Centrelink: Millions left on hold by Services Australia

More than seven million phone calls made to Services Australia were sent to voicemail last year, it has been revealed.

Data tabled by Services Australia in Senate Estimates shows about 7,444,939 calls to the agency received a congestion message in the year to the end of December. Additionally, over 2 million calls were terminated by customers.

Currently, average phone wait times for people trying to access employment services are currently 48 minutes.

Services Australia chief Jarrod Howard said an increase in staff numbers employed at the agency this year should see a decrease in wait times.

“Our strategy at the moment … is to focus on the processing of claims and we do that for two-fold. and we know that it will lead to a reduction in people calling us,” Mr Howard told Senators on Wednesday.

Greens Senator Janet Rice said people were in “desperation” trying to get through to the agency, which oversees Centrelink, citing testimony from a person on a life support machine who said they waited three days to reach disability services on the phone.

“What do you say to those people?” Senator Rice asked.

Mr Howard said staff at the agency were “working hard” to answer calls and apologised to customers struggling to make contact.

“I acknowledge and I apologise to any customer who is struggling to get through to us,” he said.

“There is not a person in the agency that does not want to serve customers.”

Newly-minted chief executive David Hazlehurst said overblown wait times at the agency were a result of long-term neglect including under-resourcing from previous governments.

He said a new staff boost of 3,000 people to begin work in 2024 would make an “enormous” difference.

“Services Australia will continue improving our services from across our channels, focusing on improvements in claims processing and telephony,” he said.

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