News National Government promises 1000 extra Centrelink call centre staff to reduce wait times

Government promises 1000 extra Centrelink call centre staff to reduce wait times

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Centrelink clients say it can take "an hour or two" to get through on the phone line. Photo: AAP
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Have you spent untold minutes, or even hours on hold to Centrelink, listening to classical music only to slam down the phone in frustration?

If the answer is yes, don’t despair, it looks like change is on the way.

The Federal Government has promised to hire an additional 1000 call centre operators this year.

Human Services Minister Michael Keenan said wait times for customers were too long and change was needed.

“We want to make sure that when you deal with the Government you get the best possible service,” he said.

“We know the service that people have been receiving isn’t satisfactory and we’ve been doing things to address that.”

Last year the Government contracted Serco, a multinational company, to provide an additional 250 call centre staff and Mr Keenan is again looking to the private sector.

“There is no reason why private operators can’t do it as efficiently as permanent staff and we’ve trialled this with the 250 people that we’ve already employed to do it and we’ve had independent evaluations done that show this is an effective way to enhance our service delivery,” he said.

When the Serco contract was announced last year, Labor and the unions questioned why the Government would trust a private company with personal information, but the minister dismissed those concerns.

“We use private companies all the time,” Mr Keenan said.

“The Australian Taxation Office has been using private companies for the past decade for their call centre operations which has been very successful. That’s one of the sensible things the Labor Party did when they were in Government.”

He said the 1000 call centre operators would be fully trained, based in Australia, and no client data would be sent overseas.

The Government wouldn’t provide an estimated cost for the contract because it has been put to tender, but the ABC understands it will be at least $200 million.

The additional staff will be hired for three years and the Human Services Minister does not believe they will be needed after that, as more Centrelink recipients put down the phone and turn to their computers.

“Over time I hope that our digital channels will get a lot better so people will go online, we are investing heavily to make that happen,” Mr Keenan said.

“But in the meantime we are putting this very big investment into extra call centre capacity and people calling in will notice a far better experience.”

So will Centrelink clients notice a dramatic difference in waiting times once the additional staff are hired?

Mr Keenan is confident they will, but he won’t say by how much.

“I don’t want to put a time on it but there will be a very significant improvement in service. This is essentially another 30 per cent of call centre capacity that we [are] putting in,” he said.