Annual Report 2016-17

How the department delivers services

The department offers a variety of delivery options to meet the needs of Australians.

Face to face

Services provided in service centres

The department continues to capitalise on the success of service centres which combine Centrelink and Medicare program service delivery. This enables the department to adapt its structure and processes to respond to service delivery trends and challenges. The focus remains on developing a more flexible and responsive service delivery network that better meets people’s needs and accommodates the shift to digital services.

In 2016-17 the department averaged over 77,000 service centre contacts each day across a national network of 349 service centres, as at 30 June 2017. Five are dedicated myGov service centres that offer an integrated, digitally enhanced service delivery approach to accessing Australian Government services in a single location. The Social Security and Welfare average wait time in service centres for 2016-17 was 12 minutes and 4 seconds, against a target of 15 minutes.

With the extended rollout of the Workload Management System from October 2016, staff in service centres can now undertake processing work based on priorities, increasing the variety and types of work undertaken within service centres. This allows the department to provide face-to-face services to recipients and use available capacity to undertake claim processing.

Free WiFi has been implemented as a pilot in a number of service centres with the broader rollout to all sites to be completed by December 2017. Staff in service centres help people with simple online transactions and guide people through their digital journey.

Queensland cyclone

The department offered support to people affected by Tropical Cyclone Debbie, which affected Queensland and northern New South Wales in March 2017. Assistance was provided to people who were adversely affected through the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment, the Disaster Recovery Allowance (DRA) and their ex-gratia equivalents.

The department deployed 1,100 staff to smart centres, service centres and recovery centres to assist those affected. Social workers provided counselling, support and information about available services. The mobile service centres were also diverted to affected areas.

Access Points and Agents

At 30 June 2017 the department had 239 Access Points and 347 Agents throughout regional, rural and remote Australia.

Access Points are free self-help facilities where people can conduct their business with the department. This includes being able to access information products, call the department using a dedicated telephone line, or use fax and photocopy facilities to forward material to the department. Staff at Access Points can sight and photocopy Proof of Identity documents but cannot provide additional face-to-face assistance.

Agents provide the same facilities and services as Access Points and also offer face-to-face support for people’s interactions with the department through digital services.

Mobile service centres

The department has two mobile service centres which travelled continually throughout regional and rural Australia in 2016-17. Priority was given to visiting communities that are greater than 50 kilometres from a service centre. During the year mobile service centre crews visited 381 towns and helped over 11,000 people. The mobile service centres also supported the Cyclone Debbie recovery and helped to maintain service delivery at disrupted sites.

Dairy Industry Liaison Officer

As part of a package of support for Australian dairy farmers, announced by the Government on 25 May 2016, the department appointed a Dairy Industry Liaison Officer (DILO).

The DILO worked as an information broker connecting dairy farmers with assistance from the Australian Government, and state and local governments, as well as other services in the farmer’s local area. Services included those offered by the Rural Financial Counselling Service, Primary Health Networks and other community or industry-based organisations. Covering a large geographic area from Gippsland, through the alpine regions, northern Victoria, south west Victoria to southern South Australia, the DILO travelled over 29,000 kilometres, ensuring coverage of the dairy region footprint.

The achievements of the role include:

  • developing a designated Farm Household Allowance checklist to support farmers to lodge claims
  • coordinating a mental health counsellor network servicing dairy farmers including a virtual network across Victoria and south eastern South Australia.

The DILO role was initially intended to operate for six months. However, after participating in the December 2016 Dairy Roundtable meetings, the department extended the role until 30 June 2017.

10 Years of providing support where it's needed—mobile servicing

Just over 10 years ago a small crowd waved goodbye to a converted red Winnebago at Parliament House in Canberra. Headed to the Southern Tablelands this was the government’s first approach in providing on-the-ground services to drought-stricken farmers in their own communities.

The Winnebago was the forerunner of today’s two, state-of-the-art mobile service centres named Golden Wattle and Desert Rose. They travel extensively to regional and remote communities to deliver the same Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support services available at any other service centre in Australia.

Since they began a decade ago the mobile service centres have covered almost 700,000 kilometres, helped over 120,000 people, visited more than 3,800 towns, and provided vital support during 20 emergency recovery efforts.

Regional Manager for the centres, Colin, says: ‘It is fantastic that these high-tech vehicles allow us to go places and visit people who otherwise would have no access to face-to-face services.

'Normally there’s a five-person crew. We have a manager, a driver, two service officers and a social worker.

'Sometimes we include staff from other agencies like the Australian Taxation Office and the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources and, depending on the need, we ask people from state government community services departments to help our recipients as well.'

Access to DVA information services

Under a revised Statement of Intent with DVA, the department delivers the Veterans’ Information Service at 22 regional service centres—ten in New South Wales, four in Victoria, six in Queensland, one in South Australia and one in the Northern Territory.

Community Engagement Services were delivered in Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie and Veterans’ Agent Services were delivered at four sites in South Australia and one on Norfolk Island. In addition, the department maintained three Veterans’ Information Kiosks in South Australia and delivered Assisted Services at two sites in Queensland.

The department and DVA continue to work in partnership on measures such as managed investments, welfare payments, Income Management, compliance and fraud initiatives, online concession entitlement confirmation, and administration of the Defence Force Income Support Allowance.

Phone services

A department-wide approach is taken to manage the number of calls handled for Centrelink, Child Support and Medicare Program services. This approach considers expected call volumes and other events to ensure staffing levels are maintained against the department’s different priorities.

In 2016-17 the department handled around 52 million calls for Centrelink, Child Support and Medicare Program services.

In 2016-17 the department again contributed across government, handling calls for the Australian Electoral Commission and the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA).

The 2016-17 Portfolio Budget Statements outlined the average speed of answer targets for each of the programs. The average length of time a person waited for their call to be answered in 2016-17 was:

  • 15 minutes and 44 seconds for social security and welfare services against a target of ≤16 minutes
  • 40 seconds for Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme authorities and eHealth providers against a target of ≤30 seconds
  • 1 minute and 56 seconds for health services (provider) against a target of ≤2 minutes
  • 6 minutes and 34 seconds for health services (recipient) against a target of ≤7 minutes
  • 4 minutes and 12 seconds for child support services against a target of ≤3 minutes.

The department continues to simplify and automate many of its telecommunication systems. This includes improvements to:

  • interactive voice response systems, based on the latest technology and feedback
  • voice recognition and authentication applications, to simplify self-service registration and identification processes, removing the need for people to repeat complex personal registration details during each contact.

Additionally, the department transitioned the Child Support Program to a new service platform in 2016-17.

In 2016-17 a number of calls received a busy signal when attempting to contact the department. The use of smartphone automatic dialling applications has impacted heavily on the use of the busy signal in 2016-17. The automatic dialling application enables callers to generate many calls in a short period. Over 140 callers rang more than 500 times in one day, with one caller ringing more than 1,600 times in one day. Callers who received a busy signal were answered 60 per cent of the time later on the same day they made the call.

The department continues to work with its telephony partners to minimise the impact of automatic dialling apps on the telephony system and improve telephony access for recipients and claimants.

In the 2017-18 Budget, the Australian Government announced that it will provide funding for the department to pilot opportunities to increase call centre capacity by an additional 250 full-time equivalent roles. The department has also developed a Channel Strategy 2016-19 which provides a roadmap for delivering more connected, efficient and personalised services for people engaging with the department across all channels. These initiatives are aimed at making it easier for people to access departmental services.

Smart centres

Smart centres are responsible for delivering Centrelink, and Child Support telephony and processing services. The smart centre approach is to resolve enquiries at the first point of contact whenever possible and promote the use of self-service options including Express Plus mobile apps and online services.

Telephony and processing services are delivered from many locations around Australia that form a virtual network. Staff are also skilled in multiple areas and can be deployed based on demand.

The department traditionally experiences seasonal peak periods of demand from January to March and June to September each year, when increased workload is generated by:

  • families income estimates
  • families reconciliation
  • updates to child care information
  • assessing student eligibility for new and changed enrolments for the new academic year and second semester
  • enquiries about Centrelink payments and Centrelink payment summaries
  • child support enquiries about assessments for newly separated parents and assessments as a result of tax lodgements.

Smart centre capacity was also affected this year by the deployment of staff to the department’s emergency response to Tropical Cyclone Debbie.

Multilingual smart centre services

Smart centres provide multilingual phone services to people in languages other than English. Bilingual service officers can finalise most of a person’s business in a single phone call either directly or with support from interpreters. In 2016-17 service officers on the multilingual lines answered more than 823,100 calls.

Rural smart centre services

Rural smart centres provide a rural phone service designed specifically to meet the needs of people living in rural and remote communities. Drawing on their knowledge of local rural issues, service officers handle calls and process Farm Household Allowance claims. Service officers also assist with the effect of geographic isolation and changing circumstances such as drought or flood for farmers and their families.

In 2016-17 more than 147,000 calls were answered in rural smart centres, and more than 31,000 Drought Assistance calls were also answered in rural smart centres.

Remote smart centre services

Remote smart centres deliver phone services to Indigenous Australians including advice about Indigenous-specific payments. Service officers respond to calls from Indigenous people, as well as from agents acting on their behalf in remote areas. In 2016-17 more than 3.1 million calls were answered about Indigenous issues and Income Management. In 2016-17 there has been a reduction in calls received through the remote smart centre as self-service usage among Indigenous Australians increased to represent over 20 per cent of all transactions.

Child Support smart centre services

The department delivers most of its child support services to separated parents over the phone, in many cases finalising processing in real time. In 2016-17:

  • 2.1 million calls about child support from separating or separated parents were received
  • 18,024 requests for a change of assessment were processed.

Medicare and health professional phone services

The department delivers phone services to members of the public that cover a range of services including Medicare eligibility, Medicare claiming and benefits and Medicare safety net. In 2016-17 these phone services handled 2.8 million calls. In addition, the department has specific phone services for health and other programs for health professionals, aged care organisations, and small businesses. During the year these services included Medicare, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, specialised health and medical services and aged care. In 2016-17 these phone services handled 14.8 million calls.

Online

Online claims

In 2016-17, over 76 per cent of claims submitted to the department for Family Tax Benefit, Child Care Benefit, Parenting Payment, Parental Leave Pay, Dad and Partner Pay, Age Pension, Newstart Allowance, Youth Allowance, Austudy, Sickness Allowance, and Mobility Allowance were submitted online.

To provide a greater transparency in the claiming process, the department introduced an online claim tracker for Youth Allowance and Austudy recipients in September 2016, and for Australian apprentice/trainee payment recipients in December 2016. The claim tracker provides progress updates to the recipient, ensuring they have access to an online end-to-end service, reducing manual processes and helping them to self-serve.

Document Lodgement Service

The Document Lodgement Service is a quick and easy method for people to submit documents online. The service can be used through online accounts and Express Plus mobile apps.

This service is popular with people who want to submit their documents electronically, with over 4.3 million documents submitted in 2016-17 at an average of 11,900 lodged each day.

The steady increase in electronic lodgement of documents can be attributed to staff promotion of the service and the introduction of the claim tracker to a broader range of online claims. This enables people to upload and submit documents (additional information) when they submit their online claims electronically.

Personal details and circumstance updates

In 2016-17 recipients undertook over 53 million interactions online and via Express Plus mobile apps. Through enhancements to online services, recipients are now able to view more of their details on the landing page upon entering their online account. This includes seeing the status of their online claims, reminders, and when and what their next payment will be, thus reducing the number of steps required to undertake these dealings. The enhancements also make it easier for recipients to access their information when using apps and has decreased the number of clicks required.

To ensure they receive the correct payments, Centrelink recipients can view and update a range of personal details, as well as notify changes to circumstances online or via mobile apps. This includes details about address and accommodation, income and assets (including savings, shares, income streams, compensation income, real estate, managed investments, gifts and deprived assets, foreign income and assets, and other income), study, overseas travel and bank account details to receive payments. Recipients can also report employment income, request a document, and claim Advance Payments online.

Online income stream reviews

The department offers an online service for those required to undergo income stream reviews. People can either access their online account or use a one time access code to complete the review.

People can also authorise third party providers, such as financial planners, to use their one time access code to complete the reviews on their behalf.

During the six monthly reviews in August 2016 and February 2017, more older Australians chose to complete their reviews online. Approximately 80 per cent of people completed their reviews online as opposed to 60 per cent in the February 2016 review.

Centrelink Confirmation eServices

Centrelink Confirmation eServices allows participating businesses and organisations to confirm a person’s entitlement to a concession or rebate, obtain income and asset information or assist with determining eligibility for the early release of superannuation due to financial hardship. Businesses and organisations such as utility providers, local councils, housing and financial planners can electronically confirm a person’s details to:

  • receive a concession, rebate or service—Customer Confirmation
  • request income, assets and payment details for people receiving income support—Income Confirmation
  • assist administrators and trustees of superannuation funds to decide whether superannuation can be released early due to financial hardship—Superannuation Confirmation.

In 2016-17 there were 81.7 million Confirmation eServices transactions.

Digital and self service

Table: Transactions for digital and self service
  2015-16 2016-17
Centrelink
Self-service transactions(a)(b) 51.1 million 53.7 million
Electronic Data Interchange (EDI)(c) 43.0 million 44.7 million
Medicare
Self-service transactions(d) 9.4 million 13.3 million
Provider ‘point of service’ digital transactions(e) 588.0 million 594.1 million
Child Support
Self-service transactions(f) 890,000 835,000
  1. Due to enhancements of online services Centrelink recipients now view more of their details on the landing page once entering their online account.
  2. The number of self-service transactions for 2015-16 does not include transactions that are no longer required because the data is available on the landing page.
  3. Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) is a Centrelink digital transaction for businesses and organisations providing the department data electronically.
  4. CMBO (Claim Medicare Benefits Online) transactions are included in this entry for the first time in 2016-17 (0.1 million transactions). The figures from 2015-16 was 0.2 million transactions.
  5. Point of service digital transactions include PBS Online, online bulk billing, Easyclaim, HPOS (Health Professional Online Services) and ECLIPSE (Electronic Claim Lodgement and Information Processing Service Environment).
  6. From 2015-16 Child Support ‘self-service transactions’ data included phone self-service transactions.

Online services for health professionals

Health Professional Online Services (HPOS) was established in 2009 and offers health professionals a single entry point to access a range of health-related programs and online services.

In 2016-17 functions added to the HPOS system included:

  • extending provider online services enabling overseas trained doctors to create new provider locations
  • introducing a secure service for health professionals to scan and electronically submit a selection of forms directly to the department
  • extending existing DVA and Bulk Bill Webclaim services which allows health professionals to securely submit patient claims on behalf of their patients online
  • establishing Concessional Entitlement Verification for health professionals to confirm a patient’s current concessional eligibility for Medicare services.

Over the past 12 months there has been a significant increase in the use of HPOS for online servicing following the increase in functionality.

The department has robust measures in place to protect people’s personal information. In response to concerns raised in the media about potential inappropriate access to Medicare numbers, the Minister for Human Services and Minister for Health announced an independent review of the accessibility by health providers to Medicare card numbers on 10 July 2017. This includes HPOS and authentication avenues through which it is accessed by health professionals.

Table: Access to HPOS services
  2014-15 2015-16 2016-17
Users(a) 163,872 209,307 n/a
Logons(b) n/a n/a 163,082
Accesses to HPOS 2,897,581 3,929,685 4,822,338
  1. Both 2014-15 and 2015-16 Annual Reports showed the number of HPOS users. However, the calculation method used to derive those figures did not accurately reflect the number of unique users of the system. This calculation method is no longer used.
  2. This figure (not published in previous years) represents the number of active PKI and PRODA logons, noting that providers may have more than one logon.

Express Plus mobile apps

The department’s Express Plus mobile apps continue to be a popular and convenient way for people to engage with government services, allowing them to have access to services anywhere, at any time. Mobile apps offer digital services allowing users to, for example, upload documents, report income, claim Medicare benefits, view Child Support account balances, and keep a personal diary.

Since their introduction, users have downloaded the department’s Express Plus mobile apps more than 10.5 million times. In 2016-17 over 2.7 million apps were downloaded (an average of just over 7,400 downloads per day).

myGov

The myGov digital service is a convenient and secure way to access Australian Government services online with one login and one password. myGov services were available 99.8 per cent of the year in 2016-17, exceeding the target of 99.5 per cent availability. myGov allows people to undertake their business, such as looking for lost superannuation, submitting their income tax returns, and claiming payments at a time and place that suits them.

The myGov digital service is a great example of how the government is using technology to help Australians connect with the services they need. A myGov account offers people a simple and secure way to access government online services, including:

  • Australian JobSearch
  • Australian Taxation Office (ATO)
  • Centrelink
  • Child Support
  • DVA
  • Medicare
  • My Aged Care
  • My Health Record
  • National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS)
  • Victorian Housing Register Application.

As at 30 June 2017, there were 11.7 million active myGov accounts. In the 2016-17 financial year there were 96.9 million logins to myGov and 121.7 million navigations to the ten government online services listed above through myGov accounts.

There are 5.6 million active accounts linked to Centrelink, 5.8 million active accounts linked to Medicare, and 6.4 million active accounts linked to the ATO.

Australians are using their myGov accounts in large numbers to complete their tax returns and access other member services, with an average of 265,000 people using the platform each day during the year. The busiest day in 2016-17 was in July where 660,000 people logged into myGov.

In 2016-17, 81.8 million items were sent to myGov inboxes. These items would have otherwise been sent via other channels, incurring costs such as labour or postage. The myGov inbox has had an estimated benefit to the taxpayer of over $100 million since it was launched. Customers receive notifications (via email or SMS) when messages are delivered to their myGov inbox from myGov members.

The myGov digital service continued to improve and expand its functions with the following new features introduced:

  • myGov 2.0—compliance with Government and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 standards, modernising the myGov theme and user experience
  • web authentication pattern to fast track signing on to member services authenticated online sites without first navigating to the myGov website for NDIS and Centrelink
  • mobile authentication pattern to provide unified myGov sign on to allow users to authenticate to their member service mobile applications services of preference
  • inbox search facility to find inbox messages on keywords within the body of a message.

On 27 June 2017, the Australian National Audit Office’s (ANAO) report on an independent performance audit in the department, the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) and the ATO was tabled in Parliament.

Titled myGov Digital Service, the audit assessed the effectiveness of the department’s implementation of myGov at November 2016.

The ANAO found that the department’s implementation of myGov as a platform for whole of government online services was largely effective in delivering improved service delivery, a whole of government service delivery capability and value for money.

Social media

Our social media capability continued to grow in line with community expectation that we use modern channels to make it easier to engage with Australian Government departments. In 2016-17, we used 18 social media accounts to interact with the public and help further reduce the need for people to call the department.

This included reaching an average audience of 1.5 million every month with service delivery messages.  We received an average of 10,800 questions every month via the social media accounts and responded to around 4,000 posts per month. In peak periods, this increased to 15,000 incoming social media posts and 6,000 responses per month.

Letters and forms

The department continues to encourage people to register to receive their correspondence online through their myGov inbox, or by SMS and email, rather than receiving them as paper letters to their mailing address. As a result the number of letters sent through the mail house decreased to 64,540,125 in 2016-17 and the number of online letters increased to 58,849,861. The department continues to review and revise the content of letters and forms to ensure they are easier to understand. Letters are tested by recipients to ensure readability and good comprehension of the letter content.

The department has also reduced the number of forms, and while the department still offers printed forms, there is a large range of claim forms that people can download and print themselves. Online claims are also available for many payments. The volume of forms printed and distributed by the department fell from 17,287,546 in 2015-16 to 12,175,450 in 2016-17.

Electronic document scanning

The department electronically scans and stores large amounts of correspondence. Once a document is scanned, staff can access the digital image electronically from anywhere in Australia. The department uses technology to extract information from some digital documents which reduces the level of staff intervention.

Electronic messaging

The department continues to send SMS and email to communicate with recipients. In 2016-17, there was a significant movement of Centrelink online letter users to the myGov inbox. This movement resulted in a significant drop of online letter notification SMS and emails being sent by the department.

The volume of SMS and emails sent instead of letters is helping to reduce the number of letters sent through the mail house.

Table: Registrations for social welfare service online letters
  2014-15 2015-16 2016-17
Registrations 1,394,108 1,405,301 1,137,392
Registered at 30 June 3,294,425 4,178,562 4,891,550
Percentage registered at 30 June 27.1 35.9 42.7
Table: Total mail house letters
  2014-15 2015-16 2016-17
Centrelink
Letters 46,733,631 37,005,125 36,065,154
Correspondence or letters about special initiatives 1,658,190 0 3,079,690(a)
Publications 6,671,577(b) 2,474,034 264,205
Medicare 16,074,595 17,387,922 14,498,935
Medicare cards 3,957,332 4,130,913 4,111,368
Child Support(b) 7,019,792 6,689,063 6,520,773
Total mail house letters 82,115,117 67,687,057 64,540,125
  1. Government initiatives include the Energy Assistance mail and the Employment Income Confirmation mail.
  2. The figures represent total mail packs which include multiple individual items distributed through the department’s mail houses.
Table: Online letters
  2014-15 2015-16 2016-17
Centrelink 49,104,303 47,073,502 50,246,219
Medicare 3,064,831 3,670,957 4,794,806
Child Support 2,911,905 3,532,567 3,808,836
Total letters online 55,081,039 54,277,026 58,849,861
Table: SMS messages sent by the department
SMS 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17
Total SMS 29,709,079 29,029,960 20,688,141
Table: System generated email messages sent by the department
Email 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17
Total email 19,044,282 19,837,060 5,854,043

Page last updated: 8 November 2017