Seniors are having to wait more than 43 minutes on average to get through to the Centrelink Older Australians line - that's double the average for the 2021/22 financial year.
The blowout in call wait times is mirrored across all Centrelink departments with it taking 48.34 minutes to get through to disabilities, sickness and carers, 53.26 for employment and 56.26 for families and parenting.
According to information provided by Services Australia during Senate Estimates in October 2023, Centrelink would also appear to have dropped the ball on the time taken to approve applications. The average time taken to approve the age pension almost doubled from 33 days in 2021/22 to 61 days in the financial year to August 2023.
This has left some frustrated retirees struggling financially and dipping into savings and superannuation to make ends meet.
The average time to approve the disability support pension went from 46 to 80 days and the carers payment from 45 to 52.
The phone wait and application processing times has resulted in only 74 per cent of customers reporting a satisfactory timely service.
The crisis at Services Australia has prompted Government Services minister Bill Shorten to promise $228 million of taxpayer's money to hire 3000 more public servants.
The 3000 new recruits will work in smart centres in capital cities and regional centres, including Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour in NSW, Toowoomba and Maryborough in Queensland, and Ballarat and LaTrobe Valley in Victoria. Recruitment has started, with more than 800 people already accepting jobs and starting the onboarding process.
"The new staff will be critical to reducing call wait times, speeding up claim payments and giving Australians back some time in their busy lives," said Mr Shorten who blamed the previous government for letting staff levels at Centrelink get so low.
Shadow Minister for Government Services Paul Fletcher said the staffing announcement reeked of desperation from an underperforming Minister.
"Whether it be spiralling NDIS costs or the surging wait times at Services Australia, Bill Shorten has failed to get a grip on his own portfolios," Mr Fletcher said.
A Combined Pensioners and Superannuants spokesperson said the phone wait time figures ignored those customers who received a congestion message that dumped them out of the call queue, advising them to use online services instead.
She said around nine million callers received a congestion message last year which meant if you called again during a high volume call period, the system would often recognise the number and would categorise you as a repeat caller and in many cases, drop your call.
"Many services can be accessed online through MyGov, but for some that isn't an option. Not all of us live close to a service center or have the means to travel. Many have a hard time using online services, or have accessibility needs that mean telephone contact is a necessity.
"As always, it's the people who most need Government services that have the hardest time accessing them.
Services Australia General Manager Hank Jongen apologised to anyone waiting longer than they should be and asked customers to let Services Australia know if they are in hardship.
Services Australia processes millions of claims a year, and we work hard to do these as quickly as possible.
"In the 2022-23 financial year, we processed 3.6 million Centrelink claims. As of October 31, these claims took an average of 34 days to process."
Mr Jongen said processing timeframes varied depending on the payment type and complexity of the claim.
"The new staff we're training will help free up our experienced staff to assist with more complex claims, which includes Age Pension claims."
Mr Jongen encouraged people to keep an eye on their Centrelink online accounts through myGov for any outstanding task and letters. "That's where we let people know if we're waiting for further information, including supporting documents, to finalise their claim."
Customers may still be able to claim a refund under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme when their new concession card is issued.
The Patient claim for refund Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) form (PB132) is on the Services Australia website here.