Calling Centrelink – also known as entering the depths of hell

This week, I had the misfortune of needing to contact Centrelink.

My kids have been vaccinated, but Centrelink records show that they haven’t. Which prompted Centrelink to send us a letter, saying, in part, that if they’re not fully vaccinated by early October, “your childcare benefit for your son may be cancelled”.

I immediately called my doctor, who said they have definitely filed the correct paperwork with Centrelink’s Immunisation Register.


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“Give them a call and ask for a fax number, and we’ll send the documents again,” my doctor’s receptionist kindly suggested.

A simple request – but easier said than done.

To call Centrelink is to set aside any semblance of patience, dignity and self-respect. Because quite simply, their phone system is insane.

It leverages a ‘voice recognition’ technology that doesn’t entirely work. As in, it doesn’t work at all.

When I tried calling, it asked me what my call was regarding. Repeated requests for “childcare”, “vaccinations” and “childcare benefit” were met with the same infuriating reply: “Would you like a copy of your childcare benefit statement? If so, visit XYZ website. Was this helpful?”

“No.” Repeat the same process, again, and again, and again.

I tried other phrases: “Request fax number”. “Immunisation records”. “Update details”. I was asked if I’d like to file my tax return, or get more information about payment summaries?

After 20 maddening minutes, I hung up. I resolved to try again the next day. However when I tried again, the line was engaged. I called 7 times within an hour, and it was engaged every time! Apparently this is not uncommon: 42 million calls were met with an engaged signal last financial year. I then tried calling the complaint line, and after being on hold for 27 minutes, abandoned that mission too.

For a busy working parent just trying to sort out my kids’ childcare fees, this situation was frustrating.

But I can only imagine how mind-numbingly excruciating it would be to deal with this if you were in dire need. If your Newstart payment hadn’t come through for some reason, and you needed or pay rent, or put petrol in your car, or buy groceries.

This is seriously unacceptable. It’s time for the government to invest in chatbots and other tech-based resources that can help us navigate this system more easily, and rescue us all from the depths of Centrelink phone hell.

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