Welfare agency Centrelink has commenced making payments to clients through the real time New Payments Platform, with the system distributing $2.2 million in Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payments (AGDRP) during the Townsville floods to cut two day wait times to just seconds.
It’s a small but highly significant start.
The successful trial puts the massive agency on the runway to start to switch more than $170 billion a year in payments it makes each year and avoid wait times created by legacy batch file processing delays that have been the source of irritation for consumers and businesses for decades.
The ability for the government to immediately distribute funds client accounts as soon as they are approved by Centrelink has been a long-held goal of the agency because it means emergency cash can be deposited and accessed immediately.
That capability is critical in situations when there are large numbers of displaced or affected people in persistent natural disasters like floods or fires when people have often lost their homes and belongings and need to get back on their feet quickly.
In acute disaster scenarios Centrelink has previously given out cash to recipients, a delivery mechanism that not only took time and resources but also extracted an emotional toll on those required to queue for cash at emergency centres.
It is understood that around $5 million are so far being distributed by the Department of Human Services via the NPP with those seeking emergency assistance in cases of domestic and family violence also in the mix for real-time payments.
The ability to distribute immediate financial assistance to people fleeing violence, especially women, is regarded as an urgent upgrade because it can provide a circuit breaker when a lack of available funds, or the certainty they can be delivered can swing personal decisions.
For women that means knowing reporting violence and then seeking protection will allow them to remain safe because funds can be made available, which is no small ask.
Human Services and Digital Transformation Minister Michael Keenan told iTnews the NPP will now be used to support people in a range of crisis situations.
Keenan said the government was “committed to ensuring our welfare system is properly equipped to support those experiencing severe hardship” adding the NPP “will ensure help is always at hand, even outside of normal banking hours or on public holidays.”
But to get there on a uniform, basis Canberra first needs to cattle prod all of the banks to make sure they can process NPP payments in real time as opposed to the reviled two day wait known as ‘sitting on the float’.
The NPP celebrated the milestone in its usually modest style, although those who worked on making the fast payments a reality are understood to be quietly stoked.
“NPP Australia is really proud to see the [platform] being used to support emergency payments to people facing financial hardship,” said NPP Adrian Lovney.
“While these emergency payments are using the platform’s capabilities in their simplest form, the impact they have on people’s lives is significant.”