Saturday, July 19, 2008

Praise for Centrelink

Earlier in the week Neil (Ninglun) reported on a visit to Centrelink. Apparently, he was the first to apply for a pension on-line, at least at that office.

Now I find it hard to comprehend that Neil has gone for an old-age pension. He is older than me, but it still makes me feel ancient. So I am going to close my eyes and ignore his application as an inconvenient truth! However, his post does provide me with an opportunity to say something nice about Centrelink.

I have mentioned several times including my last post, Meeting old friends, Canberra airport chaos, that I have been running workshops around NSW. I did not mention, however, that the first part of the latest round of workshops involved a presentation from Centrelink staff on their e-services, something that they are trying to promote.

So far I have sat through presentations in Sydney, Orange and Queanbeyan. I have been impressed. I thought that I might say why.

For the benefit of my readers outside Australia, Centrelink is the Australian Government organisation concerned with the delivery of pensions and other social service benefits. Necessarily it is a very large, centralised, organisation combining central activities with a very large number of local offices.

Centrelink's job is not easy. A core challenge is to find ways of delivering services more efficiently while still improving customer service. Here e-services are central.

I am and remain sceptical about some e-services because so much of the apparent benefits come from pushing responsibility onto the client in order to achieve cost savings. We all have all seen this. But e-services also have a place because they can make service delivery so much more customer friendly. Centrelink is trying to achieve this.

On one side they are trying to improve the interface between Centrelink and other service providers such as community housing organisations. The aim here is to improve service delivery by those providers by giving them better access to Centrelink so that joint clients do not have to visit Centrelink offices.

On the other side, they are trying to assist clients to do things on-line so that they do not have to visit Centrelink offices.

One problem is that Centrelink clients tend to be the most disadvantaged members of the Australian community. It follows from this that many do not have access to basic things such as computers, while their knowledge of the on-line world is less. This is part of the digital divide that is adding another layer to social deprivation in the Australian community.

To overcome this, Centrelink has provided computers at its offices so that people can use them to print off things like income statements or to record changes in details without having to wait in line. Centrelink is also promoting other access points like local libraries, as well as charities that provide low-cost refurbished computing equipment.

I am sure that there is still scope to improve Centrelink services. My aim in this post is simply to give praise for improvements already made.

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