The Department of Human Services (the Department) delivers payments and services through social welfare, Medicare, aged care, child support and crisis recovery programs. These services are delivered through face‑to‑face, telephone and digital channels to nearly all Australians, including those in regional and remote Australia.
The Department provides face-to-face services through its regional and remote service centres, remote servicing teams and Mobile Service Centres. In 2018, Mobile Service Centres visited over 397 towns, travelling more than 60,000 kilometres and providing services for over 10,500 people. As at 31 January 2019, the Department also has 349 agents and 237 access points that allow people to access self-service facilities, telephones and wireless internet in regional and remote locations. Veterans’ services are also now more accessible to Australians in regional and remote Australia through a trial of Mobile Service Centres and selected Agents and Access points.
The Department is continuing to expand its digital services so people can engage at a time and place that suits them, without the need to travel to a service centre or telephone the Department. People can claim a payment or concession and update their personal details or report changes in circumstances through faster and easier self‑service options online. The Department provides a range of mobile applications that allow simpler transactions, such as reporting income, to be done quickly and easily using mobile devices. The Department is also increasing its reach across regional Australia by connecting customers to government services through myGov.
The Department also delivers payments and services on behalf of the Australian Government across regional and remote Australia during natural disasters, such as cyclones, floods and bushfires. In 2019, the Department responded to three major disasters. In response to the Tasmanian Bushfires, the Department delivered Disaster Recovery Allowance payments to support affected customers. For the Far North Queensland Floods and the Northern New South Wales Bushfires, the Department delivered Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payments and Disaster Recovery Allowance payments, and provided on-the-ground support to people at recovery centres. The Department for the first time delivered Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payments using the New Payments Platform, meaning many customers received their payments within seconds of the payment being granted. The Department also deployed a Mobile Service Centre to support people affected by flooding in far north Queensland, and is delivering a new Flood Education Supplement to support people affected by floods with the cost of education for students studying away from home. Although the timing and nature of such events is unpredictable, the Department is well-equipped and prepared to respond effectively during times of disaster.
The Department has maintained its commitment to jobs and a physical presence in regional Australia. As at 31 December 2018, 10,502 (33 per cent) of the Department’s staff are located outside capital cities; 5,618 (18 per cent) staff are located in Canberra, central Sydney and central Melbourne; and 15,545 (49 per cent) are located in greater Sydney, greater Melbourne and all other capital cities.
Farm Household Allowance
The Department delivers the Farm Household Allowance payment (FHA), which is a time‑limited payment that can be paid for up to four cumulative years (1,460 days). FHA customers are required to complete a Farm Financial Assessment and enter into a Financial Improvement Agreement that aims to improve their financial self-reliance and the viability of their farming business.
From the commencement of the program in 2014 to 4 January 2019, the Department has granted FHA to more than 10,000 customers. Changes to eligibility were introduced in 2018 to support farmers in financial hardship, including drought‑affected customers, including extending the length of time customers can receive the payment (from three to four years), temporarily relaxing the asset test and simplifying the claim form to make it easier for people to use.
From 1 September 2018, the Department has delivered the FHA Supplement, which provides customers receiving FHA up to two supplement payments. Single customers receive up to $7,200 and partnered farmers up to $12,000 per household if both members of the couple are receiving FHA. The supplement payments are paid in two instalments. The first supplement was paid to customers from 4 September 2018 and the second supplement from 1 March 2019.
From 1 July 2019, income from the forced sale of livestock will be exempt from the income test for FHA, provided the net income is invested in a farm management deposit.
North Queensland Flood Recovery Package
The Australian Government has announced a measure to assist people affected by the Far North Queensland Floods with the cost of education for students studying away from home. This initiative provides a one-off payment of $1,000 to students who, between 25 January and 14 February 2019, received a qualifying payment, and whose parental home is in the local government areas of Burdekin, Burke, Carpentaria, Cloncurry, Douglas, Flinders, Hinchinbrook, McKinlay, Richmond, Townsville or Winton.
Qualifying payments are:
- Assistance for Isolated Children Basic Boarding Allowance;
- Assistance for Isolated Children Second Home Allowance;
- Assistance for Isolated Children Distance Education Allowance; and
- ABSTUDY School Fees Allowance.
The Department will pay the $1,000 Flood Education Supplement by 23 April 2019 to existing customers who meet the eligibility criteria and have provided correct bank account details. The payment will also be available to eligible new customers who claim a qualifying payment by 23 April 2019.
The Australian Government’s GovPass program is building a trusted digital identity ecosystem, to help people and businesses to access online government services. The program is being delivered in partnership by the Digital Transformation Agency, the Australian Taxation Office, the Department of Human Services, the Department of Home Affairs, and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. This coordinated multi-agency approach is harnessing the full capabilities of the Australian Government, while also preventing duplicate investment.
At certain points in their lives, people are required to interact with multiple government services surrounding a life event. This will most often involve the person having to prove who they are to different services. The requirement to show your identity documents in person is a significant barrier to government services being available online. A digital identity will make it possible for more and more government services to be accessed online, allowing people to use the services they need at a time and place they choose.
The Department has been allocated $21.7 million of the $67.1 million committed by the Australian Government for this initiative through the 2019-20 Budget measure ‘Continued Funding for GovPass—Trusted Digital Identity’.
This measure builds on the 2018-19 Budget measure, ‘Delivering Australia’s Digital Future—GovPass Program—accelerated implementation’, and the 2017-18 Budget measure, ‘GovPass Progam—trusted digital identity framework’.
Veteran Centric Reform
The Department continues its commitment to serving geographically isolated and disengaged veterans and their families. In the 2017-18 and 2018-19 Budgets, the Australian Government piloted approaches to enhance face-to-face services for the veteran community. This has included extending the Department’s reach into regional and remote Australia through pilots that saw Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) services made available through Mobile Service Centres in 132 locations and through 17 Agents. These pilots will continue until June 2019, with DVA services being made available through 24 Agents and to all locations visited by Mobile Service Centres.
The Department received a total of $145.7 million across the 2017-18 and 2018-19 Budgets to assist DVA in its transformation, including delivering and scaling up a foundational information and communications technology (ICT) system to meet the needs of veterans and improve access to DVA services. The DVA Students and Client Registration system was successfully implemented on 30 July 2018, providing online student registration and claim capabilities for DVA clients. The Department will be transitioning DVA income support payments to the new DVA ICT system in 2019. This will provide reliable ICT support to approximately 170,000 DVA clients currently receiving payments.
Additionally, since April 2017 the Department has played a key role alongside DVA to design and deliver MyService. MyService is a redesign of DVA’s online claim process, providing veterans with a new, simpler way to interact with DVA online, including interfaces with the myGov platform.
Government Remote Servicing—Continuation and Extension
The Department continues to provide direct access to services through remote service centres, Access Points, Agents and remote servicing teams. 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.
Remote servicing is also a source of employment in remote communities, especially for Indigenous Australians. For example, a large majority of staff in the Department’s Northern Territory remote service centres are Indigenous Australians.
Agents and Access Points
Agents and Access Points provide essential services to customers in locations where accessing service centres is difficult. As at 31 January 2019, the Department has 349 Agents and 237 Access Points across regional and remote locations. Access Points provide free self-help facilities for customers to conduct their business with the Department. This includes internet enabled computers, upload document functions (for scanning to customer records), customer Wi-Fi, telephone, photocopying and fax facilities. Staff at Access Points can assist customers by copying and certifying proof of identity documents.
In addition to the services available at an Access Point, an Agent provides face-to-face support for the Department’s digital services. This includes responding to customer enquiries, providing assistance, guidance and referrals as appropriate.
The Department invests heavily in improving infrastructure and connectivity nationally across the Agents and Access Points programme. This ensures customers can access similar services to those located in metropolitan areas. Agents and Access Points have benefited from the Remote ICT Capability Enhancement (RICE) project. Initiated in 2016, RICE is a four-year project that is delivering reliable, robust and consistent digital experience for remote and regional customers and Agent and Access Point staff. The project has increased the efficiency and accessibility of Government services while improving customer, staff and community satisfaction. This is in addition to free Wi-Fi now being available at all Department of Human Services service centres.
Mobile Service Centres
The Department continues to operate two Mobile Service Centres that travel to regional communities, providing information and access to Australian Government services.
These fully equipped mobile offices travel across regional Australia to communities located more than 50 kilometres from a service centre. In 2018, the Mobile Service Centres visited 397 towns with the additional aim of partnering with other Australian Government agencies where possible, to provide a broader range of services to these regional and remote communities.
Mobile Service Centres are also an important part of the Department’s emergency response service delivery capability, including in February 2019 when a Mobile Service Centre was deployed to support customers affected by the floods in Far North Queensland.
Regional Citizenship Testing
The Department of Human Services has been working with the Department of Home Affairs to make citizenship tests available in regional locations. Since 1 July 2012, the Department of Human Services has conducted around 12,000 tests in regional areas each financial year. Each week, about 250 tests take place across 33 service centres in regional areas across Australia, from Kalgoorlie in Western Australia to Mackay in Queensland. Previously, Department of Home Affairs staff visited regional centres to conduct tests, usually on a monthly or bimonthly basis.
Videoconferencing in Regional Locations
The Department is trialling delivery of limited specialist services, such as Job Capacity Assessments and access to Financial Information Service Officers, via video conferencing in a number of regional locations, including:
- Geraldton in Western Australia;
- Port Lincoln and Whyalla in South Australia;
- Dubbo, Bega and Griffith in New South Wales; and
- Swan Hill in Victoria.
While still in a pilot phase, this is becoming a useful mechanism to provide enhanced servicing in regional locations. Approximately 4 per cent of Job Capacity Assessments during 2018 were conducted by videoconference. This has allowed the Department to connect regional customers with the necessary assistance in a more timely manner.
National Indigenous Coalition
The National Indigenous Coalition is the Department’s peak strategic and advisory forum on the effective delivery of payments and services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Where payments and services have a significant impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander customers or staff, the National Indigenous Coalition is consulted to provide Indigenous insight and perspectives to improve and support better outcomes, including in regional and remote areas.
ABSTUDY provides financial support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students from secondary school (including boarders) through to postgraduate studies.
The Department has successfully released a series of online improvements to ABSTUDY service delivery, aimed at making it easier to access information and support, lodge claims and manage payments.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander apprentices and tertiary students now have the option to lodge a claim for ABSTUDY (Incidentals) online. Previously, this was exclusively a manual process that required completion of a paper-based form, attendance at a service centre or telephone contact. In addition, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander apprentices can now complete an online claim for ABSTUDY (Living Allowance). As at 8 February 2019, this online service has been used over 2,000 times and will be extended to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tertiary students in the first half of 2019.
The Department has also delivered digital functionality enabling Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians in receipt of ABSTUDY (Living Allowance) to use online services to advise if they have commenced work.
Finding clear, relevant and easily located online help is particularly important to our customers in rural and remote locations. The Department currently offers Digital Assistants to help customers to find information and to use our online services at any time of the day or night.
- ‘Sam’ is available from the Department’s website and allows people to ask general questions about a range of welfare related payments and services.
- ‘Oliver’ is available from the Centrelink online account, and helps customers with a range of online claims and services specific to their circumstances.
- The Express Plus Centrelink mobile app Assistant provides help ‘on the go’.
Together, the Department’s Digital Assistants provide help to students, job seekers, families, parents, carers and older Australians. Sam and Oliver, two of the Department’s Digital Assistants, have answered more than 2.3 million customer questions since March 2017. The questions and answers provided by these Digital Assistants are reviewed and refined over time to align with customer needs and to improve their online experience.
Additionally, the myGov Digital Assistant Charles was released in October 2018, providing targeted assistance to citizens using myGov. The service is available 24/7, improving access for customers, including in regional and remote areas. This will allow staff to assist customers who need greater support with complex queries.
Welfare Payments Infrastructure Transformation—Tranche Three
Tranche Three of the Welfare Payments Infrastructure Transformation (WPIT) Programme builds on the success of previous tranches and provides $316.2 million in funding over four years from 2018-19 to progress the modernisation of Australia’s social payments system. When fully implemented, Tranche Three will provide all Australians, including those in regional and remote areas, with further integrated, simpler and smarter services. Job seekers, older Australians, carers and disability payment customers will be able to digitally lodge claims, update their details, and self‑manage their obligations. This will also result in faster claims for job seekers.
New improvements to online services have been released, making it easier for customers to access services digitally. This includes claiming payments and transferring between payments online. It is now less likely that regional and remote customers will have to telephone the Department or attend a service centre in person.
Additionally, through WPIT the Department is leveraging the Digital Transformation Agency’s Digital Marketplace and promoting it to small and medium‑sized enterprises. The Digital Marketplace’s purpose is to make it easier for smaller businesses, including those based in regional Australia, to compete for government contracts for ICT products and services.
Express Plus Apps
The Department’s free Express Plus mobile apps for Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support services, which can be downloaded onto mobile phones and tablets, continue to be a popular and convenient way for people to engage with government services without the need to travel to a service centre or telephone the Department. Using mobile apps, customers can upload documents, report income, claim Medicare benefits, view child support account balances and access a range of other services.
The apps have been downloaded more than 13.2 million times since they were introduced in 2012. In 2018, the apps were downloaded around 1.1 million times.
The Department‘s website (humanservices.gov.au) is a convenient way for regional and remote Australians to access information and conduct their government business online. In 2018, the website averaged around 6.4 million visits per month. The Payment and Service Finder tool, available on the Department’s website, helps people discover payments and services relevant to them.
In 2017-18, over 72 million transactions were completed online or via the Express Plus mobile apps (compared to 68 million in 2016-17). This equates to an average of more than 199,000 transactions being completed online each day in 2017-18. This is particularly valuable for Australians in regional and remote Australia, as they can conduct many of their transactions with the Department online at a time and place convenient to them.
A range of Centrelink payments can be claimed online, with customers able to take advantage of a streamlined process that uses dynamic questioning to ensure that only necessary questions are asked. Over 95 per cent of Youth Allowance claims for students are now lodged online. The online claim process has been further simplified for existing customers, with some online claim forms pre-populating with already‑known information.
The Department also assists regional and remote Child Support customers to undertake several self-service activities online. The enhanced Child Support Online system enables customers to view payment details, securely provide documents via the Document Lodgement Service, and advise or update details of their authorised representatives.
The myGov digital service is a simple, secure way for all Australians to access government services, including in regional and remote Australia. For these customers, the ability to access multiple government services online is a convenient way to do business and update their details, minimising the need to travel to regional service centres to deal with multiple government agencies.
There are now over 15 million active myGov accounts providing people with secure access to a growing range of Australian Government online services using one username and password. In 2018, around 138.8 million digital messages and letters were sent through myGov.
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.
myGov Access is a mobile app that was released in December 2017 and has been downloaded more than 1.1 million times. Building on the success of changes made in October 2017 to allow myGov member services to use myGov authentication for their mobile apps, myGov Access provides a security code for myGov customers who choose to use two-factor authentication for signing into myGov. This feature provides an alternative to SMS-based two-factor authentication, which is particularly useful for customers travelling overseas or in regional or remote areas where mobile phone access is limited.
Electronic Claiming of Medicare Benefits
Electronic claiming from point-of-service is the most convenient way for people 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 Medicare claims, including in regional and remote areas. In the period from 1 July 2018 to 31 January 2019, 98.1 per cent of Medicare services were lodged digitally at the point of service.
Health Delivery Modernisation
In the 2018-19 Budget, the Australian Government invested $106.8 million to stabilise and consolidate health and aged care systems. This measure will make it easier and quicker for customers, aged care providers and health professionals to interact with the Department.
Key user improvements that have already been delivered include:
- enhancing website material and functionality for customers, enabling a more integrated and user-friendly experience; and
- making claiming easier through Medicare Online Accounts and aligning its functionality with the Medicare Express Plus App.
Further improvements to be delivered within this initial program of work include:
- integrating the Department’s aged care portals into a single portal, improving the experience of aged care providers; and
- automating the provider registration process for certain types of health professionals, significantly reducing current processing times.
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.
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 Medicare Public Key Infrastructure certificates. It is a portable, digital end-to-end solution that requires no additional hardware or software, making it easier for health professionals to interact with Medicare when delivering services in regional and remote communities. Due to an increase in services available to health professionals through Health Professional Online Services, its use has increased significantly over recent years, from 3.9 million accesses in 2015-16 to 6.1 million accesses in 2017-18.