnight to helping clients get to grips with the system.
More than 200 members of community support staff, across Tasmania, Western Australia and Southern Queensland, were questioned for the survey, which also revealed that almost $8,000 a week was being spent on resolving problems arising from automation, equating to an annual Anglicare subsidy to Centrelink of at least $408,148.
Ms. Chambers added: “Everybody deserves to be treated with dignity, but people are being shuttled between different Centrelink platforms, and getting different answers depending on who they speak to. They are having to turn to services like Anglicare just to manage it all.
“Two thirds of Anglicare workers we surveyed said these Centrelink processes increased the amount of support clients needed because they were stressed and anxious. If the automation agenda is going to work, we need to stop cutting Centrelink and resource their staff to identify and support vulnerable clients.”
This is not the first time that Centrelink’s phone systems have come under fire, earlier this year it was revealed that people are regularly left on hold for more than one hour, in a new report published by the ABC.
A new report by the ABC suggests that Australians are waiting longer than ever when they phone Centrelink. In fact, they suggest that some people are left waiting for over an hour before they speak to a person. People ringing in regards to disability, sickness and carers payments were typically left waiting for close to half an hour per call. Wait times for employment hotlines and students have also increased by five and six minutes, well above the average wait times that Centrelink themselves have recorded.