Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Thousands of jobs have gone from Dept Human Services & Centrelink in last five years and the headcount was down to 30,210 by May 2016

It is no accident that the post-September 2013 drive to slash public service numbers and funding was significantly impacting on the Dept. Of Human Services at the same time it sought to fully automate as much of Centrelink’s service delivery as possible.

Between its 2012-13 annual report and 2015-16 annual report the department had lost 5,628 staff due to budget cuts and make do measures were not meeting service delivery needs.

It was also foreseeable that Turnbull & Co would choose Centrelink clients as guinea pigs in an attempt at fully automating data matching with a view to further departmental cost-cutting – after all welfare clients are apparently considered the lowest of the low by a majority of Liberal and Nationals parliamentarians.

Given the fact that this federal government had also decided to be digitally ‘agile and innovative’ - which appears to be code for fast and sloppy - the debacle which followed was almost inevitable.


Government News, 2 May 2016:

Charities, welfare groups and unions have pleaded with Treasurer Scott Morrison to release the pressure on the Department of Human Services (DHS) by funding more staff and better IT systems in the federal Budget.

In a joint statement, 14 organisations: Carers Australia, St Vincent de Paul, the Welfare Rights Centre the Community and Public Sector Union, Australian Council of Social Services, Children and Young People with Disability Australia, ACT Council of Social Services, National Union of Students, Fair Go For Pensioners, Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association, People With Disability, the Consumer Action Law Centre and Financial Counselling Australia demanded the government “properly fund” the DHS to “provide the Australian public with the Medicare, Centrelink and Child Support services they need and deserve.”

DHS has fielded a range of allegations over the past year, including:
·         Centrelink bunging Youth Allowance and Austudy payments
·         Call waiting times of more than an hour to get through to Centrelink
·         One-quarter of all 57 million phone calls to Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support agencies last year going unanswered (Auditor General’s report 2015)Complaints up almost 19 per cent on last year, and customer satisfaction is down by per cent (DHS Annual Report)
·         An avalanche of customer complaints about online services, particularly myGov
·         A litany of complaints about mobile apps for child support, Medicare and Centrelink

In its statement, the coalition of not-for-profit groups said the federal Budget should:
·         Restore adequate funding to DHS
·         Invest in high quality, in-house IT systems so clients can access a reliable online service
·         Increase DHS permanent staff numbers so that claims and queries are processed quickly and clients who need over-the-phone or in-person services can get them
·         Ensure rural and regional Australia has fair access to government services.

The statement said:
“Millions of people in Australia rely on the Department of Human Services every day, for essential services including social security payments, Medicare, child support and aged care.
“Australia needs these essential services to be both accessible and of high quality, and employees of DHS resourced to do the best they can for everyone needing assistance.
“However, after years of budget cuts, DHS systems and staff are under extreme pressure.
“People who rely on Centrelink expect and deserve high quality public services. Employees in DHS must have the resources to deliver high quality public services. People are trying to do the right thing and reports changes as required, but the system is letting them down…….

The Canberra Times, 10 May 2016:

Department of Human Services officials have confirmed that 918 workers will be shed in 2016-17….

The federal government service-delivery workhorse, which runs Centrelink, Medicare and the Child Support Agency, will see also see its funding reduced by $100 million year-on-year, thanks in part to a "special" efficiency cut of $20 million a year….

Mr Jenkin also confirmed the budget papers got the department's headcount wrong, reporting 30,102 when it should have been 30,210.

The department's finance boss said the staff cuts were a direct result of the budget cuts.

In the Dept. of Human Services Annual Report 2015-16 overall staffing levels were shown as:

NOTE: It is likely that as many as est. 3,796 of these staff were non-ongoingat the start of the 2015-16 financial year.

The results of payment discrepancies released for action in the 2015-16 financial year were:

* 109,355,545 data matches undertaken by the department [DHS Annual Report 2015-16, p.241];

* cost of the data matching program (including departmental salaries) was $8,327,500 [ibid, 243];

* 4,904 payment discrepancy notices sent out to clients and 1,657 (or 33.78%) of these notices were later found to be false debts [op.cit., p.241]; and

* an unspecified number of debt notices were waived for reasons not stated.

Since Centrelink began sending out fully automated payment discrepancy/debt notices in mid-2016 there have been 169,000 initial letters sent.

Based on Dept. of Human Services 2015-16 admissions, this suggests that at least an est. 57,088 of these letters contained inaccurate payment discrepancies/false debts which can be verified as such by paperwork held by Centrelink clients and/or their previous employer (if the business holds such records indefinitely).

Centrelink clients telling their own stories can be found at

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