Extra Centrelink call centre staff welcomed

National Seniors has welcomed the Federal Government’s announcement of an additional 1500 call centre staff for Centrelink. 

The extra staff announced yesterday are on top of 1,000 pledged in April to cut call wait times and improve service delivery, and another 250 call centre operators hired late last year through a pilot program with external provider Serco.

National Senior’s Interim CEO Prof. John McCallum said the extra staff should go some way to relieving the frustration revealed by members in a recent survey that highlighted excessive call wait times and abandoned calls, along with lengthy Age Pension application process times.

The National Seniors research revealed 42.4 per cent of Age Pension applicants were dissatisfied and another 19 per cent were ambivalent about the process, with many waiting three to six months for their applications to be completed.

“The complexity of the Centrelink processes, combined with insufficient call centre operators, long wait times and insufficient Financial Information Service Officers, has been frustrating for older Australians,” Prof. McCallum said.

“The extra call centre staff will no doubt help, but they won’t address the other problems highlighted in our research. These include Centrelink training, internal processes and management, which must be addressed if the Age Pension application processing time is to be improved.”

The National Seniors report quoted applicants who said their time and needs were not valued or recognised by Centrelink staff, describing the application process as “generally appalling”, and staff “unhelpful, disinterested and reluctant to answer questions”.

One applicant said the mission of Centrelink appeared to be “to prevent as many people as possible from accessing income support”. Others complained of long wait times (whether phoning or visiting Centrelink offices), complicated forms and processes, and of receiving conflicting advice from different staff.

Minister for Human Services Michael Keenan said yesterday a pilot program using call centre staff from Serco demonstrated that working with a service delivery partner was an efficient and effective way to meet the needs of Centrelink customers.

Those staff had already answered more than two million calls and helped reduce busy signals on Centrelink phone lines by almost 20 per cent.

“The Department of Human Services recently signed contracts with four service delivery partners to provide the additional 1,000 staff to improve call wait times and enhance service delivery,” Mr Keenan said.

“Under the new contracts, Serco will engage additional staff at their Victorian call centres and Stellar Asia Pacific, Concentrix Services and DataCom Connect will create jobs based in Perth, Brisbane and Adelaide.”

“Centrelink answers about a million calls a week and getting through on the phone can sometimes be difficult, especially at periods of high demand.

“Our investment in these 2,750 staff will greatly enhance our ability to answer more calls and ensure that the service we deliver is in line with customer expectations.”

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