Tax returns and Centrelink issues

Completing our yearly tax returns is one of those life admin tasks that seem to come around too quickly and can be a bit of a nuisance. For many, the anticipation of a tax refund is an incentive to get it done. Every year at SSRV though, we speak to people who, despite being required to submit an income return, don’t do it.

Some feel the task is overwhelming or simply haven’t got around to it. Others, though, may have been coerced into not submitting an income tax return, or be under the misconception that they do not need to complete it.

At SSRV, we know the value of preventative actions and we do our best to ensure that clients will not need our services – and completing an income tax return is an important step in making sure you, or the person you are supporting, don’t end up in a Centrelink dispute.

A common reason workers and individuals call SSRV, is debts or ongoing payment issues relating to lodgement or non-lodgement of a tax return. Family Tax Benefit and Child Care Subsidy cancellation and debts, related to the absence of a return being lodged, or of making Centrelink aware that lodgement is not required, is a common theme.

The message from Services Australia is clear: If you receive a Centrelink payment or pay or receive child support, you should check to see if you need to lodge a tax return.

Family Tax Benefit and Child Care Subsidy

If you receive Family Tax Benefit or Child Care Subsidy, you need to tell Centrelink if you are not required to lodge a tax return.  You can update Centrelink about non-lodgement of a tax return via your MyGov account, or by speaking with a Centrelink officer. You can find more information here.

If you don’t lodge a tax return as required, or you don’t tell Centrelink that you aren’t required to lodge a tax return, your ongoing payments may stop and you may receive a debt notice. For Family Tax Benefit and Child Care Subsidy, Centrelink relies upon lodgement or non-lodgement of tax returns to recalculate payment entitlements. If you don’t give Centrelink the information they need to recalculate and confirm your entitlements, it’s likely Centrelink will cancel ongoing payments and require you to pay back any FTB or CCS you have received.


The ATO have recently developed a step-by-step tool to assess whether a return needs to be lodged

There is also assistance in completing a return when required and help for those facing particular challenges.

So, if you or someone you are supporting, is receiving a Centrelink payment, now is the time to check if an income tax return needs to be submitted, and if so, don’t put it off.

Changes to Parenting Payment Single: what happens next?

From 20 September 2023, the eligibility for Parenting Payment Single is being extended to when the youngest child turns 14. This eligibility increase followed a prolonged campaign from community groups, including SSRV, concerned that being moved onto a lower payment was contributing to families experiencing poverty. Single mother advocacy groups also argued that single mothers are not unemployed, they are performing unpaid work.

For many single parents receiving Centrelink payments, a child’s impending eighth birthday has been a cause of anxiety, with the knowledge that they would be moved off Parenting Payment Single (PPS) and onto JobSeeker Payment, at a rate of $204 less per fortnight.  Many of our clients have reported that this drop in income has caused them financial stress and made it challenging to balance work and family responsibilities.

It’s anticipated that the changes to PPS eligibility will benefit around 57,000 people, 52,000 of whom are women. The change to PPS will increase the maximum basic rate of payment for eligible parents, from $745.20 per fortnight on JobSeeker Payment to $922.10 per fortnight on PPS.

In the lead up to the Federal Election, SSRV also supported a campaign by the Council of Single Mothers and their Children to end the ParentsNext program. The scheme, introduced in 2018, required parenting payment recipients to attend job agencies and participate in prescribed activities in order to keep their welfare payments. The program was continually criticised by community and welfare organisations and also faced criticism from the Australian Human Rights Commission, the Women’s Equality Taskforce, and the Economic Inclusion Advisory Committee.

From 5 May 2023, compulsory participation in ParentsNext has been paused and the Government has announced intention to abolish the program altogether from 1 July 2024. Parents can volunteer to participate in ParentsNext up until 1 July 2024, but it is not compulsory in order to receive PPS.

Transitioning from JobSeeker to Parenting Payment Single

So how will the transition to the new PPS eligibility requirements work?

The Department of Services Australia has provided guidance on the transition from JobSeeker Payment to PPS, which will take effect on 20 September 2023:

  • Individuals who become eligible for PPS and are currently receiving JobSeeker Payment should be automatically transferred by Centrelink to PPS from 20 September 2023. No action is required for these individuals, and they should not have to lodge a new application. This includes those who had been previously transferred from PPS to Jobseeker Payment due to the age of their youngest child surpassing eight years old.
  • Impacted individuals can expect to receive a letter in mid-August 2023 outlining this process. There is also planned online communications and social media messaging.
  • Individuals receiving PPS whose youngest qualifying child turns 8 between now and 19 September 2023 will need to transfer to JobSeeker Payment until 20 September 2023. These individuals should receive an online task 28 days before their child turn 8 to facilitate the transfer process. They should then be automatically transferred to PPS from 20 September 2023.
  • If an individual’s JobSeeker Payment is suspended come 20 September 2023 (for example, for failing to meet mutual obligations) they will not automatically be transferred to PPS on 20 September 2023. The reason for the suspension will need to be addressed first. If the individual is not entitled to JobSeeker Payment at 20 September 2023, they will need to lodge a new claim for PPS.

You find more information here:


Our recommendation

If you, or your client, is transferring from Jobseeker Payment to PPS in September 2023, we recommend keeping a close eye on your Centrelink payments and MyGov account to ensure the transfer does occur automatically, or to pick up any issues that do arise.

Centrelink payments, eligibility and the use of technology can be complicated. It is likely that some individuals will expect the transfer to occur automatically for them, but in practice there may be an issue which they need to identify and resolve.

If your Jobseeker Payment is suspended or cancelled leading up to or on 20 September 2023, we recommend taking an active role in ensuring your transfer to PPS takes place. It is likely that you will experience issues with an automatic transfer. We recommend you speak with a Centrelink officer and ensure you know what is happening in your Centrelink account. This will assist you to identify and address any issues and minimise the risk of missing out on payments.

SSRV can assist if you, or your client, experiences issues with the PPS transfer that you are unable to resolve quickly with Centrelink. SSRV is an independent community legal centre, as such we don’t have access to Centrelink systems. We can, however, talk you through the processes available to resolve your dispute with Centrelink, and give you advice on your rights of review.

Strengthening the Safety Net Bill

This month the Federal Parliament passed the Strengthening the Safety Net Bill. This legislation, according to the Government, will deliver small but much needed improvements to the social security system. While much attention is being paid to the extension of eligibility to Parenting Payment Single, the Bill also contains changes that will impact other Centrelink payments.

The Bill also legislates payment rate increases to JobSeeker Payment and related payments, as well as Commonwealth Rent Assistance.

Once the changes come into effect on 20 September 2023, the new rate of JobSeeker Payment will rise to $56 a day, up from $50.

This is well below the $76 a day rate that community organisations were calling for, and is also below the Economic Inclusion Advisory Committee’s finding that an adequate unemployment rate would mean raising JobSeeker Payment to 90 per cent of the Age Pension.

The Australian Council of Social Service describes the new payment increases as continuing to be a ‘poverty payment’.

While SSRV welcomes the increase in the JobSeeker Payment, we support calls for further increases to the rate of working age payments to help address the ongoing issue of poverty.

Circumstances of poverty and homeless are issues that SSRV commonly sees. Without secure ongoing income support at a rate above the poverty line, individuals are at significant risk of falling behind in rental payments. This can quickly lead to eviction and homelessness. SSRV supports clients, and works in conjunction with other support services, to help people in these situations and will continue to call for further increases to working age payments.

Social Security Rights Victoria supports Yes

Social Security Rights Victoria supports the proposal to alter the Constitution to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as the First Peoples of Australia and to establish an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. This is an important step toward implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

Social Security Rights Victoria is committed to collaborating closely with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and organisations to identify and address systemic disadvantage and to work to ensure equitable access to, and outcomes from, the social security and legal systems. Therefore, Social Security Rights Victoria supports the Voice as an important practical mechanism for enhancing the principle of self-determination and for recognising and advancing the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, through more inclusive policy development and decision-making by the Commonwealth Government.

In taking this position Social Security Rights Victoria respectfully acknowledges that others may have different views regarding the proposed Constitutional amendment.

Better responding to the needs of people affected by disasters

Last month, SSRV was invited to attend Economic Justice Australia’s (EJA) bi-annual meetings with the Department of Social Services and Services Australia.

During these meetings, Laura Jordan, SSRV Principal Lawyer, discussed SSRV’s work on disaster preparedness and response, and presented SSRV’s brief on social security disaster-related reform. 

Drawing on the experiences of SSRV’s clients, the brief was drafted in collaboration with EJA and member centres. It highlights the relationship between disasters and legal disputes relating to social security law, policy and administration. The brief uses case study examples to suggest specific and achievable legislative and policy reform that would prepare the Australian social security system to better respond to the needs of people affected by disasters.

As an example, the brief suggests the inclusion in the Social Security Guide of disasters as a consideration when deciding upon social security matters such as special circumstances, and member of a couple decisions. Without direction in the Guide to consider the impact of disasters, SSRV has found decision makers often give little to no regard to disasters when making payment decisions.

In many cases, this results in the applicant/recipient having to unnecessarily pursue review of a decision whilst often simultaneously facing the stress and pressure of recovering from a disaster.

SSRV is grateful to EJA for the opportunity to attend the bi-annual meetings and looks forward to future collaboration to work towards socials security disaster-related reform.

SSRV & Monash Law Clinics Advocacy Clinic 

In May 2023, we welcomed a new cohort of Monash Law students to SSRV’s Social Security Advocacy Clinic. The clinic is run in partnership with Monash University Law Clinics and provides experiential based learning for the students. Their involvement in the clinic forms part of their studies and allows them an opportunity to develop critical skills they will use as lawyers.  

At the same time, the clinic provides SSRV the opportunity to extend services and provide important information and advice to more clients. 

During their time with SSRV, the students are undertaking supervised legal advice appointments, legal research relating to SSRV’s case work, policy work and advocacy, and drafting letters of advice.   

SSRV’s partnership with Monash Law Clinics continues to support the work of SSRV by increasing our capacity to offer legal advice and assistance to the most vulnerable members of our community.  We are so pleased to be able to offer this opportunity to our next generation of lawyers and at the same time increase access to justice.  

DSP and Mental Health

When Edward contacted SSRV, he had been struggling with anxiety, depression and PTSD for over 10 years. His application for the Disability Support Pension (DSP) had been rejected, and he was seeking help appealing that decision.

Five years ago, Edward was assessed and diagnosed by a psychiatrist, who then referred him back to his GP for ongoing monitoring and management. Edward previously attended sessions with a psychologist. He has regularly seen his GP and taken medication prescribed to him. 

While the medication stops him from feeling suicidal, he has never been able to return to work. Six months before applying for DSP, Edward saw a psychiatrist for a review. The psychiatrist recommended he try further counselling. Centrelink then rejected his claim for DSP on the basis that the psychiatrist recommended further counselling, so Edward contacted SSRV for assistance.

Accessing DSP should be straight forward for vulnerable members of our community. However, we commonly hear stories like Edward’s. The medical eligibility criteria for DSP is technical, complex and can difficult to understand. Further, applying for DSP based on a mental health condition has specific requirements.


From April 1 2023, the Social Security (Tables for the Assessment of Work-related Impairment for Disability Support Pension) Determination 2023 has been updated.

One of the most significant changes relates to diagnosis of a mental health condition. 

A diagnosis can now be made by a psychiatrist, or a GP and registered psychologist (prior to 1 April 2023 they had to be a clinical psychologist). It is hoped this change will assist vulnerable members of our community to meet the diagnosis requirement where previously they may not have been able to.

Reasonably treated and stabilised

Another key change within the impairment tables relates to a condition (not just a mental health condition) needing to be reasonably treated and stabilised, instead of fully treated and fully stabilised.

Even so, the test applied to assess whether a condition is reasonably treated and stabilised hasn’t changed significantly. A mental health condition does not have to be cured to be reasonably treated. Rather, it involves assessing what treatment has occurred, what treatment hasn’t occurred and why (such as cost, risk, accessibility, success rate) and whether over the next two years any further treatment is likely to result in significant functional improvement.

Meanwhile, the impairment tables define ‘stabilised’ as ‘…the person has undertaken reasonable treatment for the condition and any further reasonable treatment is unlikely to result in a significant functional improvement’. Reasonable treatment means treatment that is accessible, has a reasonable cost, is regularly used for the condition, has a high success rate, will likely result in significant functional improvement and is low risk.

The impairment tables also note, however, that a condition can still be stabilised even if someone has not undertaken reasonable treatment in circumstances where there is unlikely to be significant functional improvement even if they were to undergo reasonable treatment. 

Additionally, if they have a medical or other compelling reason for not having undertaken reasonable treatment then they can be considered stabilised. Centrelink recognises that for mental health this may be particularly relevant when someone is so unwell that they can’t make beneficial decisions about treatment recommendations. We have seen the medical or other compelling reason provision applied for a client suffering schizophrenia where the symptoms of his illness caused him to fear treatment as he believed it was intended to harm him.

At what point Centrelink will accept someone is reasonably treated and stabilised for a mental health condition isn’t black and white and it can be difficult for clients who have not received ongoing treatment from a psychiatrist. However, while the impairment tables are prescriptive about diagnosis, they do not require that treatment and medical evidence be provided by a psychiatrist. A GP can provide treatment and medical evidence outlining the diagnosis, history and compliance with prescribed treatment or recommendations.

The likelihood of obtaining DSP without supporting evidence or ongoing treatment from a psychiatrist increases if they have regularly engaged with their GP over an extended period, attempted some kind of psychological therapy (unless deemed unsuitable by their treating practitioner) and complied consistently with any prescribed medication and changes recommended.

This is reflected in the case of ZSYJ and Secretary, Department of Social Services (Social services second review) [2018] AATA 3969 (22 October 2018) where the Tribunal determined that Ms ZSYJ’s mental health conditions were treated and stabilised despite not having received ongoing treatment from a psychiatrist. 

Key points in the Tribunal’s assessment included that she had attended regular appointments with her GP, and followed their treatment recommendations including complying with her prescribed medication and attempted counselling. The Tribunal accepted that further treatment wasn’t going to result in a significant functional improvement given how long she had struggled with her conditions.

In Edward’s case, SSRV assisted him to successfully appeal the decision to reject his DSP application. Similar to the case of ZSYJ, key to Edward’s success was the longstanding nature of his mental health condition, the lack of significant improvement over the years, his regular engagement with his GP and compliance with their treatment recommendations and his attempt at counselling.

As such, while the recent changes to the impairment tables have the potential to help vulnerable members of our community access DSP, whether a mental health condition meets the definition of diagnosed, reasonably treated and stabilised will still be assessed on a case-by-case basis and the quality of the medical evidence remains critical.

If you would like more information about the DSP eligibility criteria, visit our DSP Help website:

The Victorian Ombudsman, what do they do & how can they help?

On 21 June 2023, the Victorian Ombudsman delivered a workshop, Dealing with Complex Behaviour, to SSRV staff. This workshop allowed staff to reflect and build on strengths, challenges and strategies in responding to complex client situations. SSRV found this training to be very beneficial and is grateful to the Victorian Ombudsman for the opportunity to participate in this workshop. 

The Victorian Ombudsman can consider discounted training rates with community legal centres on a case-by-case basis and offers training in Dealing with Complex Behaviour, Good Complaint Handling, Conflict of Interest Risks and Good Decision Making (from late August). You can find information about training opportunities here

The Victorian Ombudsman deals with complaints about Victorian public organisations. These include local councils, Victorian government departments and organisations, Victorian universities and TAFEs, publicly funded community services, prisons and professional boards. 

The Victorian Ombudsman commonly deals with complaints about Child Protection, State Trustees and human right breaches by Victorian public organisations. There are many overlaps with the issues SSRV clients face and we recognise it can be difficult to find the right place to turn to for help. 

If you or a client thinks they have been treated wrongly by a Victorian public organisation, they can contact the Victorian Ombudsman to seek information, and in some cases provide assistance with fixing the issue. 

Many SSRV clients reflect that they feel caught in a loop when navigating disputes with government organisations and are unsure of the steps to take to seek resolution. The Victorian Ombudsman can assist with navigating and escalating disputes with Victorian public organisations. The Victorian Ombudsman website can be found here.  Their phone number is 1800 806 314. 

There are a range of ombudsmen and authorities for different types of complaints. You can find more information here about where best to direct your complaint. 

Complaints about Centrelink and Services Australia can be considered by the Commonwealth Ombudsman. You can find more information about the Commonwealth Ombudsman here

SSRV in the community

SSRV provides legal services to vulnerable and disadvantaged Victorians, and those who support them, to secure and protect their right to social security entitlements. We know that Centrelink disputes and decisions on eligibility can cause mental distress, and financial hardship can exacerbate existing problems. 

While we see the positive impact of our work, we also know this to be true: for vulnerable Victorians and the people who support them to receive our help, they need to know who we are, what we do, and how we can help. 

That’s why, instead of waiting for people to contact us, SSRV regularly goes to them. 

Recently, SSRV hit the road, attending events where they were able to speak directly to people receiving Centrelink payments and community organisations that support them. 

In May, SSRV Community Lawyer, Veronica, attended a Bring Your Bills Day hosted at the Rumbalara Aboriginal Co-Operative. Along with representatives from Consumer Action Law Centre, Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service, and Births, Deaths and Marriages, Veronica provided services directly to people in their local community.  

“It was a great reminder of the positive impact we can have,” says Veronica. “And the need for flexibility in service delivery, meeting our clients on their terms and with their needs in mind.” 

A couple of weeks later, SSRV Project Worker Mark, and Communications Officer Margie, attended the Festival of Ideas, hosted by Financial Counselling Victoria. The festival connected organisations who support and work with people experiencing financial hardship. 

The theme of this year’s festival was Priceless – the Unpaid Contribution, where attendees learned about initiatives designed to inform and support older people, unpaid carers and other members of our community. 

SSRV had a stall at the festival and throughout the day Margie and Mark met representatives from community organisations, many telling them that about times they have contacted SSRV on behalf of clients, and how thankful they were that SSRV was there to help. 

“The day really reaffirmed to me the importance of our work,” says Margie. “It was so pleasing to hear the stories of how we have helped, but even more gratifying to be able to supply organisations who were not familiar with our work with information about how they can contact us and how we can assist them.” 

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