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Govt promises no more Centrelink phone hang-ups or long waits

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The age of Centrelink hanging up on callers is over, the federal government services minister promises.

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In the 11 months to the end of May, more than 26.7 million callers to Centrelink got a busy signal when they rang.

In May alone there were 1.1 million unanswered calls.

But Minister for Government Services Stuart Robert says there is now no call blocking on the lines thanks to technology upgrades.

“That is, more than 150,000 calls that were once blocked every day, now down to zero,” he told the National Press Club on Tuesday.

He also says the average time callers spend on hold has now plummeted to under five minutes.

In April, callers ringing about pensions, Newstart, and youth, disability, parenting and carer payments all waited more than 21 minutes on average to have their calls answered.

However, average wait times dropped significantly in May, department figures obtained by the Greens on Tuesday show.

Robert says the agency has had a “baptism by fire” over the first six months of 2020.

“It has not been an ordinary 12 months and it has been an extraordinary six months,” he said.

“Were there mistakes? Yes – plenty of them – but we only made them once and when we failed, we failed fast and tried again.”

As coronavirus shutdowns plunged the nation into recession and threw hundreds of thousands of people out of jobs, Services Australia dealt with 1.3 millon new welfare claims in 55 days – as many as it would normally process in two-and-a-half years.

Robert used his speech to applaud the agency’s increased capacity, with its websites now able to handle 300,000 users at once.

But the MyGov and Centrelink portals repeatedly crashed in the first couple days of the virus-driven shutdowns in March, as more than 100,000 people tried to lodge unemployment claims.

The minister initially blamed a denial of service attack before backtracking and conceding hackers hadn’t played a role.

The sites had been upgraded, but could only handle 55,000 people at once.

Thousands of people queued at Centrelink offices around the country in scenes many politicians have described as heartbreaking.

Robert says his agency’s technological overhaul of Australians’ interaction with government services is focused on making the experience simple, helpful, respectful and transparent.

-AAP

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