ACNC puts charities on hold
21 October 2019 at 4:55 pm
The regulator says a major IT upgrade is to blame for a blowout in call waiting times
The average wait time for the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission to answer a phone inquiry has risen from 38 seconds to seven minutes over the past year, the watchdog’s annual report has revealed.
Commissioner Dr Gary Johns told Pro Bono News the ACNC’s transition to a new IT system last year had caused a major increase in demand for help logging into the new Charity Portal.
“Despite putting initiatives in place to make the transition to the new systems as smooth as possible, there was unprecedented demand on our advice phone line,” Johns said.
“[But] our systems are now better equipped to manage increased load and we have implemented [strategies] to try to meet the four minute service standard for answering calls.”
Johns said he did not anticipate such a volume of demand again, as users of the Charity Portal were now transitioned to the new systems.
But this drop in service standards has been criticised by Community Council for Australia CEO David Crosbie, who said this showed a level of mismanagement.
He criticised Johns for permanently removing the assistant commissioner position that was previously responsible for areas including advice services.
“Since that position was abolished, it is hardly surprising that performance has reduced,” Crosbie told Pro Bono News.
“Even then, to see average wait times to answer the phone blow out from 38 seconds to seven minutes is just straight management incompetence. Surely someone could see the problem and allocate more resources in that area?”
Crosbie said results overall from the annual report were “mixed”.
While he praised the commission for processing 96 per cent of all charity applications within 15 days, he said there had been limited work towards the ACNC’s Charity Passport initiative.
The report said the Charity Passport – an online tool allowing government departments to access charity data directly from the ACNC – contained 72 active accounts across 20 government agencies by the end of the financial year.
“For many of us, this was one of the strongest reasons for supporting the establishment of the ACNC and for all charities being prepared to provide additional information on an annual basis,” Crosbie said.
“We wanted our information to be provided once and used across many agencies, not duplicated in hundreds of different ways by individual government departments and regulatory authorities.”
Crosbie said early progress made on advancing the Charity Passport seemed to have stalled.
“The charities passport should be one of the highest priorities for the ACNC and be much more widely promoted and adopted by all levels of government,” he said.
Despite this criticism, the report said that duplicated reporting requirements had been removed in multiple states and territories, with major new measures recently put in place in the Northern Territory.
The ACNC was overall able to meet six of its 12 performance criteria over the past year, with two targets partially met and four not met.
The targets that were met include redesigning the charity register, giving accurate advice, and implementing a data integrity strategy to monitor the financial information of charities.
Difficulties with the IT system upgrade was cited as the main reason for failing to meet four targets around service standards and annual reporting deadlines.
The report noted that projects to make charity data more visible and accessible will be a strong focus for the ACNC in the year ahead.