Thu, 15 Feb 2024 - 14:15
Viewed - Services Australia payment processing times blow out to almost three months for some claims

Some welfare recipients are waiting up to three months for their applications to be processed, in a revelation the Coalition has slammed as “embarrassing and unacceptable”.

Services Australia tabled new data during senate estimates this weeks, showing processing times have blown out in the last quarter of 2023, compared to the 2021-22 financial year.

Those receiving low income card payments now have the most significant wait time, with the average days of processing up from 16 in 2021-22 to 82.5 last quarter.

The average days to process the age pension is up from 35 days to 78 days.

The wait time for disability support pension has also doubled - up from 40 days to 82.2 days.

The agency is also dealing with a backlog of more than 1.1 million payment claims.

The revelations came as Services Australia told Senate estimates more than seven million phone calls made to the agency were sent to voicemail last year.

In addition, over two million calls were terminated by customers, with average phone wait times for people trying to access employment services currently 48 minutes.

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Jarrod Howard from Services Australia on Wednesday said the agency was optimistic a recent boost to staffing numbers would result in a decrease to 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,” he said.

But the Coalition said the data on processing delays was an indictment on the government, accusing the relevant minister of failing to take strong enough action to ensure the agency was equipped to deal with the rising demand amid the cost-of-living crunch.

Paul Fletcher, the opposition’s government services spokesman, said it was unacceptable people were waiting up to five times as long for their claims to be processed as they were two years ago.

“Australian families are struggling to pay their bills and they need these vital payments as quickly as possible. Having to wait nearly three months in some cases is embarrassing and unacceptable,” Mr Fletcher said.

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“Services Australia should be the front door to government services, but Australians are having that door slammed in their face.”

“I repeat my calls for there to be a root and branch review of Services Australia’s operations to improve the agency’s performance. Australians deserve a better customer service experience.”

Government Services Minister Bill Shorten said the blowout in delay was a hangover of the Coalition “eroding government services” during their decade in power.

Last year, the government committed to boosting the agency’s workforce by 3000 staff, and Mr Shorten said there was already anecdotal evidence to show that claims on hand and phone wait times were “declining” now that those personnel were coming on board.

“The extra staff are improving access to Centrelink and Medicare payments and services. This Government is committed to supporting Australians when they need it most,” he said.

“It’s also a welcome boost for Services Australia’s dedicated staff who have been feeling the pressures of under-resourcing and can now focus on providing the best possible service to Australians.”


Author: Ellen Ransley

This article appeared in on 15 February 2024