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More than 1m claims outstanding at Services Australia

The head of Services Australia has vowed to reduce the claims backlog at the department, with more than one million yet to be resolved.



More than one million claims made to Services Australia remain outstanding, despite thousands of new staff hired by the department to reduce the backlog.


Services Australia's new chief executive David Hazlehurst told a Senate estimates hearing on Wednesday he was optimistic the department would be able to get the number of claims down in coming months.


As of December 2023, 1.1 million claims remain outstanding.


Mr Hazlehurst said he hoped to get the outstanding claim levels back down to between 400,000 and 500,000 by April.


"I would expect that by the middle of the year, particularly in relation to new claims on hand, we'd expect to see things back more towards what we would expect to be a reasonable standard," he said.


"We're going to continue to monitor it and continue to provide advice to the government on the long-term resource base needed for the agency to meet the expectations of the public."


It comes as the federal government confirmed Services Australia had reached its recruitment target of 3000 extra staff members for the department, which was announced in 2023.


The government had pledged $228 million to hire the additional staff to reduce outstanding claims made.


However, Mr Hazlehurst said it would still take time for the backlog to come down.


"Some of our most expert and most experienced staff are spending time training the new staff. That, of course, has an implication in the short term for our performance as well because they're not answering calls or processing claims," he said.


"We do anticipate things starting to accelerate once the staff that have been on-boarded come out the other side of their training, but in the meantime, things will be a little uneven across any week, or any month."


While the average speed of calls being answered has come down from 32 minutes to 20 minutes, the average wait time for those after employment services  stood at 48 minutes.


Documents tabled by the department at the hearing showed almost 7.5 million calls to Centrelink in the six months to December 31, 2023 were met with congestion messages.


Of the calls met with congested messages, two million of those were for employment services.


A further 2.3 million calls to Centrelink during the same six-month period were terminated by the caller due to the wait times.


The Services Australia head said those looking to access support had other ways to do so besides calling the phone line.


"There are plenty of customers that are calling us that can access digital services and that are within a reasonable distance from a service centre," Mr Hazlehurst said.


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