Human Services: Regional Australia—Driving Our Economy 2017–18
The Department of Human Services is committed to ensuring all Australians, including those in remote and regional areas, have access to a range of high quality, flexible and convenient Australian Government services. The Department provides services to people living in regional areas through regional service centres, as well as agents and access points in remote areas. Further outreach services are provided by the Department’s remote servicing teams and mobile service centres.
During 2016, mobile service centres visited over 390 towns, travelling more than 70,000 kilometres and helping over 9,000 people. Services for regional Australians are also provided through the Department of Human Services’ nationally networked call centres, certain Centrelink numbers can also be called free of charge from a landline or Telstra mobile.
The Department of Human Services continues to expand its digital services. For example, faster and easier self–service options are now available for people to make claims for a payment or concession, update personal details and changes in their circumstances. The Department also provides a range of mobile applications allowing simple transactions such as reporting income to be done quickly and easily using a range of mobile devices. This allows people to engage with us at a time and place that suits, which is of particular benefit to people located in regional areas by reducing their need to travel to service centres.
The Department of Human Services also delivers payments and services on behalf of the Australian Government across rural and regional Australia during natural disasters such as floods and droughts. In 2016, the Department of Human Services’ Emergency Reserve members and mobile service centre teams worked alongside others assisting communities impacted by the Waroona bushfires in Western Australia, and the East Coast storms and floods in New South Wales and Tasmania. More broadly, in 2017 the Department has been working with the Queensland and New South Wales communities impacted by Tropical Cyclone Debbie. The Department also provides continuing support to communities affected by the South Australia Pinery bushfire in November 2015.
Welfare Payments Infrastructure Transformation—Tranche Two
The Welfare Payments Infrastructure Transformation—Tranche Two measure builds on the success of Welfare Payments Infrastructure Transformation—Tranche One and provides $313.5 million funding over four years to progress the overhaul of Australia’s welfare payment system from January 2017.
Over 18 months, Tranche Two will focus on developing new welfare payment processes and services, and will start with the administration and delivery of student payments.
Tranche Two will not, itself, have a significant direct impact on regional Australia. However, when subsequent tranches of the Welfare Payments Infrastructure Transformation program are fully implemented, building on foundational work completed in Tranche Two, Australians will benefit from the integrated delivery of payments, simplified processes and smarter access to services. The program will be underpinned by a digital service model and will enable the majority of transactions to be completed online, reducing the need for people in regional Australia to travel large distances to access face-to-face services.
Prioritising Mental Health—Improving Telehealth for Psychological Services in Regional, Rural and Remote Australia
The Department of Human Services will be implementing changes to the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) to allow mental health professionals, including psychologists, social workers and occupational therapists to access Medicare benefits for video consultations provided to clients who live in rural and regional Australia. This will increase access to psychological services for those living in rural and remote areas who would otherwise have limited access to these services.
Improving Access to Medicines—Maintaining Remote Area Aboriginal Health Services Pharmaceutical Dispensing
Remote Aboriginal Health Services (RAHS) are able to order and dispense medicines directly to patients at no cost as part of the Government’s National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan 2013-2023. This ensures remote Indigenous Australians have access to the medicines they need, when they need them.
This measure will simplify delivery arrangements by enabling pharmacists who supply individually labelled and packaged medicines to RAHS to directly invoice the Department of Human Services for payment, reducing administration on these health professionals.
Welfare Payments Infrastructure Transformation—Tranche One
Welfare Payments Infrastructure Transformation—Tranche One is one of the world’s largest social welfare information and communications technology system transformations. This significant multi–year transformation project will modernise welfare payments processes and build a new information and communications technology system and enables the Department of Human Services to:
- provide faster, more connected and automated digital services;
- give staff a modern information and communications technology platform that makes it easier for them to do their jobs; and
- position the Department of Human Services to meet the future policy needs of the Australian Government.
This measure provides $60.5 million over four years from 2015–16 to progress Tranche One of the Welfare Payments Infrastructure Transformation program, this tranche will build a solid foundation for Tranche Two and later tranches of this program.
Farm Household Allowance
The Department of Human Services delivers the Farm Household Allowance payment. Since the commencement of the program in 2014 over 7,000 customers have been granted Farm Household Allowance. Farm Household Allowance recipients are required to complete a Farm Financial Assessment and enter into a Financial Improvement Agreement to assist them to improve their financial self-reliance.
In 2016–17, the Department of Human Services progressed a number of key activities regarding the Farm Household Allowance, including:
- participating in a series of roundtables in regional Victoria. The Department of Human Services provided intensive one-on-one support to customers during the roundtables, provided additional information and support to many other attendees and received valuable feedback on delivery of the Farm Household Allowance;
- reviewing business processes to simplify and streamline the Farm Household Allowance application process; and
- conducting a pilot for new claims processing to reduce the time taken to assess claims for Farm Household Allowance and to provide additional support to claimants.
Changes to the Farm Household Allowance claim process are being rolled out nationally following the success of a Department of Human Services pilot that aimed to improve the experience for farmers. This includes:
- reducing processing times for most new claims from four months to four—six weeks;
- significantly increasing outbound contact with farmers at the beginning of the claims process;
- delaying the Farm Financial Assessment until after their claim has been granted; and
- ensuring that, where possible, farmers also spoke to the same specialist staff member throughout the claim process to ensure continuity of support while their application was finalised.
ABSTUDY provides financial support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students from secondary school (including boarders) through to Masters and Doctorate studies. The Department of Human Services has trialled an innovative approach that significantly simplifies the ABSTUDY claim process by removing the need for Indigenous students to complete and return paper claim forms.
Indigenous Students can now complete a binding verbal declaration, meaning that the entire claim process can be completed over the phone. Claims lodged through the new streamlined process in 2016–17, compared against the same period in 2015–16, were finalised nearly 50 per cent faster. The trial actively supports the Government's Closing the Gap commitments for Indigenous education outcomes.
Agents and Access Points
The Department of Human Services’ agents across 351 sites and access points across 239 sites provide essential and effective services to remote and rural people where accessing existing service centres is difficult.
Access points provide free self–help facilities where people can conduct their business with the Department. This includes services such as certifying proof of identity documents, phone, photocopying, fax and internet facilities in over 100 sites.
Agents provide the same facilities as access points with the addition of staff who can support people to do their business with the Department, primarily through digital channels.
While the Department of Human Services’ network of agents and access points currently only provides access to the Department’s services, the necessary connectivity is currently being developed to provide access to other government services in the future.
Government Remote Servicing—Continuation and Extension
Remote servicing ensures a person can access Australian Government payments and services, regardless of their location.
The Australian Government’s investment of $117.4 million over five years from 2015–16 supports the continued delivery of government payments and services in remote locations in Western Australia, Northern Queensland, the Northern Territory, South Australia and Tasmania. The Department of Human Services continues to provide direct access to services through remote service centres, agents, access points and remote servicing teams.
Remote servicing is also a source of employment in remote communities, especially for Indigenous Australians. For example, the large majority of staff in the Department of Human Services’ Northern Territory remote service centres are Indigenous Australians.
Mobile Service Centres
The Department of Human Services operates a number of mobile service centres that travel to rural and regional communities to provide hard-to-reach and disadvantaged people with information and access to Australian Government services, where they need it.
These fully equipped mobile offices travel on pre–determined itineraries in regional areas to communities located more than 50 kilometres from a service centre. Mobile service centres are an important part of the Department’s emergency response service delivery capability. In 2016 the fleet visited over 390 towns with the additional aim of partnering with other Australian Government agencies where possible to improve service delivery.
Remote Smart Centre Services
In April 2014 Remote Smart Centres were established to streamline processes, and to deliver effective and efficient services. As a result, there are more staff on hand for general enquiries, with complex enquiries handled by the Indigenous telephony queue whose staff have training and experience in the complexities of Indigenous specific payments and programs. Calls to the Indigenous telephony queue have been separated into remote and non–remote and improves access to Australian Government payments, programs and services.
National Indigenous Coalition
The National Indigenous Coalition has been established as the Department of Human Services’ internal peak Indigenous forum. Through collaboration, the National Indigenous Coalition forms a united position on key policies and future service delivery approaches. The unique challenges of providing access and support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in regional Australia are considered by the forum. The National Indigenous Coalition is consulted to ensure effective development of strategies that support and secure outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and employees.
Regional Citizenship Testing
The Department of Human Services has been working with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection to make citizenship tests available in regional locations. Staff of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection previously visited regional centres to conduct tests, usually on a monthly or bimonthly basis. Some 150,000 citizenship tests are taken nationwide every year. Around 13,000 of these are taken in regional areas, assisted by staff from the Department of Human Services. Each week about 300 tests can take place across 33 service centres in regional areas across Australia, from Kalgoorlie in Western Australia to Mackay in Queensland.
Videoconferencing in Regional Locations
The Department of Human Services is trialling delivery of limited specialist services such as Job Capacity Assessments and access to Social Workers and Financial Information Service Officers by video conferencing in a number of regional locations. The Job Capacity Assessments are offered at over 30 mainly regional locations. Social Work services are provided to Halls Creek and Kununurra (Western Australia), Inverell and Glen Innes (New South Wales) and Financial Information Services are provided to Mildura (Victoria), Bega, Cowra, Inverell and Glen Innes (New South Wales). The Department of Human Services also offers access to Auslan interpreter services ‘on–demand’ at 80 sites, mostly in regional Australia.
In 2015–16, over 130 million transactions were completed via online and the Express Plus mobile apps (compared to 123 million in 2014–15).
The Department’s website humanservices.gov.au is a convenient way for regional Australians to access information and conduct their government business online. Every month the Department’s website has over eight million visitors.
The Payment Finder tool makes it easy for people to discover payments and services relevant to them. Payment Finder on humanservices.gov.au is used more than 240,000 times each month.
Once they have authenticated themselves, users can conduct many of their transactions with the Department online at a time and place convenient to them. In 2015–16 an average of more than 356,000 transactions were completed online each day, an increase of five per cent from the previous financial year.
A range of Centrelink payments are also claimable online, taking advantage of a streamlined claiming process which pre–populates the claim with already known information, and uses dynamic questioning to ensure that only necessary questions are asked. For some payments, the online process now accounts for 80 per cent of new claim activity.
The myGov digital service is a simple, secure way for all Australians to access services, including in regional Australia. For Australians living in regional areas, the ability to access multiple government services online is a convenient way to do business and minimises the need to travel significant distances to regional service centres and multiple government agencies.
There are now over 11 million active myGov accounts providing people with secure access to a growing range of Australian Government online services using one username and password. With a myGov account, people can link a range of Australian Government services to do their business online, including lodging claims, and accessing correspondence to updating contact details quickly and easily.
As at December 2016, the myGov Inbox service has delivered more than 175 million mail items since the commencement of the service in March 2014. The myGov ‘Update Your Details’ function enables the millions of myGov account holders to update selected contact information and share these with participating linked myGov member services in a single transaction from their myGov account.
Through the National Innovation and Science Agenda, the Australian Government is committed to making services digital by default, and leading cultural and technological change in how those services are delivered. With the high volume of transactions made through the myGov digital service, the modernisation of myGov and its future direction is central to these efforts.
The Department of Human Services considers myGov to be a critical enabler of service delivery, particularly to people in rural and regional areas, and the Department continues to innovate and refine the myGov service to meet the new and evolving needs of users.
A joint project team with the Digital Transformation Agency and Australian Taxation Office has been established to re-examine the myGov digital service, including the technology supporting it, how it is delivered and managed, as well as the user’s experience.
This work will also assess myGov’s consistency with the Government’s Digital Service Standard. The project team will deliver a broad, long-term enhancement program for the capability of myGov.
Funding for this initiative is $50.5 million over five years from 2015–16.
Express Plus Apps
The Department of Human Services’ Express Plus mobile apps continue to be popular with people wanting to engage with government services. The apps for Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support provide the option to complete many common, simple transactions on the go from any location, without having to call or visit an office. These mobile apps provide a convenient, flexible option to do business with the Department, including uploading documents, reporting income, claiming Medicare benefits, viewing balances and making Child Support Payments.
As at 31 January 2017, Express Plus mobile apps have been downloaded more than 9.5 million times. In 2015–16 over 63 million transactions were completed through the apps. The Department continues to deliver enhancements to mobile apps, to improve the effectiveness of this digital channel, with additional functionality continually being considered for Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support apps.
In addition, the Centrelink Express Plus Lite version enables the reporting of earned income in English, Arabic, Chinese, Persian (Farsi) or Vietnamese.
Electronic Claiming of Medicare Benefits
Electronic claiming from point of service is the most convenient way for claimants to lodge claims for Medicare benefits.
The Australian Government is actively working with medical practitioners, software vendors, financial institutions, health insurers and members of the public to increase the availability and use of electronic claiming of Medicare benefits.
Health Professional Online Services
Health Professional Online Services is a fast and secure service that enhances and improves the interaction between the Department and healthcare providers and their administrators (health professionals). It offers health professionals a single entry point to a range of health related programs and online services. In Health Professional Online Services, health professionals can do a range of business and administrative tasks, including submitting claims online, manage provider details, retrieving statements and reports, verify patient information, and authorise and manage delegations.
Health Professional Online Services is now accessed using a Provider Digital Access account. Provider Digital Access is a secure online authentication system that replaces the use of a Medicare Public Key Infrastructure certificates to access Health Professional Online Services. It is a portable, digital end-to-end solution that requires no additional hardware or software making it easier for the health professional to interact with Medicare when delivering services in regional and remote communities.
Strategy, Innovation and Design
The Department of Human Services’ Strategy, Innovation and Design branch provides user–centred design support through citizen engagement in face–to–face interviews, small group conversations or large design sessions. The aim of these engagements is to seek citizen input into new processes, service delivery improvements, policy initiatives and system design.
In the 2016–17 financial year, the Strategy, Innovation and Design branch undertook citizen engagement activities in regional areas, including Colac and Shepparton in Victoria, Gympie and Caboolture in Queensland, and Geeveston and Bridgewater in Tasmania. The Department engages with citizens in regional areas to ensure overall design and delivery meets the needs of all Australians, recognising the unique requirements of citizens located in regional areas of Australia.