Centrelink accused of turning its back on older Australians

Last financial year, Centrelink let a whopping 22 million calls go unanswered. While that statistic is frustrating enough, the story

Last financial year, Centrelink let a whopping 22 million calls go unanswered. While that statistic is frustrating enough, the story gets worse for those who do manage to get through.

A report in the Canberra Times reveals the extent to which customers are being delayed, hung up on or charged for trying to access human services. Worryingly, older Australians were over-represented in the number of people that wrote in to Fairfax to complain.

One person waited 33 hours (yes, you read that right) to speak to someone: “After wasting over 33 hours in 10 calls to a 1300 number – I pay 40 cents per call – I went in person to the  shopfront waited again for one hour for an answer which took five minutes.”

Others said they tried to visit Centrelink in person, but were “chased away” by the people there to “greet” them, or else were directed to banks of phones in the office so they could, at least, spent their time on hold at someone else’s expense.

One reader said they waited 62 minutes on hold, to be essentially told to go to the website, and when they checked the call had cost the $72.

Frustratingly, Centrelinks “streamlined” services only make things worse:

“Spent half an afternoon navigating their complex website, finally giving up on the idea that I was able to notify them that way,” one reader wrote. “I then attempted three phone calls. The whole time I was on hold – over an hour each time – it kept telling me that all the answers and services I needed could be found on the website.”

Worryingly, seniors are more likely to be the ones not getting access to the services they need, some say they just don’t bother anymore.

“I’m a senior citizen, and it’s happened so many times that I’ve given up attempting to call them,” said one pensioner. “I’ve even had calls answered after waiting 30 minutes, only to have the call answered and then transferred to another department, and then hung up after waiting another 30 minutes.”

Senior Human Services executives say that demand is growing as customer’s enquiries become more complex.

“Given this, customers may experience delays from time to time and especially during peak periods. The department acknowledges it can be frustrating when people experience delays in reaching a service officer.”

Does this make you mad? Have you found yourself at the mercy of Centrelink’s “your call is important to us” message? Share your stories.

  1. What’s the point of complaining nothing will ever be done about it !!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Jo Carson  

    As a senior on Newstart allowance, I used to go in person to report my non earnings each fortnight. I had tried a few times to do the online thing, but found it very frustrating going around in circles on the Centrelink site.
    So, one day, one of the new Centrelink staff told me I HAD to do my reporting online. We had a small discussion. It was the first time that I had encountered such a rude, condescending person at Centrelink.
    I wrote a letter of complaint to the Minister of Family and Services. Someone from that office contacted me to suggest that I might be able to phone my reporting to an automated service. I tried that. Something must have been going wrong, because each time I tried to phone in my non earnings, I would be put on hold, and eventually put through to an actual person. Another complaint.
    The Family and Services contacted me again, and after doing some ‘tweaking’ at their end, I was finally able to report to an automated service.
    All this took some months to sort out.
    I much preferred going in to the office and speaking with one of the smiling people who were being of SERVICE.

  3. Renne  

    I had one issue and I had 2 different solutions from 2 people.Everytime I call it takes too long to get to talk to someone.Pathetic!

  4. Joan Hunter  

    I am retired and do casual work, most of the time I don’t earn enough for it to be taxed, I registered for tax with the ATO AND amazingly I received an urgent call from Centrelink. The person on the other end was very condescending, made me feel that I had done something wrong. (you do understand…..etc)

  5. Wayne Finch  

    I had to go see someone in centre link with regards to getting the aged pension when i finally got to see some one was told by this woman that we are understaffed just write down whats happening on the back of the form & send it in

  6. “I’m a senior citizen, and it’s happened so many times that I’ve given up attempting to call them,” The preceding sentence is the essence of it. The system is purposely designed to deter you from calling Centrelink (or indeed, any government ‘service’). Only public outrage (such as phone calls/letters to your MP) can have any chance of changing this ‘no-service’ culture.

  7. Kay Harris  

    They have been going from bad to worse for a long time – when I was still working I had to report income fortnightly by phone – The wait at times was ridiculous but what concerned me more was the hoops one had to jump to actually speak to a ‘real’ person – I complained every time that as a working person I was at least familiar phone options etc but that for older people who had no experience of the technology this process would be very stressful – To go to the outlets was even worse with long queues and waiting times . Obviously it has just gotten worse over the years – Sorry but its a bloody disgrace and needs addressing urgently…

  8. Val Sheppard  

    I don’t try and ring centrelink because I am lucky enough to have an office nearby where the longest I have waited was 45 minutes. I think Alan has hit the nail on the head though with his statement ” or indeed any government service.” Delays are not to be blamed on centrelink but the government who keep making cuts to all their departments.

  9. Joy Anne Bourke  

    Yes I have and been cut off after 30 mins. It is a disgrace the way Centrelink is set up on the website site as it is complicated and the phone system is non existent. They do to do something as most older persons don’t use the internet and then they have to go into Centrelink office to wait an hour or two to be told go to the website, they fog the older people off as quick as possible without answering their questions.

  10. Gary  

    I am a Senior, tried ringing Centrelink last Friday, after dialling the number for an hour with not even getting in the que I gave up.

    Tried again on Monday this week and got in the que after 3/4 hour of dialling and had to wait a further 3/4 hour for someone to answer, only to be told that they could not answer my query as I am allegedly overseas? The last time I was overseas was May 2015 but the system does not recognise that I have returned even though Centrelink have been paying me since I returned. I have been to.d that I just have to wait until someone fixes the system. Very frustrating!!

  11. Muriel Thurgar  

    I stood in line at Centrelink to change details to my new address, only to be told to go online and do it. Yeah right!!! I would dare anyone to be successful at that. It is the most UNUSERFRIENDLY website I have ever had the misfortune to come across. I gave up, wrote all the relevant details on piece of paper, went back to Centrelink and shoved it into hands of the nearest attendant, telling her I can’t do it, so you do it. Then I walked out. Still don’t know if it was done, because I can’t get into the website… This company needs more than just a shake up. Their treatment of older people is blatant discrimination.

  12. Barbara Ayling  

    Moved to another area and needed to change my Medicare details. Medicare is in the Centrelink building in Bunbury. Was still waiting for my landline phone , so went down to the building..waited , along with about 30 other folk.,sat for nearly two hours and finally was called to a desk..changing my details took exactly …3 minutes…WHY on earthe have Medicare linked to Centrelink ?..in Rockingham, where I lived before, the office is seperate and changing details last time took only moments…I am 80 years old and this was very frustrating !

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