Long waits on the phone for those seeking help from Sask. social services ministry

The Ministry of Social Services says it is responding to high call volumes but there is some disagreement on just how long the wait times are.

Ministry says average wait time is 15 minutes but others say it is 4 times longer

There are differing claims when it comes to how long the wait time is for people seeking social service assistance information over the phone. (File Photo)

The Ministry of Social Services says it is responding to high call volumes but there is some disagreement on just how long the wait times are.

Lynn Thera, with the YWCA in Regina, says people are waiting too long to get assistance.

"The wait time to talk to a social assistance worker is long — about an hour," said Thera, YWCA senior director of housing.

"It starts at 50 calls waiting — I think it used to be in the 30s. It is a slightly worse response time than in the past."

When CBC News called the social services client service centre's toll-free number at 3:30 p.m. CST on Tuesday afternoon, we started at 46 in the queue. Twenty minutes later we made it to 22 in the queue.

"When you think women are paying for minutes — it is a big problem. Many just hang up," Thera said.

Ministry says average wait time is 15 minutes

The ministry apologized for the inconvenience, saying the average wait-time is 15 minutes.

A spokesperson said at month-end and going into a new month, call volumes and wait times increase. 

"In response to these pressures, we have added additional staff during peak call times, cross-trained staff in multiple programs and [we have] invested in technology to enhance call handling," said a government spokesperson.

The ministry said calls made earlier in the day and mid-week have a better chance of getting through.

But Thera said that not only are the wait times long, the responses are also delayed.

These are individuals who should be actively looking for work, who are spending lengthy amounts of time on the phone just hoping to get through.- Nicole Rancourt, NDP critic for social services

"When women have concerns and leave phone messages for workers, policy states they will get response within 24 to 48 hours. Women are waiting up to a week to hear back from a worker," she said.

"We are unsure why there is drastic change in [that area] but there are considerable issues with the processes at this time. Numbers of homeless women are very high," Thera said.

Up to 2.5 hour wait, says NDP critic

The NDP's critic for social services, Nicole Rancourt, said the problem is not a new one. She said she has heard complaints in the past it can take more than two hours to reach a staff member.

Rancourt said people seeking income assistance cannot afford to be sitting on hold.

"These are individuals who should be actively looking for work, who are spending lengthy amounts of time on the phone just hoping to get through," she said.

Rancourt said she hopes the government is taking the issue seriously but said she's worried it could be exacerbated if there are cuts in the upcoming budget.

"I do hope the public service cuts the government is talking about is not going to further impact these individuals accessing these services," Rancourt said.

The ministry said people seeking the Saskatchewan assured income disability program, or SAID, can walk into a ministry office to apply in person.

It encouraged existing clients to utilize email for faster service.

"We urge existing clients to ask their worker about how to begin communication by email," a ministry spokesperson said.

About the Author

Adam Hunter

Journalist

Adam Hunter is the Provincial Affairs reporter at CBC Saskatchewan, based in Regina. He has been with CBC for 11 years. He hosts the CBC podcast 'On the Ledge'. Follow him on Twitter @AHiddyCBC. Contact him: adam.hunter@cbc.ca