86 calls to Centrelink, and not a single answer
THESE screenshots of unanswered calls show exactly why Centrelink is in so much trouble.
Jeremy Di Sessa called the "families" number listed on the agency's website a staggering 86 times over three days, and not once did anyone pick up.
The 33-year-old dad from Adelaide received a letter telling him his family tax benefits would be cut if he did not update his details within two weeks. But his repeated efforts to speak to a human between January 5 and 8 all failed.
He wasn't put on hold, or offered a callback service. The line is supposed to be open Monday to Friday from 8am to 8pm. When he visited a branch, he was told to use the phone or website, the latter of which he has been unable to do.
"This is how good Centrelink is," Jeremy told news.com.au. "Every time I have called the line is busy. They are going cut my family benefit in half if I don't update my details by 14 days of receiving our letter. How are we meant to do this when their phone lines are jammed?"
The complaint is not new. Nearly 29 million calls to Centrelink got a busy signal in the year to October, Senate Estimates heard, with another 7 million calls "abandoned" by customers unwilling to wait any longer.
Jeremy's final three calls to Centrelink on January 8, before the line closed at 8pm, after every one of his calls had received a busy signal.
He called four times between 17.50 and 19.24.
And eight times between 17.03 and 17.35.
He rang four times between 17.01 and 17.03.
And four between 16.40 and 17.01.
Six calls between 16.35 and 16.39.
Seven between 16.29 and 17.35.
Four at 16.27.
Six calls at 16.26.
Seven calls at 16.25.
Concerns over Centrelink's efficiency, accuracy and quality of technology are growing, with customers facing huge queues at branches, confusion from staff who can't fix the computer issues and being passed from person to person.
The Government's chief former digital officer Paul Shetler, who resigned in November after being hired to transform its approach to technology, told news.com.au the "root cause of these failures is a deskilled public service that doesn't understand - and sometimes fears - 21st Century technology."
He said the public service needs to be "providing frank and fearless advice to ministers" and doing "much less butt-covering to avoid blame".
If vulnerable people are experiencing the same as Mr Di Sessa, some are likely to simply give up.
Big changes to family tax benefits, schoolkids bonus, parental leave pay, childcare assistance and other payments are coming into force in 2017. In its drive for budget savings, Malcolm Turnbull's government has targeted family payments and Centrelink benefits for major cuts, many of which came into force on 1 January 2017 while others kick off in the next few months. A middle-income working family with kids at school will lose thousands of dollars.
The criticism comes as the distress continues over Centrelink's debt recovery system, which has sent inaccurate debt letters to what appears to be thousands of Aussies. The agency has faced calls from Labor and the Greens to scrap the scheme, which is being investigated by the Commonwealth Ombudsman, but Human Services Minister Alan Tudge this morning defended the system.
He told ABC radio he wasn't aware of anyone who was completely convinced they don't owe money but have been given a debt notice.
"The system is working and we will continue with that system," he said.