The Caroline Chisholm Centre at Tuggeranong... where Kathryn Campbell, Secretary of the Department of Human Services (inset), maintains one of three offices in Canberra.

The Caroline Chisholm Centre at Tuggeranong... where Kathryn Campbell, secretary of the Department of Human Services (inset), maintains one of three offices in Canberra.

Centrelink's national boss has three offices for her own use in three separate Canberra buildings, while the organisation cannot afford enough workers to answer its phones.

Two of the offices reserved by Department of Human Services secretary Kathryn Campbell are just 800 metres apart in Canberra's southern suburbs.

Ms Campbell and 480 elite public servants of her department are based at the department's new $103 million headquarters in leafy Forrest in the capital's inner-south, a short walk from Parliament House.

But most of the department's 5000 Canberra-based public servants, who also run Medicare and the Child Support Agency, work 20 kilometres south of Forrest, occupying six buildings in Tuggeranong.

One of Ms Campbell's offices, in the new $38 million Louisa Lawson House in Tuggeranong, is rarely used but features a private bathroom and kitchen with a dedicated car parking space on-site.

Another suite at the department's Caroline Chisolm Centre, about 800m away, is designated as a "visiting office" for the secretary and other staff, according to a departmental spokeswoman who was unable to provide the cost of the fit-outs to Ms Campbell's offices.

The department is in the grip of a customer service crisis: staff at Centrelink call centres take up to 16 minutes to answer telephones, according to official figures, but waiting times of 90 minutes are not uncommon.

Tens of thousands of welfare cases are waiting months for review.

Some routine case reviews have been on hold for nine months while the department has axed 800 temporary call centre jobs, and another 400 are to also go in the next several weeks after the department said it could not afford to go on paying the temporary workers.

A departmental spokeswoman defended the property arrangements, saying Ms Campbell and her senior staff needed to be near the seat of power.

"The department has had a site in the parliamentary precinct since it was formed in 2004," the spokeswoman said.

"This ensures the secretary and other staff are in close proximity to Parliament House and other central departments.

"The secretary's role requires essential business in both the parliamentary and Tuggeranong precincts.

"Having a base in both regions ensures the secretary can progress work from any of the hubs with senior executive staff as required."

The spokeswoman said the department had been successful in bringing most of its Canberra-based workers, who had been scattered across the city, closer together.

"Since the merge of Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support into one department in 2011, the stated aim was always to have 90 per cent of Canberra-based staff located in the Tuggeranong town centre precinct," she said.

"This has now been achieved a month ahead of schedule."