SSRV’s Integrated Services Project: expanding our reach

Recently SSRV’s Integrated Services Project has taken opportunities to get out and about, connecting with communities at in-person events both in Melbourne and regional Victoria.

At the end of May, the Integrated Services Project (ISP) team – Graeme Parsons, financial counsellor and Dermott Williams, community lawyer – were invited to visit Ballarat and take part in a debt expo organised by Ballarat and Grampians Community Legal Service. The conversations Graeme and Dermott had were meaningful, and it was great to connect with people in their own community rather than remotely, the way SSRV normally operates. 

This is particularly important in regional locations, where, as we’ve seen with other events such as one’s we’ve contributed to in Gippsland, that face-to-face contact and trust building is essential to meeting the needs of clients and other community organisations with which we work.

In early June, the ISP team participated in the Young Carers Festival, closer to home at the MCG. Graeme and Dermott attended with a team from FCVic to promote the work of financial counsellors and SSRV to carers and their families, with a particular focus on issues they may be facing with Centrelink and social security related issues. It was a fantastic evening with many impactful conversations happening throughout the night.

SSRV is looking forward to more opportunities like these, visiting and engaging with people outside the constraints of our usual service delivery and in the best way for the people who need us.

Did you know?

Every day, Centrelink makes thousands of decisions about payments, debts and other matters governed by the Social Security Act 1991. The number of decisions also increases significantly in the aftermath of a disaster.

Sometimes Centrelink gets these decisions wrong. Any decision can be appealed at no cost through a process conducted by an Authorised Review Officer.

If you aren’t happy with the review officer’s decision, this can also be appealed at no cost, to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. 

Economic Justice Australia has published more detail about this.

Find out more about SSRV’s Disaster Preparedness and Response Plan and read more from our Did You Know? series.

Reconciliation Week 2022: Be Brave, Make Change

This Reconciliation Week (27 May – 3 June), SSRV remembers the importance of privileging and amplifying First Nations’ voices and we add our voice to calls for reconciliation and justice. 

Reconciliation is a journey for all Australians – as individuals, families, communities, organisations and importantly as a nation. At the heart of this journey are relationships between the broader Australian community and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. 

The theme of Reconciliation Week 2021 is ‘Be Brave. Make Change.’ It’s a challenge to all Australians to Be Brave and tackle the unfinished business of reconciliation so we can Make Change for the benefit of all Australians. 

Read more about Reconciliation Week 2022.

For our part, SSRV are working at making our organisation more culturally safe and respectful, and to better engage and respond to First Nations clients and community. 

SSRV believes we can all be brave and play a role in reconciliation and collectively build relationships and communities that value Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, histories, cultures, and futures. 

Find a Reconciliation Week event near you.

SSRV Stories: Ellie

Ellie* is a single mum of three girls living in Melbourne’s west. She is a survivor of an abusive relationship with the father of two of her daughters.

In 2009, Ellie received a $30,000 overpayment debt from Centrelink. Centrelink had made a decision that she had received the incorrect rate of Parenting Payment for a number of years leading up to 2009, as she had been paid the single rate of payment.

Centrelink alleged that she was only eligible for the lower couple rate of Parenting Payment. Ellie tried to challenge this decision on her own through the Authorised Review Officer (ARO) review process, and later to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT). 

This was an incredibly difficult task for her as she suffers from multiple severe mental health conditions, which were being exassabated by having to recount the instances of violence perpetrated on her in the years prior to the debt being raised.

Ellie was unrepresented at the AAT in 2014 and was unaware that legal services might have been available to her at the time. She did not know she had a further right of review, to the General Division of the AAT, and started the process of slowly paying off the large debt, which left her and her daughters in a position of severe financial hardship. 

In 2020 Ellie was referred by another community legal centre to SSRV.

SSRV assisted Ellie in arguing that she should be given an extension of time to have her matter reviewed by the General Division of the AAT, with the benefit of having legal representation, given the compelling circumstances in her case.

Ellie, with the assistance of a legal representative from SSRV, was successful in obtaining a six-year extension of time from the AAT.

SSRV then represented Ellie in a review application at the General Division and successfully negotiated a settlement agreement to have the full $30,000 debt waived and all previously recovered amounts were repaid to Ellie.

Ellie told her SSRV lawyer that she has felt a huge weight lifted, having someone help her to navigate this complex appeals process and that she could not have done it without the “caring, compassionate and dedicated support of the SSRV staff and students” she worked with since coming to SSRV in 2020.

A common story

Ellie’s story illustrates, firstly, how difficult it can be to navigate the tribunal processes and secondly, some of the challenges that victim survivors of family violence face with Centrelink.

Currently, the steps for appeal in a Centrelink matter are:

1 – Authorised Review Officer – the internal appeal in Centrelink

2 – Administrative Appeals Tribunal First Tier, called the Social Services and Child Support Division

3 – Administrative Appeals Tribunal Second Tier, called the General Division.

It’s important to know that there are short time limits to appeal. Although the Tribunal does have the discretion to extend the time, do seek early advice because delay can affect the exercise of the discretion and any backdated payments.

As the overwhelming majority of people self-represent in the AAT, if they miss the deadline to apply for an appeal, many do not know how to navigate the process of seeking an extension.

If the extension of time is opposed, as Ellie’s was, they then need to attend a hearing to argue that the extension of time should be granted, before the General Division will consider the substantive issues. SSRV was able to assist Ellie with this process and we recommend clients call us if they are in this situation.

In Ellie’s instance, SSRV was able to negotiate a settlement on the basis that the Department could use its discretion to decide that Ellie was not a member of a couple, even if there were some characteristics of a relationship present. 

The consequences of this were that Ellie could have some of the money that she had already paid off the debt, returned to her.

To determine whether someone is a member of a couple, Centrelink will look at your:

· Financial arrangements

· Accommodation and household set up

· Social relationship

· Sexual relationship

· Commitment to each other 

If you’d like to read more about this, see this factsheet about relationship status and Centrelink.

If you need more assistance, please get in touch.

Legal Assistance Line: 0419 793 652 or 03 9481 0355

Worker Help Line (for support workers): 0429 450 346 or 03 9481 0655

*Names and some identifying details have been changed.

Staff Profile: Graeme Parsons, Financial Counsellor

I’m Graeme, the Financial Counsellor at SSRV. I work as part of the Integrated Services Project, in partnership with FCVic and have been in the post since November last year.

I previously worked in the banking industry for many years and I’ve worked as a financial counsellor here in Melbourne and in Sydney. 

I’m originally from the UK, and lived in Asia for some years before moving to Australia 20 years ago. Two of our children are now off at university, with the younger one poised to fly the nest in the next few years.

When I am not working, I am involved in local rugby (in a non-playing role these days) and in Life Saving – in fact, I’ve recently started as a pool life guard. The irony of an ageing Englishman who arrived in Australia barely able to swim 50 metres now being tasked with guarding the aquatic safety of others, is not lost on me.

Like our work at SSRV however, it is reassuring how, with training, attitude and teamwork, we can bring surprising and positive outcomes. I am looking forward to continuing to be part of such a diverse and dedicated group and organisation.

Did you know?

Centrelink has many requirements of people who seek assistance

A disaster, such as a bushfire or a flood, can take away your home, your business, or the business you work for. Sadly, disasters happen all too often in Victoria.

Some people have their first experience with Centrelink after a disaster. For example, they may apply for Jobseeker payment, a disaster payment, or a crisis payment.

Centrelink has many requirements of people who seek assistance, including:

· Identification documents

· Financial information

· Information about family relationships

To be ready for such a situation, it’s a good idea to have your important information easily accessible to take with you in the event you need to flee a disaster. You could also consider securely storing the information online. 

For example, think about:

· Can you access your bank account if you don’t have your own phone or computer?

· Would you remember who you’re insured with if all your documents are gone?

· How will you go with 100 points of ID?

These are challenging things to think about but – especially if you live in a bushfire or flood zone – its best to think about them before disaster strikes, rather than afterwards.

Our Disaster Preparedness and Response Plan will tackle this challenge from a range of perspectives. Find out more.

DSP Help project: its impact and plans for the future

Over the past two years SSRV has been working on our DSP Help Project, using human-centred design and technology to build a resource that applicants, support workers, health workers and others can use to better understand the Disability Support Pension (DSP) application and appeals processes. We gratefully acknowledge that the Project has been funded by the Victorian Legal Services Board Grants Program.

As the project winds up, we’d like to take a moment to talk about what’s been achieved and look at the future of DSP Help. 

What did we do? 

The core of the DSP Help Project was the creation of the online resource: Designed with the needs of DSP applicants and those supporting them in mind, DSP Help provides information and guidance to help navigate the DSP application and appeals processes. 

The website includes: 

Information about DSP eligibility and supporting medical evidence. 

A medical evidence chatbot applicants can use to generate a customised evidence kit they can take to their doctors when seeking a letter or report in support of their application. 

Information about appealing a rejected application. 

Resources for doctors and other health workers who may be producing medical evidence for applicants. 

Links to get further help from SSRV where needed. 

The project was supported by and complemented SSRV’s legal practice. Some people need more assistance than a website can offer, and the DSP Help Project was able to assist them by resourcing a dedicated community lawyer to help provide advice and representation for people appealing DSP rejections. 

What did we achieve? 

In the two years we ran the DSP Help Project: 

  • More than 30,000 people made use of the DSP Help website. 
  • Almost 3,500 people used the medical evidence chatbot, and more than 2,000 created customised medical evidence kits to support their application or appeal. 
  • 191 legal services were delivered to individuals, including 18 representations at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. 
  • Community Legal Education was delivered to almost 300 community, support and other workers helping people with the DSP. 

Download the DSP Help Project Year Two report,

What’s in store for the future? 

While the project may have come to an end, DSP Help and SSRV’s work in this space has not. The DSP Help website will remain online, so please, if you or someone you support needs information about the DSP please visit

The DSP will likely remain one of the biggest reasons people get in touch with us and our lawyers will continue to provide advice and casework to people appealing rejected applications. If you or someone you support needs assistance, please contact us. 

Get in Touch 

SSRV is a state-wide community legal centres that provide specialist legal advice and assistance regarding Centrelink matters. DSP Help is part of the range of services offered by SSRV, including: 

Legal Assistance Line (for individuals and carers): 03 9481 0355

Worker Help Line (for support workers and health professionals): 03 9481 0655 

Or visit our websites:

DSP Help


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