DSS procurement for DV campaign gets tick from auditor

The Department of Social Services has been given a tick by the national audit office for its 1800RESPECT domestic violence support and counselling program.

Auditor-General Grant Hehir

The audit considered a $200 million, 5-year contract awarded to Telstra Health by DSS for a new provider to deliver the 24-hour phone and online counselling service previously provided by Medibank Health Solutions.

The program, which has cost $246.8 million since 2010 when it was established, has seen calls increase from 11,000 in its first year of operation to almost 224,000 in the last financial year.

Auditor General Grant Hehir concluded that the transition between service providers was appropriately managed and that the procurement was effective and had the potential to achieve value for money.

“The department’s 2020 to 2022 procurement of counselling and support services provided through 1800RESPECT was effective and has the potential to achieve value for money when the performance management framework is fully implemented and an evaluation strategy and plan are developed,” the ANAO report says.

Source: ANAO (‘Calls offered’ refers to calls made to the service)

Lessons learned

The report says the two-stage procurement process was informed by lessons learned from previous reviews, particularly in relation to the sustainability of the service.

In particular it notes changes in the new contract including a pricing model that better matches the nature of the service provided, as well as better training and support for counsellors, enhanced governance, improved service infrastructure and additional service channels through SMS and video calls.

Previously MHS was funded on a cost per contact basis, with a unit price set for each call or online counselling session regardless of duration.

This failed to account for callers with complex issues, and exposed the department to risks because the same amount of resources were allocated for both short and long sessions, the report said.

In his main criticism, Mr Hehir’s noted the absence of arrangements for performance management and evaluation suggested this area could do with more work.

In a response to the audit office, DSS secretary Ray Griggs said DSS agreed to the recommendation to develop plan to assess the performance of 1800RESPECT and noted that the department had developed a draft evaluation strategy.

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