Centrelink office staff overworked and fearing for their safety

INCIDENT: A duress alarm was activated at Orange's Centrelink office.
INCIDENT: A duress alarm was activated at Orange's Centrelink office.

As Centrelink workers deal with the fallout of the controversial debt clawback letters, it’s been revealed staff in the Orange office often fear for their safety.

Last week, police officers from Canobolas Local Area Command attended the Anson Street office after a duress alarm was activated.

Inspector Linda Bradbury said the alarm was activated after a verbally abusive client left the office on Tuesday.

The woman at the centre of the incident has since been banned form entering the office.

A man speaking on the condition of anonymity told the Central Western Daily staff had raised concerns about their safety when serving clients or walking to their cars after work.

He said staff were also struggling to deal with the amount of work demanded by Centrelink.

Community and Public Sector Union assistant national secretary Michael Tull said the 40 staff at Orange’s Centrelink office were under incredible pressure due to job and budget cuts which had bitten into the agency’s resources.

“There’s not enough staff to work on the existing demand, now this debt controversy, pension changes plus changes to Medicare processing means more work,” Mr Tull said.

“Customers want better service and staff want to deliver better service. What’s standing in the way is a government determined to cut public sector jobs.”

According to Mr Tull there were 30 million phone calls to Centrelink which went unanswered in 2016.

He said the pressure on staff had only increased since nearly 170,000 letters were sent demanding people repay money to Centrelink.

“The minister’s own figures say one in five of those letters is wrong. This is part of the problem, an automated system done for cheap,” he said.

“Centrelink has done data matching against tax returns for a long time and now it’s automated. 

“The government says that they’re not trying to frighten people but … for many people getting a letter from Centrelink demanding up to hundreds or thousands of dollars is a huge worry, when that happens, people’s first response is to try and get on to Centrelink and this is where the problem starts.”

The Department of Human Services was contacted for comment but did not provide a response at the time of going to print.