Welfare Rights Review

Case Studies

Michael - Compensation Preclusion Period

Michael received a lump sum compensation payment after being injured at work which resulted in him losing both hands. Michael has a history of traumatic brain injury and bipolar disorder. After receiving his lump sum payment, he incurred another brain injury after an assault and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Michael was not in the right physical or mental position to find employment or manage his compensation lump sum. His decision making capacity was greatly affected by his most recent brain injury. He was financially exploited by people close to him and his expenditure reflected his need for security and safety. Michael left home at age 15 and does not have any family or close friends to support him.  After a few years, as the money was running out, he applied for Disability Support Pension (DSP) but was rejected because of his compensation preclusion period. He appealed this decision to a Centrelink Authorised Review Officer who recognised his financial hardship but did not have any evidence to prove this.

Michael contacted the Welfare Rights Centre NSW after he had served almost 80 per cent of his compensation preclusion period. An appeal was lodged to the Social Security Appeals Tribunal (SSAT).  The Centre gathered evidence from his landlord that he was in rent arrears of six months and homelessness was imminent. Evidence was also obtained from his psychologist and GP how bipolar disorder and post- traumatic stress disorder affected Michael’s decision making capacity and ability to control his spending.  A neuropsychological report was also provided to the SSAT, which detailed the extent of his brain injuries.

It was submitted that Michael had special circumstances, which warranted a reduction to the preclusion period. Unfortunately, the appeal was not successful at the SSAT. 

We lodged an appeal with the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT).  Within a few days, Michael was scheduled to a psychiatric intensive care unit. With these new circumstances plus the evidence we provided to the SSAT, Centrelink’s legal advocate agreed to settle the matter. This means that the preclusion period was ended and Michal was granted DSP.

This case study was provided by the Welfare Rights Centre (NSW)

Family Tax Benefit; debt

In this case Centrelink raised Family Tax Benefit (FTB) debts of approximately $10 000 on the basis that a client of Canberra Community Law had failed to take reasonable maintenance action in respect of her children.

The client was a single parent to five children.  She had a troubled history of domestic violence, housing insecurity plus a disadvantaged educational background. She had moved to New Zealand in her late teens where she had married and had her children. Later she had fled to Australia to escape domestic violence at the hands of her ex-husband. Following her ex-husband’s refusal to return one of her children after a short holiday with him, the client returned to New Zealand to regain custody of her child, during which time she began to receive New Zealand income support payments and also began a Child Support case with the relevant New Zealand authority. The New Zealand authority had contacted the Australian Child Support Agency and requested that they close her case in Australia but due to maladministration this did not occur.

The client subsequently returned to Australia and reclaimed Social Security payments including FTB payments. However because the Child Support Agency had not closed her case of their system there was no trigger for Centrelink to alert our client to the need to take reasonable maintenance action.

Canberra Community Law argued before the Social Security Appeals Tribunal that the general statements about child support and its possible effect on FTB in various Centrelink letters were not sufficient to alert our client to her specific obligations to seek a child support assessment for her children and the consequences of not doing so. Furthermore, due to the Child Support error, our client had not been put on notice of her obligation to do so.

The Tribunal accepted the submissions finding that on both of the interconnected grounds of Child Support maladministration and inadequate Centrelink notification it was not reasonable to expect our client to take maintenance action. The FTB debts were set aside. Representation has enabled the client to improve or prevent deterioration of personal circumstances.

This case study was provided by Canberra Community Law

Disability Support Pension; medical issues

The Centre’s client had been on Disability Support Pension (DSP) for over 15 years and has a diagnosis of treatment resistant schizophrenia. Our client’s payment was cancelled after a review found that he no longer had the requisite points under the Impairment Tables. The Social Security Appeal Tribunal (SSAT) overturned the decision to cancel DSP on the basis of evidence from the client’s mental health caseworker and psychiatrist.

This case study was provided by Illawarra Community Legal Centre (NSW)

Miss C – Youth Allowance; Unreasonable to Live at Home

The client was an 18 year old girl born in Ethiopia and now studying Year 11 in Australia. She and her twin sister were thrown out of the family home of her adopted father and stepmother on Christmas Day and told not to come back.

The client lodged a claim for Youth Allowance at the Unreasonable to Live at Home (UTLAH) rate on line with Centrelink on 30 December 2013 as she had no means of support. She had approached her adopted father about returning home, however her step mother said that she was not permitted to. She also approached community members to intervene and make approaches to her parents but there was refusal on their part.

She was referred to the Welfare Rights and Advocacy Service by the Department of Human Services (DHS) when her application for payment at the UTLAH rate had been unsuccessful. Her request for review of the decision by a DHS Authorised Review Officer had also been unsuccessful and there had been a refusal to consider third party verification.  

The service initially advocated with DHS about their consideration of the third party information provided, as it verified that our client was qualified for the UTLAH rate.  DHS said she should lodge a new application but the claim would not be backdated and it would take at least 8 weeks for the UTLAH claim to be processed. The service then helped the client to lodge an urgent appeal with the Social Security Appeals Tribunal (SSAT).  The service provided written submissions and represented at the appeal.

The SSAT found the client was eligible to receive the UTLAH rate and it was backdated to the date of the original claim in December 2013.  The service negotiated with DHS Legal Services for urgent scrutiny and implementation of the decision.  The client received payment within three days of the SSAT decision.

Without the service’s help it is likely the client would have had to make a new claim for UTLAH and missed out on payments from the date of claim and waited longer for the claim to be processed. It also meant she was able to continue to study.

This case study was provided by the Welfare Rights and Advocacy Service (WA)