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Ombudsperson investigative update finds call wait times for most vulnerable still too long

Friday, February 14, 2020

Victoria – Income and disability assistance recipients are still not getting the timely service they need when using the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction’s telephone system, according to the BC Ombudsperson who released a monitoring update today to his 2018 report, Holding Pattern: Call Wait Times for Income and Disability Assistance. The update highlights that between April and October 2019 the ministry met its timeliness targets of 80% of calls answered in 10 minutes or less only one-third of the time.

“I am disheartened that after more than 18 months, as well as a budget increase for the ministry to address this problem, people are still having to wait too long to get through to someone who can help them with issues related to income assistance for shelter and food,” said Ombudsperson Jay Chalke. “People on income assistance are often using other peoples’ phones to call or have very limited incomes to pay for cell service, so timeliness takes on a greater significance,” Chalke said adding the government committed $6 million over three years in the 2018 provincial budget to improve service at the provincial call centre.

In his 2018 investigation, the Ombudsperson found significant problems with the ministry’s telephone system which handles approximately 125,000 calls per month. The report found that call wait times at the ministry’s provincial contact centre were chronically and consistently unreasonably long with some people waiting 1.5 hours to make contact with staff. The report found the call centre was not sufficiently staffed, mitigation strategies created further delays, and there were no timeliness standards in place for in-person service. The report made nine recommendations for improvements, only four of which have been implemented to date. For some of the recommendations containing timeliness targets, the ministry substituted different targets than the Ombudsperson recommended but then failed to meet even its own timelines.

“We have seen some progress by the ministry about transparency including implementation of our recommendation to post the daily average of speed of answer and the daily longest call wait times on the ministry’s website,” said Chalke. “While this is positive, when we look at the numbers, we still see unacceptable wait times. This simply isn’t good enough. The ministry declined to adopt the target we recommended and substituted its own target and even that it couldn’t meet,” said Chalke adding he is also concerned that service standards have still not been put into place for in-person service. The Ombudsperson will continue to monitor these recommendations and will further report on progress.