News Coronavirus ‘Don’t call us, go online’ – overwhelmed Centrelink’s plea to needy Australians

‘Don’t call us, go online’ – overwhelmed Centrelink’s plea to needy Australians

coronavirus mygov centrelink
Thousands of people are experiencing unemployment for the first time, experts say, making the case for more federal support Photo: Getty
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Lengthy queues outside Centrelink offices finally started to ease on Wednesday as newly unemployed Australians sought to meet requirements online and by phone.

Services Australia boss Hank Jongen said those who had lost jobs no longer needed to queue at Centrelink offices.

From Wednesday morning, they could start claims through MyGov accounts – which are used to process tax returns, so are held by most Australians.

“Once you log in to MyGov, you can simply click on ‘an intent to claim’,” he told ABC radio on Wednesday.

“That will give permission for MyGov to give us your personal details and we will then contact you. That locks in your date of eligibility.”

Tens of thousands of people are already trying to sign up for unemployment benefits after losing their jobs amid the ever-tighter restrictions introduced to try to halt the spread of the lethal virus.

MyGov has had more than three million logins in less than a day. The site crashed on Monday and again on Tuesday, despite a boost in its ability to handle traffic.

Centrelink will boost its workforce by 5000 people to deal with the influx of applicants and extend call centre hours. However, Mr Jongen said the organisation was yet to recruit any extra staff.

“What we’ve done is mobilised staff internally,” he said.

“We’ve embarked on extensive training program, and we are in the process of recruiting.”

He said Centrelink had had a couple of days of “terrible scenes” at its offices, but the extra staff and boosted website would help ease demand. Existing Centrelink clients were also urged not to phone the organisation to check on their eligibility for payments.

“It’s important for current customers to understand – this process is automatic,” Mr Jongen said.

“If you are eligible as at April 13, from March 13 to April 13, you will automatically receive the first $750 stimulus payment. The payments will be made from March 31 through to April 17. You don’t need to contact us.”

Various income tests apply for the coronavirus supplement but the Prime Minister said these thresholds could be changed.

“When we get the feedback, we will take action and then we’ll get the system in place to support that,” Scott Morrison told 2GB radio.

Government Services Minister Stuart Robert admitted the government hadn’t planned for so many people logging on to get unemployment benefits.

“I didn’t think I’d have to prepare for 100,000 concurrent users,” he said on Tuesday.

“My bad for not realising the sheer scale of the decision on Sunday night by the national leaders that literally saw hundreds and hundreds of thousands, maybe a million people, unemployed overnight.”

Mr Robert initially claimed MyGov had been hacked on Monday when it had actually crashed due to overwhelming demand.

Mutual obligations for those receiving social security have been suspended until the end of March. That means people already receiving payments do not have to report their income or attend appointments.

-with AAP