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Challenging a Centrelink decision

Challenging a Centrelink decision

Last updated: August 2019

If you are unhappy about a Centrelink decision that affects you, you have the right to know the reasons for the decision and can have the decision reviewed.

Centrelink does not discriminate against customers who exercise their right of appeal.

What are my rights under social security law?

You have the right to:

  • receive written reasons for any decision that Centrelink makes about you or your payment
  • appeal any Centrelink decision that you believe is wrong
  • obtain copies of the law or policy which Centrelink used in making its decision
  • obtain a copy of your social security file under Freedom of Information laws.

What kinds of decisions can I challenge?

The Social Security (Administration) Act 1999 provides that a person affected by a decision of a Centrelink officer may apply for review of that decision.

If Centrelink makes a decision that affects you personally, such as cancelling your Centrelink payment or deciding that you are not eligible for a payment that you have applied for, you can ask for the decision to be reviewed.

How do I challenge a Centrelink decision?

The social security appeals system is divided into internal review procedures (reviews within Centrelink) and external review procedures (reviews by tribunals and courts). You will need to start by requesting an internal review, because external tribunals will only look at a decision if it has already been reviewed internally.

Internal review

A good starting point is to talk to a staff member at Centrelink over the phone or at a Centrelink Service Centre. You can ask them to check the details of the decision they have made about you and also ask them to explain it to you. You can also give them more information or correct any wrong information they might have.

However, if this does not result in the decision being changed, you can ask for a free internal review by an authorised review officer.

The review officer will be a person who has not had any previous involvement in your case and can change the decision if it is wrong.

The review officer will:

  • where possible, talk to you about the decision
  • look at the facts, the law and policy
  • change the decision if it is not correct
  • advise you in writing about the result of the review.

You should appeal to the review officer within 13 weeks of receiving written notice of the original decision. If you ask for an appeal within this 13-week timeframe, you may receive backdated payments from the date you were affected by Centrelink's original decision. You can still ask for a review after the 13-week timeframe, but any changes will only apply from the date that you requested the review.

You must apply for review of some Family Tax Benefit decisions within 52 weeks of being notified of the decision. 

There is no time limit if you are asking for a review about money you owe Centrelink. If the decision is about a debt, you can ask Centrelink to put on hold your debt repayments until they complete your review.

An appeal for review can be made:

It is usually a good idea to inspect your Centrelink file before appealing for a review because it may contain information that is useful for the review.

The review officer will look at the information considered by the original decision maker and ensure that all relevant available information was taken into account. The review officer will also check whether any new and relevant information is available and correct any mistakes. When the review is complete, the review officer will send you a letter outlining the reasons for their decision.

External review

If an internal review has been completed but you still believe the decision made is incorrect, you can apply for an external review. The external review process is divided into two stages:

Stage one – first review

If you believe the decision made by the review officer is incorrect, in most cases you can seek a free review by the Social Services Child Support Division of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT). This review is called a first review.

The AAT is an independent statutory tribunal that can review Centrelink decisions, including social security, family assistance, paid parental leave, child support, and education or training payments.

You can apply for a first review of a Centrelink decision by:

  • filling out an application form (available on the AAT website) and sending it directly to the AAT (via email, fax, online or post) 
  • visiting one of AAT's offices
  • visiting the AAT website and lodging an application online
  • calling the AAT on 1800 228 333.

There are time limits for making some applications for first review:

  • Social security – there is no time limit for applying for first review. But your application should be made within 13 weeks of the review officer’s decision so that you are eligible to receive backdated payments.
  • Family assistance – you should ask for a review about most family tax benefit decisions within 52 weeks of being told about the decision. But your application should be made within 13 weeks of the review officer’s decision so that you are eligible to receive backdated payments. All other family assistance decisions have a time limit of 13 weeks from the review decision (which may be extended in special circumstances).
  • Student assistance – you must make an application for first review within three months of the date of the review decision. This may be extended in special circumstances.
  • Paid parental leave – you must make an application for first review within 28 days of receiving the review decision. This may be extended in special circumstances.
  • Child support – for objections other than those relating to care percentage you have 28 days to object. This starts from the day you receive the decision letter. For objections about care percentage you can object at any time but Centrelink will not backdate child support changes if they don't receive your objection within 28 days if you live in Australia.

After you have lodged an application for first review, the AAT will write to you to let you know that they have received your application. They will also contact Centrelink and let them know that they have received your application for a first review. Centrelink will be required to provide the AAT with a statement of reasons for its decision, which will include all Centrelink documents.

You will be assigned an AAT officer who will be your contact person throughout the review process. The officer will not be at the hearing and will not be the person who makes a decision on your application for review. Applications are usually heard by one member. The AAT will hold the first review hearing in private. Apart from any tribunal staff members, the tribunal generally does not allow anybody else to be present at the hearing. If you would like to bring along a representative to speak on your behalf, or a person to simply come along and silently support you, you must ask the tribunal for permission first.

Most first hearings take up to an hour.

In some circumstances the AAT may tell you the decision on the day of the hearing. Otherwise, the tribunal must write to you with its decisions and reasons within 14 days. The decision of the AAT will confirm, change or set aside the decision of Centrelink. The AAT will also tell you about your right to apply for a 'second review'.

Stage two – second review

If you are unhappy with the decision made by the AAT under the first review, you have a right to a further review by the tribunal's general division. This is called a second review. Centrelink may also appeal to the tribunal for a second review. Appeals to the tribunal must be made within 28 days from the date you receive the first review decision (unless the tribunal grants you an extension), and applications must be made in writing.

You can apply for a second review of a Centrelink decision by:

  • filling out an application form (available on the AAT website) and sending it directly to the AAT (via email, fax, online or post), or dropping it off at one of the tribunal's offices
  • writing a letter to the tribunal requesting a second review.

You must provide reasons for your application for a second review. For example, you may think the decision is wrong and a different decision should be made, or that the information you provided was not taken into account, or that the law was not applied correctly.

There is no fee payable to apply for a second review unless your matter relates to paid parental leave, a refusal of an extension of time to apply for a child support review or about a percentage of care for a child in a child support review.

The AAT will write to you to confirm receipt of your application. If the tribunal thinks that the decision you want reviewed is not reviewable by them, they will write to you to explain why and give you the chance to tell the tribunal why you think they are wrong. If the tribunal decides to review the decision made at the first review, the tribunal will hold a conference at which you or your representative can meet with a Centrelink representative. At this conference, the tribunal will seek to clarify the main issues in dispute and, if possible, resolve the matter. If the matter is not resolved, both parties will then have the opportunity to present evidence and argue their cases in an open hearing.

The AAT aims to have the case finalised within 12 months.

The tribunal may tell you the decision directly after the hearing. However, if the tribunal wants more time to deliberate, it may provide the decision in writing – this process usually takes up to two months.

Decisions made by the tribunal are binding. Either party can appeal a decision of the tribunal to the Federal Court of Australia, but only on a question of law.

How much does it cost to appeal?

Generally, there is no charge for an internal Centrelink review, a first review or a second review of Centrelink decisions.

At the AAT, each party will bear their own expenses and no costs can be awarded against you. In some circumstances, the tribunal may pay for your reasonable travel expenses. The tribunal will not pay travel expenses for a representative or a support person to attend the hearing.

Where to get help

Victoria Legal Aid

Tel: 1300 792 387, Monday to Friday, 8 am to 6 pm
www.legalaid.vic.gov.au

Social Security Rights Victoria

Tel: (03) 9481 0355 (metro), 1800 094 164 (rural), Monday to Friday, 9 am to 12.30 pm
www.ssrv.org.au

Calls to 1300 numbers from your home phone cost the same as a local call. Calls from public and mobile phones may be timed and charged at a higher rate.