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Centrelink's IT meltdown hits the disability pension

Centrelink's tech troubles have now hit the $17 billion disability pension scheme with doctors unable to submit health reports on claimants because of a malfunctioning government web portal.

More than 800,000 Australians are being paid disability pensions of about $800 a fortnight.
More than 800,000 Australians are being paid disability pensions of about $800 a fortnight. Photo: Bradley Kanaris

Now medical workers around the country have been told they can abandon the portal, which has had "stability issues" for months, and submit their medical reports through a new system which has been rushed into place.

Despite the portal not working reliably for months, Centrelink's parent department Human Services says its contingency plan will ensure that claims will continue to be processed but did not answer questions on Monday about how many clients had been affected.

The problem has come to light in the wake of weeks of disruption to Centrelink's main websites, used by millions of Australians to manage their payments and report their working activities.

Centrelink was forced this month to apologise after weeks of "intermittent issues" left clients unable to log onto their accounts.

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The department refuses to say what exactly has gone wrong with its web systems but an insider alleges that the entry point server is now too small to handle the volume of traffic and the complexity of transactions supposed to go through it.

More than 800,000 Australians are being paid disability pensions of about $800-a-fortnight at a total annual cost of about $17 billion but reforms introduced in the 2014 budget have made DSP tougher to obtain and further crackdowns look likely with ministers singling out the payments as a potential target.

Many of those claiming the pension now need a government-appointed, rather than a GP of their own choosing, to certify their disability in a move designed to end "doctor shopping" by claimants.

Do you know more? ps@canberratimes.com.au

But the website problems have thrown a spanner in the works of the government-appointed doctor system with medicos working on the scheme told last week that the Department of Human Services had been forced to replace the malfunctioning portal.

"Due to the ongoing stability issues with the portal, both DMAS (Disability Medical Assessment Services) and the Department of Human Services have been working though contingency measures to support the ongoing delivery of assessments and reports submissions," doctors were told in an official email.

"Government-contracted doctors will now have the option to complete and submit reports back to DHS using alternative secure channels."

The medicos were warned not to submit hand-written reports on the new system.

A Human Services spokesman told Fairfax that his department was still investigating the problem.

"The department is investigating some intermittent issues with the Disability Medical Assessment Referral System," the spokesman said.

"Not all Disability Support Pension claims are required to be referred for a Disability Medical Assessment.

"For example, claims assessed as manifest (clearly and obviously medically eligible) or those which do not meet certain criteria, are not referred.

"For those claims which are referred, arrangements are in place to ensure that scheduled assessments for customers are not disrupted.

"Government-contracted doctors conducting DMAs are still able to submit assessment reports to the Department via other channels.

"Referrals for new DMAs are also being managed using existing processes."

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