The Department of Human Services (the department) delivers a range of health and welfare payments and services to millions of people across Australia. We help people through our digital service offerings, by phone and in service centres. We come into contact with almost every Australian at some time in their lives. This is reflected in our mission-’connecting Australians to the services they need’.
Service Delivery-Business as usual
This year we have again been focussed on delivering services to customers, transforming how we operate and developing our staff capability. In 2015-16 we successfully delivered $172.1 billion in payments to customers and providers. We finished the year with a small operating deficit of $3.2 million compared with a surplus of $65.8 million in 2014-15. We also met 31 of our 36 performance measures.
The department processed more than 3.8 million social security and welfare claims during the year and worked with separated parents to transfer monies to support approximately 1.2 million children. We handled around 56 million calls and 21 million visits to our service centres.
The department continued to expand its digital services. During the year around 720 million digital and online transactions were undertaken, including 130 million self-service Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support transactions using either mobile apps, the internet or phone self-service. Online claiming for health practitioners and patients also grew, making it simpler, quicker and more efficient with 588 million provider ‘point of service’ digital service transactions.
Each day, around 160,000 people are logging on to the myGov website, which gives users secure and easy access to a range of government online services. During the year we focused on making customer transactions with myGov faster and more reliable and by 30 June 2016 there were more than 9.5 million active myGov accounts.
While we are still meeting our performance measure of an average telephone wait time of less than 16 minutes, we acknowledge some customers find it frustrating when they have to wait. Our performance has improved since last year, with the average length of time a customer waited for their call to be answered for social security and welfare services at 15 minutes and 9 seconds, compared to 15 minutes and 40 seconds in 2014-15. To continue to reduce wait times, our priorities are to continue to modernise our systems, including telephony, and to improve our digital channels to support more customers to conduct their transactions at a time and place that is convenient to them.
Our Indigenous servicing specialists again worked directly with people and communities around the country. These staff not only deliver our services in a targeted way, but with a deep understanding of cultural beliefs and practices that may affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander customers or service delivery.
This year we experienced delays in processing Youth Allowance claims when we migrated to a new operating system. The department is focussed on improving our processing of claims, including through improved information and communications technology (ICT) systems, staff training and redeployment of staff to meet peak demands.
We also continued to host services for other government departments and agencies in many of our sites and online. This includes services delivered on behalf of the Australian Taxation Office, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
We have made significant progress in transforming how we operate over the past few years. This transformation is not just about ICT systems, but how we structure our business. For example, more than 60% of our service centres are one-stop shops, giving customers access to more government services in a single place. The installation of new telephony technology during the year will also help the department better manage peaks in demand and responses to emergencies.
During 2015-16 the department again successfully implemented new initiatives as well as focusing on our service delivery to customers.
The Cashless Debit Card Trial started in 2015-16 to test whether restricting access to cash, alcohol and gambling will help address harm in communities. The trial has begun in Ceduna, South Australia, and Kununurra and Wyndham in Western Australia and the department is providing support by placing participants on and off the trial.
Taskforce Integrity, launched in November 2015, has already started to influence localised cultures of non-compliance and welfare fraud and to positively affect customer behaviour. Run by the department and supported by the Australian Federal Police (AFP), the taskforce is led by an AFP Assistant Commissioner. Since it began, the taskforce has raised over $19.6 million in debts to the Commonwealth.
Work continued on implementing the Welfare Payment Infrastructure Transformation (WPIT) Programme-one of the largest business transformations of a social welfare system undertaken worldwide. WPIT will change how we deliver our services, make it easier for staff to do their jobs and increase system stability and responsiveness.
Our people are central to providing strong customer service and to transforming how we operate and we are committed to creating a workplace that is accessible and inclusive for all staff.
Building the skills and capability of our people is a high priority. The department provides regular learning and development opportunities, enabling staff to maintain and increase their skills and capability.
One of our key areas of focus for staff and customer support is our Enough-Family and Domestic Violence Strategy 2016-19. The strategy sets out five principles that underpin the department’s approach: that family and domestic violence is never acceptable, that we avoid blame, respond respectfully, provide support and work collaboratively with government and non-government sectors. A critical part of our approach is recognising signs and talking to both staff and customers about this important, and very personal, issue.
We are developing a new Workplace Accessibility Plan which is designed to further support our recruitment of people with disability-currently 4.9%, up 0.2% on last year. Part of our overall strategy is the unique Dandelion Programme, a partnership between the department, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Specialist People Foundation which creates training opportunities for people on the autism spectrum.
Reconciliation Australia has marked the department as a national leader in taking action towards reconciliation. We are well on the way to achieving our goal of increasing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff to 5% of our total workforce by the end of 2017, with Indigenous staff now making up 4.2%. This is an especially pleasing result, given the overall APS target of 3%.
We are proud of the multicultural diversity of our people with almost a quarter of staff identifying as coming from a culturally and linguistically diverse background. The top six languages spoken by staff, who identified as having a first language other than English, included Italian, Vietnamese, Greek, Chinese, Spanish and Arabic. We acknowledge and recognise the value of our people’s linguistic skills in servicing our customers. Our dedicated multilingual phone service provides customer assistance in 23 different languages.
Australians are always quick to help those in need in our community, and the department is no exception. Almost 15% of our staff are registered for the Emergency Reserve and therefore willing to assist in recovery management and to ensure continuity of payments and services in the aftermath of emergencies and disasters. Most recently, we delivered more than $11 million to South Australian and Western Australian residents who suffered loss during the Pinery and Waroona bushfires.
During the year, the department continued formal negotiations for a new enterprise agreement to cover all non Senior Executive Service staff. Two unsuccessful ballots were held in September 2015 and February 2016. Negotiations are continuing.
I am proud of the commitment of our staff. Many have been recognised with internal and external awards this year, including three staff receiving the Public Service Medal.
I appreciate the generosity of staff in supporting a range of charities under the workplace giving programme and other fundraising events. It reflects their desire to give back to the broader community and the values they bring to the workplace.
Once again I thank the staff of the department for the professionalism and dedication they bring to ensuring the best possible outcomes for the government, our customers, our partner agencies and the wider community.
Kathryn Campbell, CSC
Department of Human Services