Centrelink online services still lacking: Ombudsman

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Centrelink online services still lacking: Ombudsman

Core IT system hindering progress.

Centrelink's digital services are not yet up to scratch despite efforts to address complaints about online self-service options, the national ombudsman has found.

Commonwealth Ombudsman Colin Neave today issued a follow-up to his 2014 report on the increasing rate of complaints about Centrelink services.

At the time, he found there was a gap between the agency’s "commitment to service delivery and the reality experienced by some customers".

The most complained-about issues involved non-functioning online services, difficult to understand digital services, and a lack of technical assistance. He therefore handed down 33 actions to combat the problems.

Neave today said [pdf] a new investigation had found that while Centrelink operator, the Department of Human Services, had made significant progress against some of his recommendations - mainly in document handling and records management - other areas still needed improvement.

He said DHS had acted on improving and expanding Centrelink's self-service and online service options, but it needed to ensure the functions were both available and easy to use.

"It is evident that DHS will need to further improve the usability and reliability of its online service delivery channels to encourage people to voluntarily use these services," Neave said.

"More critically, if DHS intends to automatically divert people to online service channels, it is imperative that the online service works intuitively. This is not currently the case with all of DHS’s online service channels."

Neave said one of the most frequently complained about aspects of online services was difficulty in reporting earned income for a user or their partner - which was compounded when the user was unable to access technical assistance.

The ombudsman said he recognised many of the deficiencies may not be able to be properly addressed until DHS replaced its legacy technology infrastructure.

Federal cabinet approved the estimated $1 billion to $1.5 billion replacement of the core Centrelink platform in April this year.

Dubbed the welfare payments infrastructure program (WPIT), the first 18 month phase of the project will offer DHS customers the ability to check on the progress of their welfare applications online and use ‘click to chat’ functionality to access help desk services.

Neave today said the WPIT project was a "necessary first step" to improving DHS' service delivery, but in the meantime the agency would need to consider addressing current problems.

"DHS has assured us that it is focused on improving customers’ experiences where it can, within the bounds of its existing information and computing system," Neave wrote.

"Importantly, the WPIT project also presents DHS with the opportunity to transform its business model to better meet its objectives and structure its service delivery around the needs of its customers."

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