It’s like Uber, but for welfare.


That could be what Centrelink customers hear in the future as the behemoth government department searches for ways to make it easier for people to get payments.

Systems design expert John Body believes disruptive technologies will be the way to transform people’s interaction with government.

At the moment, many people find dealing with Centrelink, Medicare or other parts of the Department of Human Services a frustrating experience.

“If you are trying to do something in a system and it fits within the system … then it will be beautiful, it’ll just work,” Mr Body, founding partner of ThinkPlace, tells AAP.

“As soon as you become non-standard, it’s a problem.”

As governments put in place rules to highly-target welfare payments, the system becomes more complex and there are more grey areas where people aren’t sure whether they fit.

Mr Body says this is further complicated by other events going on in a person’s life that trigger their need to get in touch with Centrelink.

For example, someone retiring will be trying to transition out of their career, maybe move house, and get lifestyle and financial advice as well as sort out whether they’re eligible for a pension.

Centrelink has been plagued with complaints about its customer service, with its phone wait times blowing out and nearly a third of all callers hanging up unanswered.

The government is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to upgrade its phone and computer systems.

But Mr Body says it’s possible to improve customer experience and save money.

His company recently worked with NSW Roads and Maritime Services to get more of its customers online.

Since people didn’t have to get in touch with the department as often they had a better experience – and the government saved $20 million.

“The breakthrough’s going to have to come from some disruptive, highly user-based, user-centric technologies that tip the whole paradigm of social welfare payments on its head,” Mr Body tells AAP.

“Imagine social welfare payments were somehow in this virtual, contractual arrangement, fraud could be immediately detected and money could just easily move to the right people.

“That’s a really different system.”

It won’t be easy – otherwise it would already be done, he warns.

Just as the entry of ride-share service Uber and accommodation site Airbnb have upset existing industry players, there are vested interests within government that won’t like change.

But Mr Body believes the end result could make the frustrations of dealing Centrelink a thing of the past.

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