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Centrelink phone wait times to explode: ‘Extreme pressure’

Centrelink phone wait times have risen over the past few months and it’s going to get worse.

People line up outside a Centrelink office.
Aussies looking to call Centrelink may find themselves dealing with longer wait times. (Source: Getty)

Aussies who need to make a call to Centrelink may find themselves on hold for a lot longer as the government agency deals with staff shortages.

Call wait times were around four minutes during 2020/21 because staff levels were boosted significantly during the height of the pandemic.

But things have taken a turn. Between July, 2022 and the end of January, this year, the average waiting time for Centrelink calls was just over 18 minutes.

Services Australia CEO Rebecca Skinner told a senate estimates hearing Centrelink was 500 employees short, leading to the ballooning wait times.

“The agency has also ... struggled, similar to other large businesses, and we currently find ourselves in our service-delivery space several hundred people short of where we could be,” Skinner said.

“We have had a larger demand, I think, partially coming out of changed economic circumstances.”

Around 25 million calls were made to Centrelink between July, 2022 and January, 2023. Of those, more than 8.3 million were answered, and more than 5 million received congestion messages.

Senator Don Farrell told the Senate committee it was no wonder the agency was struggling to keep up with rising demand.

“It is little surprise when you reduce the workforce as the former government chose to do and requirements increase at the same time, extreme pressure on telephony will occur,” he said.

Aussies have taken to Twitter to complain about longer wait times and a lack of communication from the government agency.

One user complained that on days when it was not possible to get through on the phone, an automated message would just hang up on the caller.

“On busy days, their phones recognise that you have already tried to call and literally say, ‘We see you have been trying to call us but we are busy, goodbye’. Immediate disconnect,” they said.

Another user pointed out that some Centrelink recipients weren’t able to go online or into a service centre.

“Not everyone is able to go online. People with a disability might need to talk by phone because they are unable to use a keyboard. They may be blind or have shaky hands. You should increase centrelink call operators,” they said.

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