Centrelink phone call statistics and QoS

Anonymouse- made this Freedom of Information request to Department of Human Services

Response to this request is long overdue. By law, under all circumstances, Department of Human Services should have responded by now (details). You can complain by requesting an internal review.

From: Anonymouse-

Delivered

Dear Department of Human Services,

I am seeking information about the average length and frequency of calls placed to Centrelink. Of particular interest is the length of time customers spend on hold, the frequency of customers being transferred to a different department, and the frequency of individual customers' calls to Centrelink services numbers.

Further information as to the Quality of Service (QoS) provisions for Centrelink's computer systems is requested. I would limit this request to details about contractors who have designed, implemented or work on maintaining these systems, what level of QoS Centrelink has contracted for with these technology suppliers, and the actual performance levels of Centrelink's computer systems, specifically time that these computer systems are unavailable for comparison with contracted QoS provisions.

Yours faithfully,

Anonymouse-

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Locutus Sum left an annotation ()

I do not like to be a harbinger of doom but the applicant, Anonymouse-, I think will have some disappointment unless she changes the application. Fru Mouse possibly thinks that this is an FOI request. That is not so.

Number one. The Act at section 15 (http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/cth/c... says that a request must be in writing. This is an email, so the part about writing is OK.
Number two. The request must "state that the request is an application for the purposes of this Act". Here there is a problem. It is not necessary to say very much about FOI but a person must say something. Sufficient is to say an informal sentence like "This is an FOI request". Also a person can put a headline that says "Request under the Freedom of Information Act". But in this email, there is nothing.
Number three. The request must "provide such information concerning the document [that the applicant wants] as is reasonably necessary to enable a responsible officer of the agency, or the Minister, to identify it. Again, there are problems. Perhaps there is a document that contains the information that the applicant wants, but I believe that that is unlikely.

People sometimes say that a person cannot request "information" using the FOI Act. It is more complicated than this sounds. Section 4 (http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/cth/c... of the Acts explains that when the Act uses the word "document" it means a "record of information". But the record must exist in some place. There exists no obligation for an agency to do research to answer the question of the applicant. It is true that section 17 (http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/cth/c... obliges an agency to use its computers, if necessary, to do something such as to extract smaller documents from a bigger document. An example is to extract a database record from a bigger database. But it is not the same thing as research.

The applicant asks for "information about the average length and frequency of
calls placed to Centrelink". It sounds like research because it is extremely unlikely that a document like this exists.

There are some more problems. The sentence "Of particular interest ..." is probably of no interest to the department. Why? Because it is not clear whether the applicant is trying to say, "please limit to search for documents relating to my request to documents containing information about ...", or perhaps something else. Later the applicant says, "I would limit this request to ...". Does she mean that she does limit her request, or does she mean that there is a circumstance where she "would limit this request".

The request will be refused. If the department behaves correctly then first they will acknowledge receipt of the request as required by section 15(5). Then the department will ask for clafication from the applicant to confirm that it is an FOI request. If the applicant has luck, then the department will ask also at the same time for the applicant to explain better what actual document she wants. Both of these actions are required by section 15(3). If the applicant is without luck, there will be a second exchange of correspondence. The final result will be the same. I believe that request will eventually be refused on one of two grounds. Either invalidity under section 15. Alternatively, if the applicant eventually makes a valid request, then it will be refused on the grounds of section 24A, "Requests may be refused if documents cannot be found, do not exist or have not been received" (http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/cth/c....

Suggestion to the applicant: send a follow-up email from Right to Know. Do not make a different application. Only use the "Send a followup" link on the existing request page. Say that your first email was a request under the FOI Act. Also, read carefully the comments about what the department is not obliged to do, and try to make a request that will fit the demand of the Act. You can ask people on Right to Know for assistance. Also, people forget, it is legitimate to telephone the department and get assistance from the FOI team about how to make a better applicantion. They also will be grateful because it will reduce the frustration for them also!

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Alex Sadleir left an annotation ()

This request was probably instigated based on recent media coverage of this Ombudsman's report. On page 20 the phone call statistics are reproduced http://www.ombudsman.gov.au/files/Omb_s1... but actually are from the DHS annual report of various years which are also available online.

Quality of Service is quite ambigious - if you're talking about how often the websites/systems are down that's also in annual reports http://www.humanservices.gov.au/corporat... and would usually be called Service Level Agreement or Key Performance Indicators rather than QoS.

If you want the text of the Service Level Agreement provisions of contracts, you would be well served asking for a specific contract with a specific supplier first (to see if there even is a standard contractual obligation)
This is a link to an online search for all IT contracts worth more than $100,000 in the last year with DHS https://www.tenders.gov.au/?supplierabn=...

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From: Anonymouse-

Delivered

Dear Department of Human Services,

I would like to clarify that this request for information is made under the Freedom of Information Act, and further clarify the documents I seek.

Firstly in relation to telephone call statistics. I specifically seek data for the period 2011-today, including:

1. Any documents which contain information regarding the actual wait times for customers who call and are placed on hold.
2. Any documents which show the number of times a caller is transferred from one department to another.
3. Any documents which show the frequency of calls received by Centrelink on an hourly basis. For example - the number of calls between 9am - 10am, or 10am - 11am.

To clarify regarding the QoS part of my inquiry.

QoS may also be referred to as a Service Level Agreement (SLA). It is a common clause in ICT contracts whereby a supplier will guarantee a certain level of availability of their systems and may pay penalties for failing to meet these targets.

My inquiry is specifically in regards to the software(s) used by Centrelink staff who answer telephone calls from customers and use these systems to retrieve client details or otherwise work on client files. I have been unable to ascertain the makers of these softwares from publicly available information and may be able to further refine my request below if these software vendors are made known to me.

1. Contract outlines and QoS/SAL information from contracts of ICT suppliers who have designed and/or work on maintaining this backend system for Centrelink.
2. Any documents or reports showing length of time, number of incidents, and causes for such incidents where this backend software was unavailable to Centrelink staff.
3. Any performance reports of the software suppliers for Centrelink's backend systems.

I hope that makes my request easier to process.

Yours faithfully,

Anonymouse-

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Anonymouse- left an annotation ()

Thanks for the feedback.

Have written a followup to provide this clarification as suggested.

Centrelink must have documents showing the average call length of customers as they have provided it to the Ombudsman, as Alex noted. I am merely seeking more current information as the Ombudsman's report only shows up until 2010-11 and talks about 16 minute wait times which, it is doubtful, is anywhere near the what they're achieving. Same goes for transferring between departments. This information could be easily gleaned from a dataset of phone records.

As to QoS. Have clarified the terminology. The suggested reports only refer to the up-time of their front-end for customers, I'm more interested in how often their backend systems go down (have clarified), eg. customers call up, wait for time X, then cannot be assisted as the system is down and staff cannot access details. However I am unable to ascertain the makers of the software which Centrelink uses for their backend system(s), who specifically maintains this, and thus which contracts I should be seeking out.

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Locutus Sum left an annotation ()

This is a note of thanks to Anonymouse-. It is a great satisfaction for a writer to know that her comments, especially when she is trying to be helpful, really can be of help!

I believe that the clarification that Anoymouse- sent to the department will assist to make the processing of the request more even. It should also make an improvement for the possibility of receiving the wanted documents.

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From: FOI.LEGAL.TEAM
Department of Human Services


Attachment LEX 8298 s24AB Practical refusal notice.pdf
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Dear Anonymouse

 

Please find attached correspondence in relation to your request for
documents under the Freedom of Information Act 1982.

 

Regards,

 

Julian Russell

Government Lawyer

FOI and Information Release Legal Branch | Legal Services Division

Department of Human Services

 

This email and any attachments may contain information subject to legal
professional privilege or information that is otherwise sensitive or
confidential. If you are not the intended recipient of this email, you are
prohibited from using or disseminating this communication. If you have
received this communication in error please notify the sender immediately
and permanently delete this email.

 

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From: Anonymouse-

Delivered

Dear FOI.LEGAL.TEAM,

allow me to further tailor my request so that I may obtain the information I seek.

In regards to phone call statistics, I am only interested in calls and reports for the telephone numbers:

132 850 - NewStart Allowance hotline
132 490 - Youth Allowance/AusStudy hotline

Given the wide array of reports, I will accept quarterly reports for these two numbers for the period requested that provide high level information about hold times and transfer frequency.

For the second part of my request, I am interested in the software used by call centre staff manning the lines of the aforementioned phone numbers. If the makers of the softwares used by these staff members to call up and work on files are made known to me, I will happily narrow the scope of my request.

Yours sincerely,

Anonymouse-

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From: FOI.LEGAL.TEAM
Department of Human Services

Dear Anonymouse
 
Thank you for your response. Based on your email, we have taken your
revised request to be for:
 
        In relation to telephone call statistics, I seek the following for
the period 2011-today:
 
        Quarterly reports for the NewStart Allowance hotline (132 850) and
Youth Allowance/AusStudy hotline (132 490) that provide high level
information about:
 

* call wait times (for customers who call and are placed on hold); and
* how frequently callers are transferred from one area to another.

 
        …QoS may also be referred to as a Service Level Agreement (SLA).
It is a common clause in ICT contracts whereby a supplier will guarantee a
certain level of availability of their systems and may pay penalties for
failing to  meet these targets.
 
        In regard to the software(s) used by Centrelink call centre staff
manning the lines of the aforementioned phone numbers, I also seek the
following for the period 2011-today:
 
        1. Contract outlines and QoS/SLA information from contracts of ICT
suppliers who have designed and/or work on maintaining this backend system
for Centrelink.
        2. Any documents or reports showing length of time, number of
incidents, and causes for such incidents where this backend software was
unavailable to Centrelink staff.
        3. Any performance reports of the software suppliers for
Centrelink's backend systems”.
 
        I have been unable to ascertain the makers of these softwares from
publicly available information and may be able to further refine my
request below if these software vendors are made known to me.
 
Please confirm that this accurately reflects the scope of your revised
request or provide us with clarification of the intended scope.
 
Regards,
 
Julian
 

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From: FOI.LEGAL.TEAM
Department of Human Services


Attachment LEX 8298 third party consultation notice.pdf
62K Download View as HTML


Dear Anonymouse

 

Please find attached correspondence in relation to your request for
documents under the Freedom of Information Act 1982.

 

 

Julian Russell

Government Lawyer

FOI and Information Release Legal Branch | Legal Services Division

Department of Human Services

18 Canberra Avenue, Forrest

Ph: (02) 6223 4025

 

This email and any attachments may contain information subject to legal
professional privilege or information that is otherwise sensitive or
confidential. If you are not the intended recipient of this email, you are
prohibited from using or disseminating this communication. If you have
received this communication in error please notify the sender immediately
and permanently delete this email.

 

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From: FOI.LEGAL.TEAM
Department of Human Services


Attachment Notice of charge LEX 8298.pdf
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Dear Anonymouse,

 

Please find attached correspondence relating to your request for documents
under the Freedom of Information Act 1982.

 

Regards

 

Julian Russell

Government Lawyer

FOI and Information Release Legal Branch | Legal Services Division

Department of Human Services

 

This email and any attachments may contain information subject to legal
professional privilege or information that is otherwise sensitive or
confidential. If you are not the intended recipient of this email, you are
prohibited from using or disseminating this communication. If you have
received this communication in error please notify the sender immediately
and permanently delete this email.

 

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From: FOI.LEGAL.TEAM
Department of Human Services


Attachment Notice of charge LEX 8298 revised.pdf
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Dear Anonymouse,

 

Please note that there was an error in the charge notice sent to you
yesterday. The 25% deposit for paying the charge is $47.30, not $35.00 as
stated in the notice.

 

Please find attached a revised notice correcting the error.

 

Regards,

 

Julian Russell

Government Lawyer

FOI and Information Release Legal Branch | Legal Services Division

Department of Human Services

 

This email and any attachments may contain information subject to legal
professional privilege or information that is otherwise sensitive or
confidential. If you are not the intended recipient of this email, you are
prohibited from using or disseminating this communication. If you have
received this communication in error please notify the sender immediately
and permanently delete this email.

 

 

From: FOI.LEGAL.TEAM
Sent: Tuesday, 1 July 2014 6:25 PM
To: '[FOI #609 email]'
Cc: FOI.LEGAL.TEAM
Subject: Your freedom of information request - LEX 8298 [SEC=UNCLASSIFIED]

 

Dear Anonymouse,

 

Please find attached correspondence relating to your request for documents
under the Freedom of Information Act 1982.

 

Regards

 

Julian Russell

Government Lawyer

FOI and Information Release Legal Branch | Legal Services Division

Department of Human Services

 

This email and any attachments may contain information subject to legal
professional privilege or information that is otherwise sensitive or
confidential. If you are not the intended recipient of this email, you are
prohibited from using or disseminating this communication. If you have
received this communication in error please notify the sender immediately
and permanently delete this email.

 

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From: Anonymouse-

Delivered

Dear FOI.LEGAL.TEAM,

I would like to contest both the charges and part of the decision of this request.

Firstly regarding the decision and I refer to the Notice of Charges document, reference: LEX 8298. Specifically:

6. ... The department has been unable to locate documents falling within the scope of the other parts of your request.

The other part of my request refers to contracts with third party software providers. From the Department of Human Services information ( http://www.humanservices.gov.au/corporat... ), over $1.7 Billion is allocated to more than 450 contracts with in excess of 120 different providers which contain the terms "computer", "software" or "IT". That is in excess of 25% of all contracts by value. Therefore I ask:

1) How is it possible that $1.7 Billion worth of contracts funded with taxpayer dollars do not contain Quality of Service terms/Contract Outlines?

2) Does the Department not hold any reports on software incidents provided by these contracted parties?

3) Does the Department not receive any reports from software providers as to the performance of their software?

The assertion that “the department has been unable to locate documents falling within the scope of the other parts of your request” is simply unbeliebale. It defies logic that $1.7 Billion of the Department’s budget is spent on computers and software and that no contracts can be located, no reports on major incidents can be located, and no performance reports can be located.

Please clarify your decision on this part of my request as I simply cannot fathom an environment in which this much money is not backed up with rigorous contracts and frequent reporting.

Secondly in regards to the fees requested.

The FOI Act contains a provision for reducing and/or waiving charges for FOI requests. Section 29.5 states:

(5) Without limiting the matters the agency or Minister may take into account in determining whether or not to reduce or not to impose the charge, the agency or Minister must take into account:

(a) whether the payment of the charge, or part of it, would cause financial hardship to the applicant, or to a person on whose behalf the application was made; and

(b) whether the giving of access to the document in question is in the general public interest or in the interest of a substantial section of the public.

I argue that both (a) and (b) apply here.

This request relates to Centrelink, Australia’s social welfare system. Persons on Centrelink’s Newstart Allowance (single, no children) have a capped income of $510.50 per fortnight. The assessed charge of $189.50 amounts to 5.2 days of income for a Newstart recipient. Given Australia’s very high cost of living, people on Newstart do not have this kind of money spare after rent/electricity/food.

I was recently on the Newstart Allowance and certainly didn’t have a cent spare for anything, let alone information from the government. Whilst I am now employed, my job is seasonal and under the government’s proposed “earn or learn” system from the 2014 budget, I now face the prospect of being without this safety net for 6 months of the year as an under 30. I must save every cent I can now with such an uncertain future, and those who are still on Newstart, or any other Centrelink payment, the people on behalf of whom I make this request, simply cannot afford to depart with such a substantial figure with the minimal income they receive.

Therefore, I request on grounds of financial hardship that all fees for this request be waived.

In regards to 5(b), I contest that this information is definitely in the public interest based on the following:

Firstly, this FOI request has been made via the public platform, RightToKnow.org. All of the correspondence, including released information is publicly accessible for this request via the website. Every Centrelink recipient will be able to freely access this information when released as this request for information has been made on behalf of all people who have had to deal with Centrelink.

Secondly, the Commonwealth Ombudsman – Department of Human Services April 2014 report entitled “INVESTIGATION INTO SERVICE DELIVERY COMPLAINTS ABOUT CENTRELINK”, makes for some very disheartening reading for those on Centrelink payments. The 84 page, 10 part report dedicates one part and 6 pages to the issue of “WAITING ON THE TELEPHONE”.

Indeed, the report states:

“At the Ombudsman’s office, we adapted our own processes in late 2012 to
deal with the increasing numbers of people calling because they could not get
through to Centrelink by telephone.”

When the Ombudsman has to adapt it’s own processes to deal with the volume of complaints about Centrelink’s call wait times, clearly this is an issue that the public are not pleased about.

The Ombudsman’s report goes on to state:

“The Human Services Portfolio Budget Statements 2013-14 sets out the KPI for 'service
users telephony', which is to achieve an average speed of answer of no more than
16 minutes.”

“However, we believe 16 minutes is a long time for a person calling Centrelink to wait
before they can speak to someone about their enquiry.”

“Our complaints suggest that some Centrelink callers wait considerably longer
than 16 minutes, and sometimes for over an hour.”

That is the Commonwealth Ombudsman for the Department of Human Services noting that they already have complaints of wait times in excess of one hour. There was a report on Channel 9’s “A Current Affair” program a few weeks ago which timed calls to various Government agencies in which Centrelink ranked last with a wait time of over 50 minutes.

A recent post on reddt.com/r/Australia showed a User had waited 101 minutes to speak to someone at Centrelink before finally giving up.

And I know from my own experience that anything less than 45 minutes is “quick” for Centrelink. I once waited 94 minutes before reaching a customer service agent, and practically every Centrelink recipient I have ever spoken to has had similar stories to share.

Given the DHS has KPIs for call wait time, and evidence on numerous fronts indicates that Centrelink is not only failing to meet these KPIs, but is exceeding the 16 minute goal in multiples of four and five, if not more, it is surely in the public interest to know what the actual figures are so we can stop speculating about the problem, and have people start finding solutions.

This leads into the second part of my request regarding IT performance at Centrelink. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the systems in place are frequently not operating correctly. When a customer has to wait for an hour on hold, only to be told by the service agent “sorry, our systems are down, please call back tomorrow”, they become extremely frustrated.

Job seekers want to spend their time looking for work, Centrelink’s call wait times and poor IT performance is inhibiting Newstart recipients from doing that. With such a large IT related budget, it is inexcusable for Centrelink recipients to be calling hotline numbers only to be told after they come off hold that they have essentially wasted their time.

Which leads to my final point, that Centrelink contact numbers are generally 1300 and 1800 numbers. The Ombudsman’s report cites an article from the Welfare Rights Network in stating:

“In 2009, the Welfare Rights Network published an article highlighting the
burden that Centrelink’s administrative processes place upon many of its customers.
The Welfare Rights Network observed that many Centrelink customers use the
telephone as their main method of contact with Centrelink. It attributed this to the
increased responsibility for reporting to Centrelink and the low literacy and numeracy
skills of many Centrelink customers. The article also highlighted the costs to the
many customers who do not have access to landlines and have to use mobiles which
are more expensive than land lines when calling 13 and 1800 numbers. Welfare
Rights also raised the high telephone costs associated with contacting Centrelink in a
2011 submission to the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s review into
the costs of calling 13 and 1800 numbers from mobile phones.”

There is already a cost burden on Centrelink recipients in calling Centrelink numbers, it is in the public’s interests to know how long these calls take as they not only take valuable time from Centrelink recipients, but places additional financial pressure on these people. ACOSS notes that 52% of Newstart recipients live below the poverty line in Australia after paying rent, as do 45% of Parenting Payment recipients and 42% of those on Disability pensions – these people cannot afford to pay for this information, and are already paying, unfairly, for these extended wait times by Centrelink’s use of 1300 and 1800 telephone numbers.

The public has a right to know how long Centrelink takes to answer the phone, they have a right to know how $1.7 Billion of IT contracts are being utilised and how they are performing.

Therefore, I ask that all fees relating to this request be waived, and I further request that additional information relating to the denial of the second part of my request be provided, specifically regarding my questions above.

Yours sincerely,

Anonymouse-

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From: FOI.LEGAL.TEAM
Department of Human Services

Dear Anonymouse,

Thank you for your email.

The department is required to notify you of a decision on charge within 30 days of receiving your email. You will therefore receive a decision by 15 August 2014 and your submissions below will be considered in making that decision.

In relation to your other comments regarding third party software providers, you were notified in the charges notice that the department had been unable to locate documents relevant to that part of your request, so as to be transparent about how the charge was calculated and what it represented. That notification does not constitute a decision on access in relation to those parts of the request. However, it will of course be open to you to seek a review of any decision, when it is made.

Regards

Julian Russell
Government Lawyer
FOI and Information Release Branch | Legal Services Division
Department of Human Services

This email and any attachments may contain information subject to legal professional privilege or information that is otherwise sensitive or confidential. If you are not the intended recipient of this email, you are prohibited from using or disseminating this communication. If you have received this communication in error please notify the sender immediately and permanently delete this email.

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From: FOI.LEGAL.TEAM
Department of Human Services


Attachment LEX 8298 Decision on charge.pdf
486K Download View as HTML


Dear Anonymouse,

 

Please find attached correspondence relating to your request for documents
under the Freedom of Information Act 1982.

 

Regards

 

Julian Russell

Government Lawyer

FOI and Information Release Branch | Legal Services Division

Department of Human Services

 

This email and any attachments may contain information subject to legal
professional privilege or information that is otherwise sensitive or
confidential. If you are not the intended recipient of this email, you are
prohibited from using or disseminating this communication. If you have
received this communication in error please notify the sender immediately
and permanently delete this email.

 

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From: Anonymouse-

Delivered

Dear FOI.LEGAL.TEAM,

thankyou for taking consideration and reducing the charges.

I am willing to make payment of this reduced fee.

Is there any other method of payment than cheque or money order? Perhaps Credit Card, direct debit, Paypal, or Bitcoin?

Yours sincerely,

Anonymouse-

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From: FOI.LEGAL.TEAM
Department of Human Services

Dear Anonymouse,

Unfortunately at this stage, we are unable to accept other payment methods. I apologise for any inconvenience this may cause.

Regards

Julian Russell
A/g Senior Government Lawyer
FOI and Information Release Branch | Legal Services Division
Department of Human Services
18 Canberra Avenue, Forrest

This email and any attachments may contain information subject to legal professional privilege or information that is otherwise sensitive or confidential. If you are not the intended recipient of this email, you are prohibited from using or disseminating this communication. If you have received this communication in error please notify the sender immediately and permanently delete this email.

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Ben Fairless left an annotation ()

Hi Anonymouse, was there any further updates on this request at all that we can't see?

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Things to do with this request

Anyone:
Department of Human Services only: