The ongoing story of Centrelink failure

Seven million Centrelink and Medicare calls unanswered last year

Australians are struggling to navigate Centrelink and Medicare and are frequently unable to get through to an operator, according to the ABC.

Belinda, who wanted to remain anonymous to protect her son with a disability, first applied to Medicare a year ago to be his nominee.

Several months passed before she received her first reply, in the form of two separate letters on the same day, each requesting different documents, most of which she had already provided, some of which were even included in their response.

After this “farcical” process and unable to get through to an operator, she tried to rectify the situation at an inner-Sydney office, but the staff found her situation too complex to assist.

“I should note that I am a highly literate and educated person with English as my first language,” she said. “I can’t even imagine what it must be like for people whom English is a second language and who are not confident dealing with complex application procedures.”

As of December last year, there was a backlog of more than 1.1 million claims to Centrelink and Medicare, while the average wait-time to speak to an operator was more than 45 minutes.

Minister for Government Services Bill Shorten said about 462,000 back-logged payments had since been actioned after his department hired 3,000 new staff in the last few months.

It is not clear how many claims are still overdue.

Darren O’Donovan, La Trobe Law School senior lecturer in administrative law, said these issues aren’t new.

“There are so few institutions in Australian life subject to such low expectations,” he said.

The ABC spoke to staff who need to remain anonymous due to non-disclosure agreements.

All said they had never seen the organisation so far behind in processing payments.

One worker in the child support section said managers had emergency meetings in February to address backlogs, including 5,000 registrations for child support waiting to be actioned.

Colleagues who have worked with the agency for more than 20 years told him they had never experienced such long wait times.

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