The Coalition is raising concerns about extended processing times for Centrelink and Medicare claims, leading to what they describe as “unnecessary stress and angst” for customers. Services Australia, which had previously faced criticism for failing to address basic questions during Senate estimates, appeared before senators again to present data confirming significant delays in processing claims.
The data shows that a substantial number of claims are not being processed within the agency’s specified timeframes. Different types of payments have their own timeliness expectations, as outlined in the latest Services Australia annual report. The figures reveal that 53% of high-risk setting pandemic payments, which ideally should be processed within two days, exceeded this timeframe. Additionally, more than 655,000 disaster recovery payment and allowances claims took longer than two days to process, accounting for around 40% of all claims. While over 70% of age pension claims were processed within the 49-day window, 61,813 claims experienced delays.
The release of this data came a day after Government Services Minister Bill Shorten announced plans to hire an additional 3,000 staff as part of a $228 million boost to address call wait times and service demands at Services Australia. The annual report from the previous year indicated that the rate of social security and welfare claims processed within the timeframe was 74.8% in the 2022-23 financial year, down from 81.7% the previous year. Similarly, processing times for health claims dropped from 84.5% to 68.7%.
Paul Fletcher, the opposition spokesperson for government services, described these figures as a “shocking reminder” of Services Australia’s inability to support Australians, particularly during the current cost-of-living crisis. He emphasized that struggling families require efficient and timely payment processing, while they are currently dealing with an agency that operates sluggishly. He criticized Minister Bill Shorten for not advocating for a more customer-responsive organization and called for a better customer experience to reduce the stress and anxiety caused by processing delays.
Services Australia has been under increasing pressure due to the revelation that it sent 2.8 million busy messages to callers in two months and answered less than a quarter of calls made to the agency in July and August 2023. Minister Bill Shorten attributed the low staffing levels to the previous Coalition government’s workforce reductions and stated that efforts are underway to hire an additional 3,000 people to improve the processing of payments and reduce call wait times. He acknowledged that this transition will not happen overnight but is a significant reinforcement to help Australians cope with the rising cost of living by ensuring accurate and prompt payment processing.
Originally posted in news.com.au