If you’ve ever tried getting through to Centrelink and find yourself on hold for what can feel like hours, you’re not imagining things.
A recent Senate inquiry suggests that more than 33 million calls go unanswered when people phone in, according to the Courier Mail.
The exact number of calls that didn’t get answered is 33,257,230 in the past year. That’s an increase of more than half a million calls from the previous year. Despite this, Department of Human Services secretary Renee Leon said it wasn’t because there were less staff manning the phones.
“The number of staff on the phones has been broadly comparable over the last three years,” she told the hearing. Instead, the blame has been put on the call-queuing technology. As such, there are experts working on improving it to ensure that call answer rates improve.
The hearing also dealt with the length of wait times, suggesting that 330,000 of people who did reach a representative were placed on hold for more than half an hour. Of those people, 167,000 had to wait more than an hour.
People typically ring the Department of Human Services for an array of reasons including queries relating to disability, carer and sickness payments. Many young people also ring the employment hotline.
A glance at the official Facebook page for the Department shows that people are regularly left unhappy with their experience when they phone up.
One frustrated customer wrote: “Been trying to contact Centrelink over the phone but it has just consistently rang engaged?? Have been trying for ages, getting desperate to speak to someone this arvo…help please?? Not enough time to go in person and I can’t report for some reason (& need to get paid tomorrow as usual…)”.
Another vented their anger at being put on hold for such a long period of time for such a simple task: “Have waited on the phone for over 30 minutes to speak to someone. Have registered for self-service phone line and that system seems to be down. All I wanted to do was speak to someone about my change of postal address. I had all my information updated on Tuesday and upon looking at my profile my postal address was not changed. As I no longer live at that address all information sent to me from Centrelink will not reach my home. Can someone please help me?”
A third added that they were simply hung up on after waiting on hold: “You guys are useless, I was hung up whilst being on phone to fix my payments. Thanks a lot Centrelink, real good customer service looks like I get nothing to survive on now”.
Between 2015 and 2016, more than 68 million people actually attempted to call through, but more than 28 million were blocked because the line was busy or engaged.
Last month, Australian’s unions revealed that the government is spending $430,000 on a US consulting firm, to evaluate what the issue is with call wait times for Centrelink and tell them how to fix the ongoing problem.