Services Australia met 20 of its 27 performance measures in 2018–19 through the delivery of its Social Security and Welfare, Health and Child Support programs. In comparison, we met 29 of 36 performance measures in 2017–18 and 30 of 36 performance measures in 2016–17.
Supporting the economic, health and social wellbeing of Australia
The department achieved consistent results against its service level standards for its face-to-face, telephony, and digital servicing channels throughout 2018–19. During this reporting year, we handled around 50 million phone calls, 16.7 million visits to service centres and administered approximately $184 billion in payments. In comparison, we handled around 48 million phone calls, 18 million visits to service centres and $173 billion in payments in 2017–18.
We continue to improve and expand the services we offer to ensure they continue to be high quality, timely and accessible for the community.
The department’s Aged Care Forms Taskforce brought together consumer groups, aged care providers, peak bodies, financial advisors and partner agencies to make the process of moving into aged care easier. Our leadership on this taskforce helped reduce the administrative burden on older Australians and their families during what can be a challenging time. The Taskforce held design sessions and over 180 user-testing sessions across the country. These sessions highlighted problems and customer frustrations and allowed us to gain a deeper understanding of the customer experience. The Taskforce developed new ways to conduct means-assessments for customers entering aged care. The new process will benefit more than 180,000 people per year who make this transition, as well as their families. Around 110,000 people will no longer have to complete a form at all. For those who do, the forms are significantly shorter and simpler, taking around half the time to complete.
The flexible structure of our Smart Centres enables us to transfer staff between telephony and processing-based work to meet the significant demand for services.
This information provides a sample of the department’s work during 2018–19 to simplify services and communicate more effectively with customers. This aligns with our purpose of supporting the economic, health and social wellbeing of Australia.
Delivering on behalf of Government
The department delivers payments and associated services to the community on behalf of partner agencies, either directly via face-to-face and telephony channels or through the department’s digital channels.
An example of this was the department working closely with the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) to implement the New Payments Platform (NPP). This new payment infrastructure developed by the RBA and New Payments Platform Australia can make payments to customer accounts within seconds; at any time of the day, on any day of the year. Frontline staff have been able to use the NPP to deliver immediate, emergency and crisis payments to customers who need them. This is the first time a government agency has used the NPP, and is a great example of the innovative and collaborative way we provide our services.
Another example is the partnership we formed with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) to make access to services simpler and faster for veterans and their families. Through the Mobile Service Centres pilot program we are adapting the way we deliver services to get better outcomes for the veteran community. DVA has trained managers in two Mobile Service Centres (Desert Rose and Golden Wattle), to deliver a Veterans’ Information Service to DVA clients living in regional and rural Australia. The Mobile Service Centres visited 410 locations during the pilot program. The findings from the pilot have been very positive, with high levels of client satisfaction and positive feedback from the veteran community as they seek assistance with their online accounts.
These examples demonstrate how the department is committed to working with partner agencies to improve customer outcomes. This aligns with the department’s purpose of delivering high-quality services and payments for the community on behalf of Government.
A key aim of the department is to deliver digital services that support individuals, families and communities to be self-sufficient and manage their own affairs.
Through the Remote ICT Capability Enhancement project, the department delivered new equipment and accessible connectivity for 590 rural and remote sites in the National Agent and Access Point Programme. Isolated customers in remote communities are now using upgraded technology to do business with the department. Customers who use the National Agent and Access Point Programme are uploading documents, connecting to free Wi-Fi and logging on using self-service terminals across Australia. There is increased take up of self-service in these locations and customers are reporting that they are satisfied with using the Self Service Terminals and Document Lodgement Services.
The department is committed to improving the delivery of welfare payments and making it easier for people to claim online. We are transforming our processing system, with more payments and services moving from old technology onto new platforms. Enhancements have been made to the digital channel, which is improving the customer experience and reducing the need for customers to contact us by telephone or by visiting an office.
Underpinning this work, our ICT platforms were available over 99 per cent of the time, enabling greater uptake of digital services and providing customers with 24/7 access.
The department is focused on improving our processing of claims, including through improved information and communications technology systems, staff training and redeployment of staff to meet peak demands. The integration of new systems to support a range of payments during the year required the provision of increased training and the deployment of additional staff to process claims. These new systems are designed to simplify and improve claims processing performance.
Responding to natural disasters
The department continued to draw on its strong emergency management capabilities to mobilise its resources to support communities impacted by natural disasters, including floods in northern Queensland and bushfires in Tasmania and New South Wales.
We deployed staff members from 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. Assistance was provided to people who were adversely affected through the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment, the Disaster Recovery Allowance and their ex-gratia equivalents.
By allocating staff to meet the needs of the thousands of Australians affected by natural disasters, we were able to assist those in need as well as continuing to deliver the department’s core services. This supports the department’s purpose of delivering high-quality services and payments to the community on behalf of Government.
Our approach to managing performance
The department’s performance measure targets are based on providing resourcing to meet the demand for services. The department balances resourcing, including between telephony and claims processing, to maximise performance across competing priorities. Noting that the department provides vital payments and services to almost every Australian during their lifetime, resourcing does not align with performance standards being met 100 per cent of the time. As the demand for the department’s services fluctuates during peak periods, it will not always be possible for the department to meet agreed targets, resulting in increased telephony and face-to-face wait times.
As we support customers to be increasingly self-sufficient through digital channels, we will continue to support vulnerable customers with more complex needs to access payments and services. The increasingly complex needs of some customers will result in increased time to complete services, particularly where a customer is accessing multiple services during the same visit. To address this, many departmental staff now possess the skills to process both social security and welfare and health services during the same customer visit.
Collectively, the performance of the department’s three programs in 2018–19 demonstrates that the department is achieving its purpose of supporting the economic, health and social wellbeing of Australia by delivering high-quality services and payments for the community on behalf of Government.