Fast relief: Centrelink delivers instant payments via NPP

Centrelink has successfully fast-tracked welfare payments through the new payments platform (NPP), allowing the welfare agency to dispense funds in real-time.

After a successful six-month trial on the fast payments network, which included $2.2 million in emergency response funds processed during the Townsville floods, the welfare agency was able to slash payment transfer times from two days to just seconds.

Minister for Human Services and Digital Transformation Michael Keenan acknowledged the stress faced by citizens in waiting for payments to process through the banks' existing clearing and settlement system. 

“Previously, if you needed help late in the day or over the weekend, factors beyond my department’s control could see several days pass before payments were processed by an individual’s bank. That is no longer the case,” Keenan said.

The NPP provides the underlying architecture for near-real-time clearing, settlements and money transfer. Since its launch in February last year, the NPP has resulted in a significant reduction in payments transfer times – from upwards of five business days to near-instant receipts.

The success of the trial could spell a significant change in the way the Centrelink dispenses payments, particularly for the immediate needs of disaster relief and emergency welfare. More than $170 billion in social security and welfare payments were processed in the 2017-2018 financial year, expected to grow to more than $190 billion in 2020.

Previously, the welfare agency resorted to cash or cheque payments for disaster relief operations.

Technology news publisher ITNews said the use of NPP by the welfare agency will help to reduce the lengthy wait times associated with banks’ legacy batch file processing systems – “a source of irritation for consumers and businesses for decades”.

“The ability to distribute immediate financial assistance to people fleeing violence, especially women, is regarded as an urgent upgrade because it can provide a circuit breaker when a lack of available funds, or the certainty they can be delivered can swing personal decisions,” it said.

Already, upwards of $5 million has reportedly been transferred by The Department of Human Services through the NPP.