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Centrelink, Medicare claims set to become faster after hiring blitz reduced massive backlog

Government services minister Bill Shorten said the claims process should be back to normal in a few months.

Submitting a claim to Centrelink or Medicare is set to become a much faster process after Services Australia cleared a backlog of half a million outstanding claims in just 10 weeks. It was partially unclogged thanks to a huge hiring blitz of 3,000 new staff, who have been tasked at getting your claims done as quickly as possible.

Average wait times to call Services Australia nearly doubled last year to 32 minutes in July and August, up from 18 minutes in 2023. But that's if you were to speak to a person. South Australian resident Meredith told Yahoo Finance it took her two days to get through to Centrelink’s phone line.

“I was getting hung up on all day, repeatedly,” she said. “I tried the trick that people were sharing on Twitter, which is to not have your caller ID shown, but even doing that didn’t work.

Insert of Government services minister Bill Shorten next to Centrelink and Medicare sign
Government services minister Bill Shorten said it will soon be easier to process Medicare and Centrelink claims after Services Australia cleared a backlog of more than half a million claims. (Source: Getty)

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“Even when you ring at 8 o’clock in the morning - which is on the dot when the phone lines open - an hour has been the quickest time and it’s been up to an hour and a half. That’s when the phone lines open, otherwise you don’t get through.”


Documents released recently in Senate Estimates found more than 7.4 million calls made to Services Australia were sent to voicemail last year. More than two million calls were listed as terminated because customers hang up after waiting for so long.

As of December last year, there were 1.1 million outstanding claims waiting to be processed and the backlog peaked at 1.35 million in 2023.

Financial Counselling Australia co-CEO Dr Domenique Meyrick described the situation as "demoralising and frustrating" for everyone involved.

"It's particularly harmful for people who are vulnerable and, in the current climate, that could be any of us,” Meyrick told A Current Affair.

"It's really unfortunate to have a system that's designed to help actually causing harm or increasing harm, it's making life more difficult for people.”

The federal government allocated $200 million towards hiring thousands of staff to deal with the outstanding claims.

Government services minister Bill Shorten is hopeful this new batch of recruits will get the system working as it's meant to in the next few months.

"We absolutely acknowledge the frustration of people waiting for payments but for the first time in a long time, we are headed in the right direction," he said.

"These new recruits helped reduce claims by almost 40 per cent and Australians will continue to see improvements as the new staff increase their skills and experience.

"We hope to reduce outstanding claims back to usual levels by mid-year.

"Reducing the outstanding claims will help bring down call wait times as fewer people will be on the phone to check what's happening with their claims."

It's already starting to take effect, with Medicare online account claims decreasing by 78 per cent since the recruits started, and Commonwealth seniors health card claims have dropped by 59 per cent.

The number of outstanding claims is now estimated to be between 400,000 and 500,000.

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