Disputing a Centrelink decision

Disagreeing with a Centrelink decision

Everyone has the right to get a review of almost any decision that Centrelink makes, whether it is about raising a debt or reducing payment. There are quite a number of levels of the review process. Your appeal can be escalated through each of these if you continue to disagree with the decision made at the previous level.

First and foremost, if you are challenging a Centrelink decision, regardless of what the decision is about, you should always ask for the reasons to be provided in writing. It is important to highlight upfront that complaining about something relating to Centrelink is not the same as requesting an appeal or a review.

First level of appeal

Once you have this documentation, you can take it to the first level of appeal. This is an Authorised Review Officer (ARO) – essentially a senior officer within Centrelink who will look at the facts, the law and the policy. This request can be made in person, in writing or over the telephone, but should be done within 13 weeks after receiving the decision. The Authorised Review Officer will likely send a detailed letter explaining their decision based on the information they have on hand. 

If you still do not agree with the decision made by the Authorised Review Officer, you can then decide to appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, Social Security and Child Support division (AAT).

Second level of appeal

Unlike the ARO, the AAT (SSCSD) is independent of Centrelink and is typically made up of one or two members with backgrounds that are usually in law, social welfare, medicine, accounting and government. The AAT (SSCSD) will look at the decision and evidence objectively and can make a fresh decision or affirm, set aside, vary or substitute a decision made by Centrelink.

This appeal process is usually given at a hearing. You are able to request permission for someone to represent you at the hearing, and request that a support person be present with you. This may be undertaken by phone, video link up or in person once you have received a copy of the T-documents – this is the statement made by the AAT (SSCSD) giving reasons for their decision and a copy of relevant documents from your Centrelink file. At this hearing, you can present new evidence which had not previously been provided to Centrelink – in fact, this new evidence is often when appeals to the AAT are successful.

The Tribunal will send their written decision on the appeal within 14 days after the hearing date.

Third level of appeal

There are two divisions of the AAT that review Centrelink decisions. If you disagree with the outcome of the First Division (social security & child support) which we covered above, you then have the option to apply for a second review by the General Division of the AAT. This is a more formal legal process. If you are submitting an appeal to the General Division, it must be lodged in writing within 28 days of receiving the previous AAT (SSCSD) decision. Any settlement made by the General Division is final. While it can be appealed to the Federal Court, this can only be done on a “question of law”, rather than because you disagree with a decision made or believe the AAT got the facts of your case wrong. You must appeal to the Federal Court within 28 days of getting the AAT Tier 2 decision.

What happens to your debt during this appeal process?

What will happen to your debt while the appeal process is underway is usually handled on a case-by-case basis. If you lodge an appeal against the cancellation or reduction of your payment, Centrelink may agree to continue your payment at the previous rate until the review is finalised. Alternatively, Centrelink may choose to pause your debt. It is important you do confirm in writing with Centrelink that a pause is in place, as otherwise you could face penalty interest to the debt.

Complaints about Centrelink

Making a complaint should not affect the outcome of your appeal against Centrelink. If you are not happy with the way something has been handled, you can lodge a complaint to: 

When should you seek legal advice?

Centrelink can be complex and at times, difficult to navigate. If you don’t understand a decision from Centrelink, would like to appeal a Centrelink decision, or have been ordered to appear in court, it is recommended you seek prompt legal advice to protect your rights.

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