The Department of Human Services has defended the performance of its self-service applications for mobile devices in the midst of accusations by clients that its Express Plus App is so bad and buggy that malfunctions have caused some customers to have their benefits stopped.
Government News first revealed earlier this week a growing backlash among DHS clients who claim they have experienced a slew problems with the government-issued job seekers app, including complaints that the software did not allow them to report changes in their employment status or income, in turn triggering payments problems.
Many users also slammed DHS’ Express App for constantly crashing, presenting confusing error messages, being difficult to log into and being unable to accept photographs of documents needed to obtain benefits.
The Express App, which has designed and built in-house by DHS, is made available for free to DHS clients consists of a suite eight smaller sub-apps including one for job seekers, families, parents entitled to child support, students and Medicare clients.
Primarily intended to cut down cumbersome paperwork for Human Services’ clients, the digital solution also takes pressure off the massive agency by allowing customers to bypass lodging forms at government offices or via the post.
Human Services’ General Manager Hank Jongen told Government News he was “not aware of instances where using the Express Plus app has prevented a customer being paid”.
“If such a circumstance arose, we would expect the customer to report it,” Mr Jongen said.
He added that apps sometimes did not work due to “a number of factors outside the department’s control”, which included mobile network availability from the customer’s service provider, the age and model of the customer’s smartphone and the speed of wi fi connections.
Human Services similarly countered that it “constantly monitored” the performance of its apps, which included responding to feedback on iTunes.
“We treat this review process very seriously, which we use to help inform regular upgrades,” Mr Jongen said.
The welfare juggernaut also appears confident that the download numbers speak for themselves.
“There have been 3.7 million downloads of the apps and more than 36 million transactions have been completed through them,” Mr Jongen said.
“Recent innovations include combining the functions and tools from the existing Families, Job Seekers, Students and Seniors apps into one standalone Express Plus Centrelink app.”
Mr Jongen said he encouraged customers to check the DHS website or the app store to confirm their mobile operating system was supported before downloading the apps.
“However, if there is a pattern of feedback around a particular function, we investigate this and take action if necessary,” he said.
Since Government News’ original story two people have left feedback claiming that the behemoth Department’s digital strategy is failing some of its clients and leading to hardship.
One lady, who was trying to navigate Centrelink on behalf of her daughter – a student with a disability – said that she was continually locked out by the MyGov website and could not upload the form her daughter needed, resulting in her payments being stopped.
“Her payment was stopped because she didn’t provide a form in December that is not available until March when uni returns,” she said.
“My daughter has a disability and is in tears after a “Centrelink day” because that’s a minimum of how long it takes and it’s still not fixed. [Despite] many hours negotiating with Centrelink, the MyGov site and uni admin we are no better off.”
She said she fared no better after contacting Centrelink by phone.
“The person just argued when I told her how hard it was for a person with a disability to negotiate such abysmal and alienating services and disagreed with the devastating impact it was having on my daughter’s health and wellbeing. How she could argue that I’ll never know!
“Meanwhile the payment is discontinued, my daughter is upset and highly anxious, I am frustrated and really angry and we are no better off.”
One Newstart client told Government News that her payments were stopped after a litany of errors by Centrelink, some of which were electronic, some human.
She said it began when a Centrelink officer failed to note that she had attended her interview but got worse when emails to her from Centrelink were buried at the bottom of her inbox after being dated in the 1970s. She discovered them by chance during an email clean out but by then it was too late.
“I was due to receive an immediate payment of $300 but because I failed to report I did not get this. On my Government website and Centrelink website it says in bold that my next report date is July 2013,” she said.
“How could I have attended the reporting date when all information from Centrelink is inaccurate? I am in the middle of waiting for a Job Capacity Assessment as I have a disability and as a result of missing out on my immediate payment I am unable to pay my rent or buy food.”
Human Services said that most problems could be addressed by viewing the troubleshooting guide available on the Centrelink website. If this did not work it encouraged customers to phone technical support on 132 307.
With Julian Bajkowski
Comment below to have your say on this story.
If you have a news story or tip-off, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sign up to the Government News newsletter