Centrelink receives about one million calls every week, and sometimes customers find it hard to get through to an operator.
Even when they do, it can involve a wait of up to an hour. This is not only an inconvenience, as the caller must stay on the line or lose their place in the queue. It also affects people who are usually ringing because they have a difficulty which needs urgent attention.
Minister for Human Services Michael Keenan says Centrelink is taking on 1000 additional operators to help ease the burden.
The move follows a successful pilot program which began in October last year, when an additional 250 call centre workers were hired through a service delivery agreement with Serco. In the six months since then, Serco staff have answered more than 1.4 million calls, or up to 14,500 extra per day. This has helped to halve the number of busy signals customers experience.
The earlier contract, worth $51.7 million over three years, is separate to the 1000 operators being announced today, bringing the total number of additional staff to 1250. This will not result in any Centrelink employees losing their jobs.
Minister Keenan says the use of private providers to carry out call centre functions, first introduced in 2008 at the Australian Taxation Office, makes good business sense for the government, as call volumes are expected to decline over the next few years, with the roll out of the Welfare Payment Infrastructure Transformation program, known as WPIT.
The WPIT program will allow most claims to be lodged and processed online, making the process faster and easier for benefit recipients. Customers will have access to digital assistants to answer many of their questions, further reducing demand on phone services.
It will be a requirement that all workers are based in Australia, providing local jobs for more Australians and their families.