Challenging a Centrelink Decision 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. 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; and 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 (Cth) provides that a person affected by a decision of a Centrelink officer may apply for review of that decision. This means that if Centrelink makes a decision which 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 and external review procedures. 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 There are 2 levels of internal review, which are: 1. Review by the Original Decision Maker (ODM) When you ask Centrelink for a review, they will ask the person who made the original decision to look at their decision again. If this doesn't result in an outcome you are happy with, you can then request a review of the decision by an Authorised Review Officer (ARO). 2. Appeal to an ARO AROs are senior Centrelink officers who have had no previous involvement in your case. The ARO will review the decision made by the ODM and has the power to set it aside, vary it or affirm it. To receive backdated payments from the date you were affected by Centrelink's original decision, you should appeal to an ARO within 13 weeks of receiving written notice of the original decision. An appeal to an ARO can be made in writing, either by sending a letter to Centrelink or by completing the ARO review form available from www.welfarerights.org.au or any Welfare Rights Centre. Alternatively, you can ask for an ARO review over the telephone or at your local Centrelink branch. If you are preparing a written request, you will need to include the following information: your name and contact details; your Customer Reference Number; details of the decision you are appealing; why you think the original decision is wrong; and any relevant document. It is usually a good idea to inspect your Centrelink file before appealing to an ARO, as it may contain Warning: This guideline is for information only and should not be relied upon as legal advice. This information applies only in Victoria and was updated on 18 January 2008. information which is useful for the review. The ARO will look at the information used by the ODM, and ensure all relevant available information was taken into account. The ARO will also check whether any new and relevant information is available and correct any mistakes that were made. When the ARO appeal is complete, the ARO will send you a letter outlining the reasons for their decision. External Review If you have completed an internal review and still believe the decision that has been made is incorrect, you can then apply for an external review. The external review process is divided into two stages: 1. Social Security Appeals Tribunal (SSAT) The SSAT is an independent statutory tribunal that can review Centrelink decisions about social security, family assistance, education or training payments. Its processes are fairly quick and informal. You can apply to the SSAT for review of a Centrelink decision by sending a written application directly to the SSAT, or to any Centrelink Customer Service Centre. You can also make an application over the phone or in person at the SSAT. Appeal forms are available from any Centrelink or any SSAT office. Your application should be made within 13 weeks of the AROs decision so that you are eligible to receive backdated payments. Applications are usually heard by a panel of two members and you don't need to bring a lawyer, but you may bring along a representative to speak on your behalf. After deciding on the appeal, the SSAT must write to you with its decisions and reasons within 14 days. SSAT decisions are binding. 2. Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) If you are unhappy with the SSAT decision you can appeal to the AAT. Centrelink may also appeal to the AAT. Appeals to the AAT must be made within 28 days from the date you receive the SSAT decision in writing. This time limit can only be extended in limited circumstances. The AAT is a more formal body than the SSAT. After you have lodged an appeal, Centrelink will be required to lodge a statement of reasons for its decision (which will include all Centrelink documents). The AAT will then hold a conference at which you or your representative can meet with a Centrelink representative. At this conference, the AAT 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 its case in an open hearing. Decisions made by the AAT are binding. Either party can appeal a decision of the AAT to the Federal Court, but only on a question of law. How much does it cost to appeal? There is no charge for an internal Centrelink review or for a review to the SSAT. Each party will bear their own expenses, and no costs can be awarded against you. In some circumstances your reasonable travel and accommodation costs will be paid for by the SSAT. If you appeal to the AAT, it is unlikely that you will have to pay the application fee for an appeal, however you should check this at the time you decide to appeal. Costs cannot be awarded against you if your appeal is unsuccessful. Who can I ask for assistance? If you would like to challenge a Centrelink decision, you can contact the Homeless Persons Legal Clinic (HPLC) on our free call number 1800 606 313. Please see the panel on the right for HPLC locations and times. Your local Welfare Rights Centre will also give you free, independent advice and assistance on any Social Security matter. All information that you give to a Welfare Rights officer is confidential and Centrelink will only be contacted about your case if you ask your advocate to do so. Contact details for Welfare Rights Centres around Australia are available at www.welfarerights.org.au. Warning: This guideline is for information only and should not be relied upon as legal advice. This information applies only in Victoria and was updated on 18 January 2008. Contact details for the Melbourne Welfare Rights Centre are: 155 Easey Street, Collingwood, VIC 3066. Telephone: (03) 9416 1111 Fax: (03) 9419 3552 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Warning: This guideline is for information only and should not be relied upon as legal advice. This information applies only in Victoria and was updated on 18 January 2008.