Case Studies

AG lived with her defacto partner BT and their young daughter, in Melbourne. BT was a casual employee with a home building company and also ran a sole trader plastering business. AG received a Parenting Payment at a reduced rate after Centrelink applied an income test based on BT’s income. BT controlled all the finances and made all financial decisions. However, he had no patience for dealing with Centrelink and insisted that AG do that. Due to BT’s work conditions, his income fluctuated significantly fortnight to fortnight. AG was required to report the household income, as it was earned, each fortnight. This was very difficult to do. Further, BT often became angry when AG advised that she needed details of how much he’d worked in a fortnight. In 2014, Centrelink raised two debts against AG for overpayment of Parenting Payment and Family Tax Benefit. At around the same time, AG had a serious fight with BT and left the home with their daughter. AG tried to obtain information about the debts, and the household income over the debt periods, but could struggled to get the paperwork Centrelink required due to her relationship breakdown.

SSRV assisted AG to better understand her position. SSRV then assisted AG to appeal the decision to raise the debts to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (Social Security Child Support Division). The Tribunal partially waived the debts and AG was able to negotiate to pay the rest of at a manageable rate.

DH immigrated from Ethiopia to Australia in 2011 with her two children.  She spoke very little English and was a single parent.  As part of the immigration process, DH’s uncle entered into an Assurance of Support with the Commonwealth.  DH’s uncle was a permanent resident of Australia.  An Assurance of Support is a commitment to support a person who is applying to migrate to Australia, so they will not have to rely on social security payments  once they have arrived.  DH was unable to access social security payments for a period of 2 years after arrival.

Shortly after arriving, DH’s uncle started demanding she pay rent to live in his home.  He often became menacing towards DH and her children.  Further, when DH left the home to look for work, DH’s uncle would lock her children in a room so they would ‘stay out of trouble’.  DH’s children found this incredibly distressing.  One night, after a serious fight, DH and her children fled the home.  Through a network in her local community, and with the assistance of two community agencies, DH was able to find suitable accommodation.  The agencies assisted DH to obtain Special Benefit payments from Centrelink whilst she looked for work.  Under the Assurance of Support, once DH started to receive Special Benefit, the Commonwealth would pursue DH’s uncle for repayment of any amounts she had received.  Once DH started receiving Special Benefit, her uncle appealed the decision arguing that he was willing to provide support to DH.

SSRV assisted DH to obtain her Centrelink file from FOI.  SSRV then assisted DH to make submissions to the Social Security Child Support Division of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal as to why she could not be supported by her uncle.  SSRV also connected DH up with other legal services that could assist her other her legal issues relating to her family violence and found her a culturally appropriate community support.>Ultimately, The Tribunal affirmed the decision to award DH Special Benefit.

Felicity worked as a cleaner in schools all her working life. Unfortunately she had also in the past had a bit of a gambling habit left over from her time working at the Casino. Felicity injured herself at work one day and received a compensation payout. At the time she was in a significant amount of pain but believed she would get back to work. She was precluded for six years from Centrelink benefits. Unfortunately her injury became worse and she was not able to work again. Felicity lived in a run-down house in Seaford and an ex-partner would not leave her alone. So she sold up and moved to Melton but this coincided with her gambling recommencing. Soon she was spending $400 a day on the pokies and was selling everything she owned to stay afloat. Needless to say when she applied for DSP she was rejected due to the payout. SSRV staff represented her at the SSAT and the compensation preclusion period was reduced to end on Christmas Day.

Theo had been struck down by Chronic Fatigue Syndrome whilst undertaking his Master of Theology in the early 1990s. As a result he had been unable to complete his degree or work as a theologian. He was on DSP for a while in the 1990s but in the early 2000s tried to work in retail and on-line editing. In the end his illness prevented him from doing anything much at all. On applying for DSP he encountered a number of significant issues. The first is that the Job Capacity assessor was someone who used to date a friend of his, and this had not ended well. Secondly the JCA assessor refused to view his CFS as a valid illness (a reflection of the coming changes to the DSP test) and included a whole lot of irrelevancies in the assessment, not to mention significant errors. When Theo applied under Freedom of Information (FOI) for a copy of the assessment, the JCA assessor tried to impede his access to this vital information. Theo approached SSRV for assistance in requesting a review. SSRV staff generated an Authorised Review Officer (ARO) review based on discussions with Theo and the documentation (when obtained). The ARO agreed that the JCA assessor was in error and Theo was paid DSP.

Amber was a Widow Allowance recipient. She lived near the Sandown Racetrack and because she liked dogs she would often go to the greyhound racing. It was pretty soon she was betting heavily. Now Amber was not a terrible punter and often won money as well as lost it. Because she bet ‘on-course’ her winnings were paid in cash. Because she understood the nature of her issues, she would deposit her winnings in the bank as soon as possible in an attempt to not spend it all at the track. Nearly every weekend for a number of years Amber would make a little money and make deposits on a Monday. Centrelink thought she was working and did an investigation and raised a debt against her. Now unless you are considered to be a ‘professional gambler’ (Amber was nothing like this) wins from bets are not income under the Social Security Act. But Centrelink in these cases just tends to raise the debts and see what people do. Amber sensibly contacted SSRV and they appealed the raising of the debt, specifically able to identify the fact that Amber was regularly taking money out of an ATM at the races on a Saturday night and clearly the amount of money could be traced to winnings. The fact that Amber was able to provide evidence of her regular betting assisted. Centrelink agreed and the debt was rescinded.

Katie and Oscar were a couple whose lives were significantly tough. After the death of a grandparent Oscar inherited a third of an old industrial site in Mornington. The other thirds were owned by two of his cousins who could be considered to be ‘well known racing identities’. There was an old house on the industrial site which Katie and Oscar lived in. The site was so toxic that the cost to fix it up was greater than the value of the site. The property had been on the market for years but Oscar suspected that his cousins would sell it our from under him if they could. Oscar received DSP and Katie was his carer. Centrelink undertook an asset review and decided that because the site was for sale for greater than ten percent (10%) more than what the Australian Valuation Office said it was worth, it’s value could not be discounted for their assets test. This reduced their income by over $100 a week. This left them reliant on Vinnies and not eating. SSRV represented the couple at the SSAT and convinced the tribunal member that the asset was indeed ‘unrealisable’ and their payments were restored.

Mandi’s life had been a significant hassle from her earliest days. A rough upbringing and school issues meant that she struggled to deal with government departments and other bureaucracies. She battled health issues for a long time. Around 2003 she applied for DSP. She was then involved in a dreadful horse-riding accident in 2004. Again she lodged the papers for DSP. Whilst she was on NewStart during this time, there was never any progress on her DSP application. After a while she gave up. She just imagined that if Centrelink hadn’t approved her application, she must not be eligible. Encouraged by her Doctor, she applied again in 2007 and was found eligible. It turned out that Centrelink had never rejected her earlier applications, they’d just disappeared into the vortex that so many other documents given to Centrelink do. SSRV mounted an ‘Act of Grace’ claim. The Federal Government decided a ‘Compensation Due to Defective Administration’ (CDDA) claim was more appropriate and ultimately backpaid the difference in entitlements.

Stephanie was a mature aged student at Toorak TAFE. She discussed her enrolment with the TAFE and one of the staff said that due to her previous study, she could have a smaller enrolment and still be eligible for Austudy Payment. Stephanie enrolled and applied for Austudy Payment as a result. Very soon after that her husband Samuel died. Understandably Stephanie was devastated. Samuel was the only person she knew well in Australia and she had no other support. She became withdrawn and stopped going to college. By now Centrelink had realised she wasn’t eligible for Austudy and cut her off and raised a debt. Her deportment teacher contact SSRV and we requested a review of the debt by an Authorised Review Officer, not very confident of an outcome. However the ARO was convinced and wiped the debt entirely.

Reuben was a gent from Frankston. He’d worked for a number of years driving forklifts when his employer’s business was sold. The new owners didn’t want him and paid him a redundancy. Whilst Reuben did a number of sensible things including paying off his home, unfortunately he was a gambler addicted to the horses. He spent the rest of his redundancy at the track and had no money. His ‘long term income maintenance period’ still had six months to run when he had no money left. His Mum, herself a pensioner, gave him a few dollars when she could, but she had nothing to spare in reality either. Reuben went to see his local financial counsellor who enlisted SSRV’s help with writing an appeal to the SSAT. The SSAT ultimately agreed that expenditure on gambling wasn’t ‘reckless’ but ‘reasonable’ considering his addiction. He also got on a list to see a gambling counsellor and has self-excluded himself from the track.

Cathy was a widow who had originally emigrated from Brazil many years ago. Her husband had died a number of years ago. On Widow’s allowance she travelled to Brazil to spend time with family but became significantly ill. Back in Australia her son Mark told Centrelink his Mum was ill and wasn’t sure when she’d be coming back. Centrelink continued to pay her. Numerous times (and Centrelink recorded this) her family indicated that she was still being paid despite being overseas now for a number of years. Finally someone at Centrelink wised up and cut her off and raised an $80,000 debt. Understandably her family were unhappy. The Authorised Review Officer’s review was at best deeply flawed. It entirely ignored the chronic administrative error that had occurred and blamed the client entirely. Unfortunately for the ARO, SSRV went through the file line by line & at the SSAT exposed the issues (including some Centrelink staff notes saying there was a big problem) and Cathy’s debt was extinguished.