Asking for a receipt number for every call you make to Centrelink is important for accountability, and it’s also a very common recommendation that Centrelink make themselves.
But we hear from too many people who say that Centrelink workers have refused to provide them with receipt numbers, especially over the phone.
After chatting with one of our volunteers who has callcentre experience, we’ve decided to put together an “escalation procedure” to use if this happens to you.
This is a rough guide to the options you have when you need to compel Centrelink to do their jobs correctly and provide you with a receipt number.
This should be the last thing you do before the call ends.
There are 8 steps in all, but if you even get to step 6 we’d be very surprised.
You can do this!
Step 1) Always write down the name of the operator and the exact date, time and length of your call
Operators should greet you with their name when they take the call. Don’t worry if you forgot the name or didn’t hear it clearly, you can ask them to repeat it at any time.
If the operator hangs up on you at any point in the steps that follow, this information is your only reference — but call logs can be looked up by time and operator name.
Calls really are recorded for “quality purposes”, and staff are expected to stick to procedures.
If you get hung up on at any point — jump to step 7.
Step 2) Remain calm
It’s very tempting to get angry here, but keep your cool.
Being recorded for “quality purposes” bites both ways, so keep it professional — especially if the operator is not.
It is best not to assume malice if it could just be incompetence.
Bear in mind that while this work used to only be done by trained public servants, the government has outsourced call centre work to third party contractors who have an incentive to “save on costs” like… training.
In addition, contractors are paid much less than public servants.
You pay peanuts, you get monkeys.
Of course, they may just be an arsehole. But either way — keep it together.
Step 3) Ask calmly why they can’t
If they say they cannot provide the reference number, ask why they can’t.
There may actually be a reason, although really the only legit one is some variation of “the computers are down at the moment”.
If that’s the case, ask if they will be writing “case notes” on your file relating to this call once the system is working again, and write that down.
If they give you a different reason, write it down.
But don’t challenge it: there’s no point at this stage.
Step 4) Ask to speak to the operator’s manager
“I’d like to speak to your manager now please.”
At this point the operator may become worried, angry (see step 2), or even hang up (see step 1).
A smart operator may reconsider offering you the receipt number at this point, so ask again.
They’ll probably want to know why you want to speak to their manager.
Make it clear that it is because providing a receipt number is standard practice but they are refusing.
Step 5) Stay on target
Call centre staff are trained to “take control of the call” — to set the direction of the conversation, keep it focused on topics they can help with, to get all of the relevant information — and to filter out bad information by changing the subject.
Asking for a manager will be way off the script that they thought this phonecall would follow. To deal with this, the staff member may re-hash your issue or attempt to distract you in some other way.
Stay on target and calmly repeat your request for a manager. Say you are willing to wait.
Step 6) Explain, and ask the Manager for the receipt number
Explain the situation as you see it to the Manager, and ask for the receipt number again.
If you get as far as speaking to a manager and they refuse to provide a receipt number, that would be… quite unusual.
But if this does happen, remember: there is a Centrelink protocol for providing receipt numbers. It’s not public, but it exists.
Ask the Manager to check their manual, and refer to the protocol by its “operational guide number”:
111-05040020 — Issuing and viewing receipt numbers.
After all this, if they still refuse to provide a receipt number (and their explanation for why makes no sense to you) proceed to the next step.
Step 7) Make a complaint.
Ask to be transferred to the Complaints and Feedback line so that you can make a complaint. This will avoid receiving a busy tone again, unless you got hung up on.
Any time you want to make a complaint, make sure you actually use the word “complaint” — like, “I want to make a complaint”.
If you don’t use the right magic word your complaint will likely be filed as a “suggestion” — this is how they can, with straight faces, claim that Centrelink don’t get many complaints!
Provide them with the information you gathered in step 2 so that they can investigate your issue for you.
Ask them to review the call audio record.
After you have complained, you can ask for a receipt number.
(Repeat steps 3 to 6 if they aren’t willing to provide one — this level of misbehaviour is unheard of, but be aware it’s an option).
Step 8) The Nuclear Option - Freedom of Information request
As Centrelink is a government entity, they are bound by Freedom of Information laws and you can make such a request. This is a long process.
Almost nobody should need to get this far into this guide, but it’s important to have up your sleeve in case NOBODY is willing to provide you with a receipt number (and their explanations don’t make any sense to you and a friend), &/or a particularly worrysome call happens (we’re talking really bad behaviour here, like stuff that warrants media attention, outright lies, personal insults, threats, etc).
Send an email to FOI.LEGAL.TEAM [at] humanservices.gov.au with the information you gathered in Step 2, along with your full name, the phone number you called from, and your Customer Reference Number (CRN).
Request that they provide you with the recording made of your telephone call with operator ______ at _______ time for the duration of _____ minutes on date ________ (see step 2), and ask for it to be provided as a compressed audio file via email. You can also ask for any call logs, transfers, and other electronic and paper records relating to the specified call.
Centrelink do not specify how long they keep their calls for, but when the FOI Department get your email they will contact the relevant section to ensure that the records are saved, so sooner is better than later.
A FOI decision can take up to 30 days, and may require a small fee (could be labelled a “retrieval charge” or somesuch; if this happens you can ask for it to be waived).
But if the behaviour is serious enough, you may receive an audio copy of Centrelink’s bad behaviour that you can share with the world.