Centrelink | Help with Centrelink | Barwon Community Legal Service
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The content on this site is information only and is not legal advice. If you need legal advice please contact us.

Looking for help with Centrelink? You’ve come to the right place

Thousands of Australians depend upon Centrelink for support payments such as Family Tax Benefit, Disability Support Pension, unemployment benefits, assistance payments for children, and more. Each benefit has different eligibility requirements, as well as other obligations which you must meet once approved for a payment.

You need to understand your Centrelink rights and responsibilities, for example, what to do if you disagree with a Centrelink decision, or what happens if Centrelink decides it’s overpaid you and is trying to recover the money.

What is Centrelink?

Centrelink is part of the Services Australia branch of the Australian Government. It provides social security payments and other services and benefits to Australians who would experience financial hardship without additional Government support.

What’s the best way to contact Centrelink?

The best way to contact Centrelink is by phone, or to go to a service centre.

If you are phoning Centrelink, it’s essential to contact the specific department for your enquiry. It’s the best way to ensure you’re using your time efficiently. If you call the wrong department, Centrelink staff may be unable to help you. For example, if you need to confirm your employment income, you need to contact the Compliance Line. For any issues about the Disability Support Pension, Sickness Allowance or Mobility Allowance, you need to contact the People with a Disability Line.

For more information, see Centrelink’s list of different phone lines. If you’re uncertain which line you need, use the Find a Phone Number search function at the top of the page.

The Services Australia website provides contact information, including service centre locations.

If you have a MyGov account, you can use your account to make contact with Centrelink’s online services.

If you need to provide documents to Centrelink, the fastest and most effective way is to use your MyGov account, either on a desktop computer or with the MyGovID app for smart devices.

If you choose to use the MyGovID app to upload documents to your vault, it’s a good idea to contact Centrelink to advise that you have done so.

Depending on your circumstances, you can apply for different types of Centrelink payments, including:

  • Disability support pension
  • Aged pension
  • Carer’s pension
  • Austudy
  • Family Tax Benefit payments
  • Parenting payments
  • Youth allowance
  • JobSeeker
  • Childcare subsidy
  • Crisis payments
  • Parental leave pay

For more information, see Centrelink’s Guide to Australian Government Payments.

The Centrelink system is complicated. There are many types of payments and services, each with varying eligibility requirements.

Centrelink has a Payment and service finder, which is a good starting point if you’re unsure which payment or service is right for you.

Contact us for advice if:

  • You have questions about what information you need to provide to Centrelink to make an application for a payment or service
  • Centrelink has rejected your application for a payment or service

Once you’ve worked out which type of assistance is right for you, you can go online to the MyGov website to start your application.

MyGov is the Australian Government’s online portal (website) from which you can access Government online services including Centrelink, Medicare and the Australian Taxation Office.

You’ll need to provide certain documents with your application. Visit the Services Australia website for a description of the documents you will require, as well as a step-by-step guide for applications. This page will also give you instructions about what to do if you can’t apply online.

To make your application as easy as possible, it’s a good idea to check what documents you will need to provide before you start your application.

DSP applications often present problems for applicants because of the complicated requirements dealing with medical reports and evidence.

There are also other specific requirements for eligibility, including:

  • Where you live
  • Who you live with
  • Your income
  • Your assets

In assessing your medical conditions, Centrelink will consider:

  • Whether your condition is diagnosed, treated, and stabilised. (Stabilised means that after a doctor has diagnosed and treated your condition, it is unlikely to change within the next two years)
  • The functional impact of your condition and your level of impairment. (Functional impact refers to Centrelink’s system for working out how your medical condition affects you on a daily basis)
  • If you have a continuing inability to work. (Continuing inability to work means that your medical condition prevents you from working and prevents you from retraining for another area of employment. You would need to give Centrelink proof of your continuing inability to work)

In assessing your impairment, Centrelink uses a points system in which, you can accumulate points under certain tables, known as impairment tables. Different tables are used for different conditions. You need to score at least 20 points to be eligible for the DSP. You can score the points under one table, or many tables (if you have more than one condition).

If you don’t have a condition that totals 20 points under one impairment table, you must complete a program of support. The aim of the program is to help you  find work, or to maintain your current work. The program can include job search or retraining.

To be eligible for DSP, you must have participated in the program of support for at least 18 months in the three year period leading up to your DSP application.

Centrelink provides a tool to help you work out whether you’re eligible for the DSP.

If Centrelink rejects a DSP application, it’s usually because of at least one of the following reasons:

  • Lack of medical evidence
  • Poor quality evidence
  • Lack of understanding of the application process

Providing the right medical evidence is crucial for your DSP application. For more information, see DSP Help’s guide, Getting the right medical evidence

If Centrelink rejects your DSP application and you wish to appeal, you must do so within 13 weeks of being notified of the decision. Can I appeal a Centrelink decision?

We provide advice and representation for clients who:

  • Wish to apply for the DSP
  • Have general questions about the application process
  • Want to appeal a Centrelink decision regarding their DSP application

Contact us for free legal help.

The following resources provide excellent information about DSPs:

You can go online to find your nearest Centrelink office. Complete the form, and the Services Australia website will advise you.

If you can’t access the internet, contact us for more information about a Centrelink office near you.

Once you have made an application, Centrelink will look at the information you have provided and assess it based on the eligibility requirements. Eligibility requirements mean that you must meet specific conditions to qualify for a service or payment.

In most cases, Centrelink will also consider your circumstances, for example:

  • Your income
  • Your assets
  • How many dependents you support, for example, children under 18 years old
  • If your parents support you (for example, if you’re a tertiary student), their income and assets
  • Whether you’re single, married or in a relationship
  • Your partner’s income and assets
  • Your living situation

The eligibility requirements for each service or payment should be in the information accompanying the claim form. The eligibility requirements for each service or payment are different. To learn more, check the claim information, or contact us for help.

Take care if you’re applying for a Disability Support Pension (DSP). There are complex requirements for eligibility and medical evidence. For more information, see How do I apply for a Disability Support Pension?

If you receive a Centrelink payment or service, you must notify Centrelink of any relevant change in circumstances, usually within 14 days. Certain payments may have different timeframes for updating a change in circumstances, so you must check which time frame applies to you. If you’re not sure whether the change is relevant, contact us for more information.

Changes of circumstances include you or your partner’s:

  • Change of income
  • Change of living arrangements
  • Change in the number of dependents you support
  • Changes concerning employment or study
  • Changes to your relationship status
  • Change of address and other personal details

When Centrelink approved your application, it will have sent you a letter or other paperwork. You will find the relevant changes in circumstances listed on that document, or online.

Check to make sure you understand all the different changes that require notification for each payment or service you receive.

You can notify your change of circumstances via your MyGov account, or by contacting Centrelink.

If you fail to notify Centrelink of a relevant change within the required time, you may incur a Centrelink debt. In some situations, you also could be charged with a criminal offence for failing to update your change in circumstances. This can happen if you:

  • Provide false or misleading information to Centrelink; or
  • Receive a payment to which you’re not entitled; or
  • Receive a payment at a higher rate, knowing you’re not entitled to that rate

For more information about notifying a change of circumstances, visit the Services Australia website.

The way in which Centrelink processes some payments can change, depending on which payment you receive. If your application is approved, Centrelink will send you information about how much money you’ll receive, and whether any payments are backdated. The date from which you receive backdated payments can change depending on the payment and the circumstances.

Some payments also have waiting periods, for example, some student allowances. When applying, be sure to read all information carefully. This will help you understand:

  • How Centrelink will manage your payments
  • When you can expect your first payment
  • Your payment rate.

Contact us for more information about back payments.

There are many reasons why Centrelink may reject your application. One of the most common is that you haven’t provided the correct documents with your application. Often, if the documents are incorrect or insufficient, Centrelink will give you 14 days to fix the issue, after which time it may delay or reject your application. If this happens, you’ll have to sort out the problem or start the process again.

Visit the Services Australia website for more information about supporting documents for your Centrelink claim.

The other primary reason for rejection is that you don’t meet the eligibility requirements for a payment or service. Reasons include:

  • You earn more than the maximum income amount
  • Your assets are too high
  • You no longer have dependents
  • Other reasons

Centrelink rejects many Disability Support Pension (DSP) applications because of missing medical evidence, low-quality medical evidence, or confusion about the process.

For more information, see How do I apply for the Disability Support Pension (DSP)?

If Centrelink rejects your application, you will need to work out whether to appeal the decision. For more information, see Can I appeal a Centrelink decision?

We also recommend that you see us for advice. We can help you work out:

  • Reasons for rejection
  • Whether you can provide more information or should apply again
  • Whether you should consider appealing the decision

Centrelink makes a wide range of decisions, including:

  • Whether to approve an application for a service or payment
  • How much it will pay, or the service level it will provide
  • Whether it has overpaid you
  • Whether it will try to recover an overpayment from you

Sometimes Centrelink can take a long time to make a decision. Once a decision is made, you can request a copy if you haven’t already received it in writing. Centrelink then has 28 days to provide you with the written decision.

You can appeal a decision if you believe it’s wrong, unfair, or shouldn’t apply to you. In other words, you can ask Centrelink to reconsider its decision.

You can appeal any decision made by Centrelink.

As a first step, Centrelink encourages you to get in touch and discuss the decision, especially if you don’t understand it or agree with it. Sometimes, issues are resolved at this point, without the need to appeal.

If the issues aren’t resolved, you can apply to Centrelink for an internal review of the decision. You ask for a review by calling Centrelink, visiting a Service Centre, or completing a Review of Decision form online or on paper.

At first, Centrelink may assign your request for an internal review to the person who made the decision. If the issue is complicated, Centrelink may assign it to a Subject Matter Expert.

If you don’t agree with their review decision, you can ask for it to be reviewed again, this time by a Centrelink Authorised Review Officer (ARO). An ARO is a senior Centrelink officer who hasn’t previously had anything to do with your matter. You can ask for an ARO review by following the same steps listed above.

Usually, you have 13 weeks in which to appeal a decision about payment eligibility criteria or any decision in which your payments are stopped or reduced (either permanently or temporarily). It’s possible to request a review outside this time, but if your appeal is successful, you may not receive back pay.

Other payments may have different timeframes for appeal, so you must check which time frame applies to you.

If the decision concerns a Centrelink debt, there’s no time limit in which to appeal, even if you have fully repaid the debt.

If you aren’t satisfied with the outcome of the review, you can seek an external review of the decision by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT). Strict time limits apply, so we recommend that you seek legal advice before applying.

Appealing Centrelink decisions is a legal process. You’re entitled to legal help.

Some Centrelink decisions can have an enormous impact on you. When deciding to appeal, you should consider all possible outcomes, especially if you have a Centrelink debt.

Contact us for advice about your Centrelink issue. We can help you decide what to do next, including whether you should appeal the decision.

For more information, visit:

Centrelink debts can arise when you receive an overpayment, or you receive money to which you’re not entitled. Some reasons why this may happen are:

  • You didn’t advise Centrelink of a change in your circumstances within the required time
  • You under-reported or did not report your income
  • Centrelink made the payment because you gave false or misleading information
  • Centrelink made a mistake

If you agree that you owe a debt, you can enter into a repayment plan or ask Centrelink to place the debt on hold for 13 weeks. Speak to us about which option is best for you.

If you disagree that you owe the debt, you can appeal the decision. When you lodge your appeal, Centrelink must investigate further. It may result in a decrease in the debt amount, or, sometimes, an increase. When deciding to appeal, you should seek legal advice to make sure you understand all possible outcomes and consequences.

If you have a debt, but you haven’t yet done anything about it, Centrelink may engage a debt collector to recover the debt from you. You can negotiate a repayment plan with the debt collection agency if necessary. For more information about debt collectors, visit our page Debt and financial issues.

If the debt remains unpaid, or if Centrelink believes you have committed fraud, it may refer the debt for prosecution, which will make it a criminal matter.

If Centrelink claims that you owe a debt, seek legal advice as soon as possible. We provide free legal advice for Centrelink debts. We may be able to contact Centrelink on your behalf to try and resolve the issue.

You must seek legal advice before deciding what to do about a Centrelink debt. Contact us for help.

For more information, see Economic Justice Australia’s factsheet on Centrelink debts.

A robo-debt is an automated debt calculation system. From 2015 until 2019, Centrelink used it to calculate and check a person’s reported income with ATO data. It uses an income averaging system to do this. Where there’s a difference between the two, Centrelink says that the person owes a debt. This became known as a robo-debt.

The scheme has led to errors and problems because sometimes the income averaging system failed to reflect a person’s actual earnings.

Working out whether a debt is a robodebt has caused confusion for many people. Some examples of robodebts include:

  • Not confirming or updating your income during a specific period, even though Centrelink asked you to do so
  • Only providing some, but not all, necessary information about your income for a specific period, when asked by Centrelink to provide complete information

On the other hand, if Centrelink asked you to confirm or update your income during a specific period and you provided all the required information, the debt is probably not a robodebt.

In May 2020, the Australian Government announced that all robo-debts will be cancelled.

If Centrelink says that you owe a debt, seek legal advice as soon as possible.

If you have already paid a robo-debt, Centrelink may contact you to advise that it will be repaying the money.

Law firm Gordon Legal was conducting the Class Action for robo-debts which as of mid-November 2020, was settled. If you are a part of this robo-debt Class Action and have questions about what the settlement means for you, contact Gordon Legal. 

If you believe that you have a Robo-debt but it has not been cancelled by Centrelink or repaid, contact us to make an appointment to discuss your Centrelink debt.

For more information, see Economic Justice Australia’s robo-debt factsheet.

For more information about the impact of COVID-19 on your payments, services and ability to claim, visit Economic Justice Australia’s self-help resources.

How can Barwon Community Legal Service help me?

We can give you advice, help and representation at any stage of a Centrelink issue. However, we don’t advise about:

  • How to hide or break-up assets to avoid a reduced payment rate, or to avoid being ineligible for a payment or service (for example, the Aged Pension)
  • Disagreements between parents over shared care of children, in circumstances where either parent has a Centrelink debt. (For example, if the other parent claims the child wasn’t in their care at the time of payment.) These are family law issues. For more information, visit our Parenting page

We provide services for clients living in our catchment area, including Geelong, Barwon Region and Colac. If you live in or near Melbourne, please contact Social Security Rights Victoria or Victoria Legal Aid.

If you live in or near Ballarat or Bendigo, please contact your local community legal service.

Secure your Centrelink payments and services

We can help you find your way through the Centrelink maze.

Call us today

Last modified on April 29th, 2021 at 9:53 am

The content on this site is information only and is not legal advice. If you need legal advice please contact us.

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