The Department of Human Services hasn’t released specific numbers to back its claim that a lack of customers was responsible for the closure of its Warrawong Centrelink office, but says foot traffic has fallen 30 per cent over the past three years.
It was revealed earlier this week that operations at the Warrawong Service Centre, which offers face-to-face Centrelink and Medicare assistance, would be consolidated into the Wollongong office from the end of July.
No jobs will be lost, but the closure has sparked anger among residents – many living in the Illawarra’s most disadvantaged areas – who use the Warrawong centre.
The Mercury asked the department to provide data to show the decline in foot traffic over recent years. In response, its general manager, Hank Jongen, reiterated his previous comment: “Providing services to the community is the department’s priority and the consolidation of services, skills and staff in the region will ensure a better customer experience.”
However, Mr Jongen revealed there had been a more than 30 per cent decrease in foot traffic at the Warrawong office in three years between 2015-16 and 2017-18, partly due to the increased uptake of digital services.
The closure announcement comes after millions of dollars were spent on full refurbishments of the department’s buildings in Wollongong and Shellharbour.
The cost of both upgrades in 2017 were $1.9 million and $1.2 million, respectively.
In addition to the renovations, the department also completed two refurbishment projects at a call and processing centre in Wollongong during 2017, worth a total of $3.3 million.
Cunningham MP Sharon Bird didn’t begrudge cash being splashed on government buildings, saying services everywhere were “under pressure”, but stressed the spending shouldn’t be “at the expense of a service in the middle of one of the most disadvantaged areas”.
Mr Jongen said the department had an ongoing program of maintaining and upgrading its properties “to ensure they are fit for purpose for customers and staff”.