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Don't call us: Centrelink bosses remove phone numbers and email from directory

Top Centrelink bosses have hung up on the public, putting their office phone numbers and email addresses under wraps.

The move came after one customer of the welfare agency went public with how he bypassed Centrelink's notorious customer service system to contact high ranking public servants directly.

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University student Tom Wade spent an hour on the phone to Centrelink and got nowhere with his issue. So, he went up the chain of command, and here's how he did it.

But Centrelink's parent department, Human Services, says it is œ"not practical" for its senior bureaucrats to take phone calls from members of the public.

Melbourne university student Tom Wade struck a note with the public in January when he shared his simple formula for getting through to Centrelink by using the Australian Government Directory to take his issues directly to senior officials.

But since Mr Wade told his story to Fairfax, Human Services' top public servants, who are also responsible for Medicare and Child Support Agency customer service, have quietly removed their office phone numbers and email addresses from the government directory.

Mr Wade described the changes to the directory as "almost an admission of guilt" over the department's customer service record.

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DHS spokesman Hank Jongen indicated that all 167 of DHS's elite senior executive public servants had now gone ex-directory.

We're not going ex-directory. Tell us what you think ps@canberratimes.com.au

Only 40 million of the 62 million attempts to contact Centrelink by phone in the 2014-2015 financial year were "successful", meaning the agency answered 4 million fewer calls than it managed the previous year.

The agency's aim is to move as many transactions as possible onto its websites and mobile apps, where they are much cheaper to conduct, and away from face-to-face interactions.

Mr Jongen, who has also removed his own contact details from the directory, confirmed that a general Canberra switchboard number was all that was available now to the public.

"The Department has recently updated its Government Online Directory listings with a general switchboard landline number," Mr Jongen said.

"This is to ensure contact with the department's SES is consistent across the organisation.

"As a large service delivery organisation, the Department touches the lives of almost every Australian through the delivery of health and welfare payments and services.

"It is not practical for customers to directly contact individual officers in the Department."

Mr Jongen said that members of the public might still get through to senior departmental officials, if they could get past the switchboard.

"Our switchboard staff have received training to assist them to connect customers with the correct area to handle their query or complaint," he said.

"Where appropriate to do so, switchboard staff will still connect callers directly to relevant senior executive staff."

But Mr Wade was scathing of the move, saying it indicated senior DHS officials thought they were above speaking to members of the public.

"It could almost be seen as an admission of guilt to all the recent publications about them needing to step up their service," he said.

"The department should probably keep in mind they are public servants and at some point, even the executives will have to deal with the public, who they serve.

"It sends a pretty negative message, it means they feel the executives are above dealing with the everyday stakeholders of the department.

"It seems like a bit of a reactive solution to my story and the recent outcry for them to fix up their processes, but unfortunately, with everything I've seen and experienced with this department, it feels very in line with their whole approach to customer service."

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