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Landmark report shows Centrelink automation is failing the vulnerable

Jun 25, 2018, 10:28 AM by Maiy Azize

Anglicare Australia has called on the Government to properly fund Centrelink to identify and assist vulnerable clients. The call follows the release of a landmark study on the impact of Centrelink automation on Anglicare staff and clients.
“Our research found that people are falling through the cracks as Centrelink services become more and more automated,” said Anglicare Australia Executive Director Kasy Chambers.

“It is becoming harder to talk to a human being. Staff in Centrelink service centres now direct people to phones and computers, rather than offering help. At the same time, people report spending hours waiting on the phone only to get cut off. And Centrelink’s online system can malfunction and is difficult to use.

“Centrelink might believe that it’s saving time and money, but what it’s really doing is shifting the burden onto its clients and the services that help them,” Ms Chambers said.

Ms Chambers said that Centrelink needed to be resourced to work with vulnerable clients.

“Everybody deserves to be treated with dignity. But people are being shuttled between different Centrelink platforms, getting different answers depending on who they speak to, and having to turn to services like Anglicare just to manage it all.

“Our report shows that these problems are only getting worse as more people are pushed onto Newstart from other payments.

“Two thirds of Anglicare workers we surveyed said these Centrelink processes increased the amount of support clients needed because they were stressed and anxious. If the automation agenda is going to work, we need to stop cutting Centrelink and resource their staff to identify and support vulnerable clients,” Ms Chambers said.

The research was conducted across three different jurisdictions by Anglicare Southern Queensland, Anglicare Tasmania, and Anglicare Western Australia. It involved surveys and face to face interviews with a total of 218 staff, and the collection of client case studies. Its key findings include:
- People report waiting on the phone waiting on the phone for hours, and high rates of disconnection and abandonment. This aligns with data from the Centrelink from the past year – 33 million calls went unanswered and 55 million callers got an engaged signal
- Clients report getting different information depending on who they speak to at Centrelink
- Over a period of a fortnight, community support staff in the survey were spending the equivalent of 6.6 full time equivalent (FTE) positions just on dealing with Centrelink issues
- Surveyed staff estimated how much they spent over a week due to clients’ Centrelink issues. In one week this totalled $7,849. This is an annual Anglicare subsidy to Centrelink of at least $408,148
- Centrelink staff lack training and resources to help clients who are being failed by automation.
Full report (.pdf)
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Report brief (.pdf)
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