Centrelink blocked 22 million of our phone calls last year

If you’ve tried to get through to Centrelink on the phone in the past year, you’ve no doubt heard the infuriating tolling of what you assume is an engaged line.

But as a senate hearing heard on Thursday night, that bleep-bleep-bleep is more likely to signal that your call has actually been blocked.

The Senate Estimates Committee heard that Centrelink has “blocked” more than 22 million calls during 2014-2015, a significant jump up from the 13 million calls blocked in the previous year.

The department blocks calls when the wait times are too long in an effort to manage the service and reduce wait times.

Representatives from the Department of Human Services told the committee that the reason so many more calls were blocked was because people were using smartphone apps that dial repeatedly until they get a line and into the queue to speak to someone.

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These apps are typically used to buy concert tickets and nab other limited-offer deals.

DHS official Grant Tidswell said, “It’s always a trade-off…trying to manage the workload and demand and the challenge between demand and supply.”

He said in previous years the number of blocked calls had actually been higher, in excess of 30 million, and that Centrelink was continuing to direct callers to use the website or apps instead of the telephones.

Greens senator Rachel Siewer, who led the questioning said, “To hear that 13.7 million has now swelled to 22 million makes my heart sink.”

“From questions during estimates it appears that Centrelink has no interest in taking further action in driving down the worrying statistics.

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“At a time when the government is happy to paint people on income support as ‘dole bludgers’, having infrastructure in place that clearly can’t cope with demand shows a fundamental flaw.

“Someone might be receiving an overpayment and if they can’t get through to fix it, then the government is losing money.

“I urge the government to spend time and money adequately resourcing call centre infrastructure so that people on income support can access the services they deserve.”

Centrelink and the Department of Human Services were criticised earlier this year after a report found nearly a quarter of the 57 million phone calls made to Centrelink last year were unanswered and that Australians spent an estimated 143 years waiting to speak to someone at Centrelink before giving up.

Have you given up on trying to phone Centrelink? Are you comfortable using the apps and website instead or do you wish you could speak with a real person instead?