Staff profile: Jenny Lawton, Community Lawyer

Sometime last century I commenced with SSRV as a volunteer member of the Board. Back then, SSRV was called the Welfare Rights Unit (WRU), and was a tiny but mighty community organisation.

I was then a senior financial counsellor and a regular witness to the way WRU made a difference helping Centrelink recipients find solutions to social security issues. After around ten years I decided to put that law degree to some use and ceased volunteering as a Board member to take up a role as a lawyer.

I returned to SSRV in 2022 to work on our Disaster Preparedness and Response Project. In my time away, I had gathered deep experience in consumer and insurance law, worked across a range of human rights legal issues, and even helped to develop Victoria’s Disaster Legal Help model in 2009.

I hope my involvement with the Disaster Preparedness and Response Project helps SSRV and other community organisations build capacity to support people impacted by disasters and who need help to successfully interact with Centrelink.

To help me switch off my lawyer’s brain, I try cooking, growing things in the garden to eat (or for bees to enjoy) and watching almost anything the sports channel serves up… preferably with an adoring cat on my lap.

Extension of time applications when appealing Centrelink decisions – Administrative Appeals Tribunal

Anyone who has contacted SSRV about appealing a Centrelink decision will know that we go to great lengths to stress the importance of time limits.

Read our article ‘Time limits: why they matter’ to learn more about when and how time limits apply to appealing Centrelink decisions.

Time limits are always important, but are particularly important when appealing an Administrative Appeals Tribunal, Social Services and Child Support Division (‘SSCSD’) decision to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, General Division (‘General Division’). Failure to meet this time limit may mean you lose the ability to appeal to the General Division.  This time limit applies to all decisions, including debts.

What happens when you miss a time limit? 

Time limits are critical at each stage of the appeal process as they can impact your right to back payment if an appeal is successful. However, you can still lodge an Authorised Review Officer review (‘ARO’) or SSCSD appeal if you miss the 13-week time limit.  Missing the time limit often means that, if successful, the date you can be back paid changes to the date you lodged the appeal, often resulting in less back pay.  

A strict 28-day time limit applies to appeal an SSCSD decision to the General Division.    

Once the 28-day time limit expires, you will need to lodge an extension of time application to the General Division, asking them to allow you to appeal.    

There is no guarantee an extension will be granted as the General Division will consider a range of factors in deciding whether to allow you to appeal out of time.  In fact, it is very difficult to obtain an extension of time to appeal.  If the General Division refuses your application, you will not be able to appeal the SSCSD decision to the General Division. 

The legislation  

The power to grant an extension of time comes from section 29(7) of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act 1975. It states that the General Division may grant an extension if ‘satisfied that it is reasonable in all the circumstances.’  

The case of Hunter Valley Developments Pty Ltd and Others v Minister for Home Affairs and Environment 1984 outlines the following list of factors as a guide to assist the Tribunal in making their decision whether to grant an extension of time application:  

  1. Special circumstances need not be shown, however, the Court will not grant the application unless positively satisfied that it is proper so to do [and] … there is an “acceptable explanation of the delay” and it is “fair and equitable in the circumstances” to extend time.  
  1. Action taken by the applicant, other than by making an application for review under the Act, is relevant to the consideration of the question whether an acceptable explanation for the delay has been furnished.  
  2. Any prejudice to the respondent… however, the mere absence of prejudice is not enough to justify the grant of an extension.  
  1. The merits of the substantial application are properly to be taken into account in considering whether an extension of time should be granted.  
  2. Considerations of fairness as between the applicants and other persons otherwise in a like position.  

Case studies 

There are a number of cases where an extension of time was refused despite being lodged just one day after the 28-day time limit expired.    

However, extensions aren’t always refused.  In Reilly and Secretary, Department of Social Serivces (Social services second review) [2019], the impact of family violence was a key factor in the General Division granting an extension of time.  

In Anastasis and Secretary, Department of Social Services (Social services second review) [2018], the General Division granted an extension of time that involved a delay of over two years, complex personal circumstances for the applicant and a determination that there was merit to the substantial application.    

If you want to appeal an AAT SSCSD decision, lodge your application within the 28-days of receiving the SSCSD decision.  If you miss the time limit, you can make an extension of time application but it may not be successful, which will prevent you from appealing the SSCSD decision to the General Division.  

Need legal help? 

SSRV is a community legal centre that provides free legal services in relation to social security and Centrelink matters to people across Victoria. 

Legal Assistance Line 

Monday – Friday 
9am-1pm and 2pm-5pm 
Phone: 03 9481 0355 

Improving disaster-informed Centrelink decision-making is important

In any given year, around a quarter of SSRV’s clients are involved in a Centrelink dispute about the rate of their social security payments. We now know that a disaster can directly cause these kinds of disputes.

For example, after his house burnt down in a bushfire, our client Alex* moved into temporary accommodation with his ex-partner.  Alex updated Centrelink about his circumstances, and Centrelink subsequently determined that Alex was now a member of a couple. Alex’s age pension and that of his ex-partner were reduced.  Alex told us that he had not reconciled with his ex-partner; that they did not share finances; and that they considered themselves to be house mates. 

SSRV can provide legal advice and assistance for people seeking to appeal Centrelink decisions that do not properly consider the impacts of a disaster. We understand the importance of correct decision-making regarding payments in the stressful times following a disaster.

SSRV also recognises the impact on Centrelink recipients of having to appeal such decisions, especially in the face of a disaster where there are many competing pressures and stresses. We believe Centrelink need to take a disaster-informed approach to their decision making and make correct and informed decisions in the first instance. 

In Alex’s case, this may have avoided the need for Alex to pursue an appeal and argue that he was not a member of a couple. His time and energy could have been vested into rebuilding and recovering post disaster.

With disasters being declared six to ten times a year in Victoria, we think social security legislation needs to be disaster informed, and social security policy needs to guide correct decision making in the first instance. This year, we’re looking for ways to bring this issue to the attention of law and policy makers.  

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

 *Name changed

Did you know?

Sam* had applied for Jobseeker payment but his claim was rejected. When he phoned Centrelink, he was told that they had mailed a notice requesting further information, and when they had not received that information, they had mailed him another letter advising his application was rejected.  

Sam had not received either of the letters because his house was damaged by the bushfires and he was no longer living there. ​

To make matters more complicated, Sam had lost the documents requested by Centrelink in the bushfire. ​Because Sam hadn’t received the letters, and he contacted Centrelink more than 13 weeks after the rejection, he was no longer entitled to back payments.

It’s always a good idea to keep Centrelink updated about your current mailing address, and to look for ways to protect your important documents from being damaged or lost in a disaster.

The legislation as it stands allows for Centrelink to rely upon correspondence which is mailed to disaster-affected regions. This can have big impacts on social security payments. With disasters being declared six to ten times a year in Victoria, we believe social security legislation and policy needs to be more disaster-informed. In the coming year, we’ll be looking for ways to bring this issue to the attention of law and policy makers.

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

*Name has been changed

Time limits: why they matter

Anyone who has called our Worker Helpline wanting to appeal a Centrelink decision will know that one of the first things we advise about is time limits. It’s essential to be aware of applicable time limits because they can have a significant impact on your entitlement to back pay and right to appeal further, and it’s our job to let you know.

The case of Hodges-Fong and Secretary, Department of Social Services (Social services second review) [2022] AATA 3102 (23 September 2022) demonstrates the importance of time limits in regards to entitlement to back pay.


The applicant, who we will refer to as HF, lodged an application for the Age Pension on 11 April 2019. On 24 August 2019, Centrelink rejected her application and sent her a letter advising of this decision.

HF stated she never received this letter and contacted Centrelink on 24 April 2020 about the status of her claim. As her application had been rejected, Centrelink logged this contact as a review request (internal review).

An internal review affirmed the decision to reject her Age Pension application on the basis that she did not respond to a notice for further information.

On appeal, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (Social Security and Child Support Division) (‘AAT SSCSD’) decided that the basis for rejecting her application was incorrect as she had provided further information as requested by Centrelink. 

The AAT SSCSD remitted the matter back to Centrelink to re-assess her eligibility and determined that HF was to be back paid from 24 April 2020 (the date Centrelink entered the review request). Centrelink granted her Age Pension application and paid her from the 24 April 2020.

HF appealed to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (General Division) (‘General Division’) as she believed she was entitled to back payment from the date she lodged her claim on 11 April 2019.

The decision

1. Did Centrelink notify HF of the decision to reject her Age Pension claim?

The General Division explained that under section 237 of the Social Security Administration Act 1999 (‘the Administration Act’) “if a notice of decision is sent by prepaid post to the postal address of the person last known to the Agency, then notice of the decision is taken to have been given to the person at the time at which the notice would be delivered in the ordinary course of the pose unless the contrary is proved. A similar provision can be found in Section 29 of the Acts Interpretation Act 1901 (Cth).”

The General Division also noted that previous tribunal decisions have determined that notice is considered given “provided the letter was correctly addressed and posted…even if the Tribunal were satisfied that the Applicant did not actually receive the notice.”

2. On what date did HF request an internal review?

HF’s contact with Centrelink on 24 April 2020 was the first contact she had with them since July 2019. She detailed to the General Division her personal circumstances which became barriers to her following up with Centrelink prior April 2020. As such, she did not suggest she had requested a review prior to this date either. The General Division determined a review was to be taken as requested on 24 April 2020, which was more than 13 weeks after the notice of rejection.

3. What date can HF be paid Age Pension from (to determine any entitlement to back pay)?

Section 107(3) of the Administration Act states that if someone requests a review of a decision to reject their payment application more than 13 weeks after they have been notified of that decision, and the review results in a decision to grant their claim, then they can only be back paid from the date they requested the review.

Ultimately, the General Division decided that HF was deemed to have been notified of the decision to reject her Age Pension application by way of the letter dated 24 August 2019. Because she had been notified of the rejection decision, and she requested a review more than 13 weeks after being notified, she could only be back paid to the date she requested the review – 24 April 2020.

The Tribunal noted in their reasons that the legislation provided no discretion to backpay HF further than this date.

Why is this AAT General Division decision important?

Time limits apply at each stage of the appeal process. Complying with time limits preserves entitlement to back pay should someone be successful in their appeal.

Appealing Centrelink decisions can also take a long time – sometimes up to 18 months or more. This can make complying with time limits confusing. HF didn’t request an internal review of the decision to reject her payment application within the strict time limits. As a result, she missed out on approximately 12 months back pay from April 2019 to April 2020.

You can still appeal most decisions outside the strict time limits, however it is important to note that you will only be back paid from the date you requested the appeal – as was the case for HF.

Time limits don’t just apply to decisions about payment applications. Time limits apply to almost all decisions Centrelink make about someone’s social security entitlement, including but not limited to cancellation, suspension and variation. There are no time limits to appeal a decision about a debt to an internal review, but time limits do apply once at the AAT.

Finally, this decision addresses an equally important issue regarding notice of decisions. If the letter is correctly addressed and posted, or sent to MyGov, then it is considered received unless it can be proven otherwise. As this decision demonstrates, proving otherwise is not an easy thing to do.

If you are awaiting a decision by Centrelink it is important to regularly follow up with them, check your Centrelink App or MyGov account. Doing this will help to prevent missing important time limitations.


For more information on applicable time limits for different types of Centrelink payments, take a look at the table at the end of Economic Justice Australia’s fact sheet ‘Appealing a Centrelink decision’ available on our website here.

If you need information or advice about a decision Centrelink have made, then please contact our Legal Assistance Line on (03) 9481 0355 or Worker Helpline on (03) 9481 0655.

Staff Profile: Laura Jordan, Principal Lawyer

While I started at Social Security Rights Victoria in September 2021 as a Community Lawyer working on disaster preparedness, I have since moved into the role of Principal Lawyer.

Prior to joining SSRV, I practised in the community legal sector in the areas of family violence, family law and child protection, in Victoria and in the Northern Territory. I then moved into administrative law before joining the team at SSRV to assist clients with navigating the complex social security system we have in Australia.

I am passionate about the work we do here at SSRV, as well as the community legal sector more broadly, and I am very proud to be part of the team at SSRV. Every day I see up close, and am encouraged by, our team’s passion for social security and assisting our clients. The legal work we do day-to-day can be complex, but we are driven by our common goal of holding the government to account and pursuing correct and just decision-making.

The work we do at SSRV is underpinned by social security being a human right. I believe providing the community with access to lawyers who specialise in social security is a pivotal part of increasing access to justice in the social security space.

Besides my passion for administrative law and social security, I am an avid animal lover and enjoy cooking. On the weekends you’ll find me at the local park or beach with my four-legged furry best friend.

The ‘other’ family violence 

When Emily* reached out to a family violence centre for support to leave an abusive relationship, she told the counsellor that the abuse had been going on for two years. In fact, it had been going on for a lot longer than that. 

Emily’s partner had been verbally and physically violent towards her for two years, but the financial abuse had been perpetrated since the first year of the relationship. 

It began with what Emily thought was a kind suggestion that she leave paid employment to focus on caring for their newborn daughter, while he worked to support the family. Emily did receive Family Tax Benefit but she was not able to update her family’s income estimate because her partner didn’t share with her how much he earned.  

He began giving Emily an ‘allowance’ and it wasn’t long before the amount she was given shrunk, and then was used as a weapon of control and punishment. 

If Emily prepared a meal he didn’t like, her partner would ‘teach her a lesson’ by withholding money. If she complained about something or made a comment that displeased him, money would also be cut. 

Before long, Emily found herself isolated and housebound, unable to afford to meet up with friends or family or even travel outside the neighborhood. She was also silenced, fearful that her words might result in no money to buy baby formula. 

Yet Emily, like a lot of people, didn’t consider this to be abuse. 

“Economic abuse is a recognised form of violence,” says SSRV Community Lawyer Pamela Taylor-Barnett. “Economic abuse is defined as denying a person reasonable financial autonomy or financial support, and it can be as harmful as any other form of abuse, such as sexual or emotional.” 

Economic abuse, Pamela says, often involves incurring debt on behalf the victim. “The victim survivor might be threatened or coerced into taking out loans that she doesn’t want and that are not for her,” says Pamela. 

“In the case of Centrelink, which requires reporting of partner’s income, it can involve withholding information or lying to a victim.

“Often, we see clients who receive Family Tax Benefit unaware that their partner’s income means they are not eligible for the payment. It might be years later, often when tax returns are finally lodged, that these overpayment debts are raised. The emotional stress of repaying these loans can go on for years after the relationship has ended.” 

Sometimes economic abuse can take the form of the partner pressuring the victim to mislead or lie to Centrelink, saying, for example, that they are a single parent when in fact they are in a relationship, leading to legal issues and the issuing of debt. 

November 26 is International Economic Abuse Awareness Day and the theme for 2022 is Making a Difference – and that’s what SSRV is doing. 

In addition to raising awareness about economic abuse, SSRV supports victim survivors who have had a debt raised by Centrelink, are being denied access to payments, and who need support to leave violent relationships. 

*Emily’s name and some details have been changed for her safety and privacy.

Financial Counselling Victoria conference: working together

After two years of attending the Financial Counselling Victoria conference online via Zoom, it was a great pleasure in September to be able to take part in the conference in person. 

Financial counselling is part of SSRV’s Integrated Service Project, where SSRV’s community lawyers and in-house financial counsellor work together and with financial counsellors employed by other agencies to improve client outcomes.

It’s an important part of SSRV’s work. Our staff regularly engage with clients who are experiencing a multiple, inter-connected and compounding financial difficulties. 

Over 300 people attended the Financial Counselling Victoria conference, including financial counsellors, as well as various Victorian stakeholders including banks, not for profits, staff from ombudsman schemes, debt collectors, utility providers – all essential to the work of our Integrated Services Project. 

The two-day conference took in key speakers, panel discussions and seminars.

The purpose of SSRV attending the conference was to further promote our integrated legal and financial counselling services. We wanted to learn more about the work others are doing in this sector and what supports they may offer, as well as hear about the financial challenges and difficulties that impact members of our community that may not directly relate to Centrelink.

A particular highlight of the conference was the seminar that SSRV Community Lawyer Dermott Williams delivered on the Disability Support Pension (DSP). 

The seminar ran across two days, with Dermott providing information about the eligibility criteria for the DSP, as well as common challenges and hurdles that our service knows applicants face. She finished the seminar by working through some problems posed by audience members. 

The seminar was very well received, with attendees thanking Dermott and SSRV for the information provided.

Another highlight was simply being able to meet financial counsellors and workers in person, many of whom we had previously spoken to over the telephone. Our long-experienced colleague, Peter Horbury, was able to renew old acquaintances, reminding us of the well-established ties between the financial counselling and welfare rights services in the community.

At the conference, SSRV learnt more about the myriad of financial challenges that community members face, which only reinforced for us the importance of having an integrated service that provides holistic care to clients. 

The conference reminded us of the importance of collaboration in the financial counselling sector, and the need to continue sharing knowledge and resources with other stakeholders. 

Our service strives to help build a social security system that is built on respect, empowerment, quality and integrity and it was very motivating to meet others who also share this goal. We are grateful for the opportunity to attend, to have shared our knowledge and learnt from others.

How poverty impacts people with social security issues

Anti-Poverty Week is a time when we shine a light on the causes of and issues arising from poverty in Australia. While the impacts of poverty on families is well documented, less is said about how poverty stands as a barrier to dealing with and resolving social security issues. That’s where we come in. 

Poverty is a growing problem in Australia, with one in eight people, including one in six children, currently living in poverty. 

new report released by the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) examined the impact of poverty on families reliant on social security payments. ACOSS surveyed people living on JobSeeker, Youth Allowance and Parenting Payment between July and August 2022 and found:  

  • 62 per cent have had difficulty getting medication or medical care 
  • 62 per cent are eating less or skipping meals, while 71 per cent are cutting back on meat, fresh fruit, and vegetables
  • 96 per cent of people renting privately are in rental stress, paying more than 30 per cent of their income on rent 

For people living in poverty and facing these burdens, an issue arising with or debt raised by Centrelink can be a mental and emotional load simply too great to bear. Often by the time they call us, a Centrelink issue has been left unactioned for some time, not because the recipient has been remiss, but because when your mind is on how you are going to feed your children tomorrow, everything else tends to fall by the wayside. 

For people experiencing poverty, actually working to resolve a Centrelink issue is that much harder. While Centrelink may send some correspondence through the MyGov app, other correspondence is required to be sent by post. People experiencing homelessness or moving from one temporary accommodation to another are at risk of missing important information.  

The social security system itself can exacerbate poverty. Often debt repayments are automatically set to unworkably high fortnightly amounts, and require the recipient to contact Centrelink to negotiate a lower repayment plan. There is often little consideration given to the fact that Centrelink income support payments are already at rates below the poverty line, and fortnightly deductions in addition can cause severe financial distress. 

Some income support payments also carry mutual obligations that the recipient is required to shoulder the financial burden of meeting, such as travelling to appointments with service providers. 

Other payments, such as the Disability Support Pension, have stringent eligibility criteria which rely upon doctor appointments being attended and medical evidence being obtained by the applicant. All these examples add financial burden and entrench circumstances of poverty. 

We want social security recipients to know that help is available. 

If you have been issued with a Centrelink debt that you disagree with, if Centrelink has organised a payment plan causing you financial distress, or if you are having difficulty accessing a Centrelink payment, you can call us today. Most Centrelink decisions can be appealed and repayment plans can be negotiated to be more manageable.

Are you affected by the Victorian floods?

Are you or your loved ones affected by the Victorian floods? Here’s some important information about payments and Centrelink obligations.

Disaster Payments and Allowances are available through Centrelink for specified local government areas affected by the Victorian floods. 

Disaster payments are a one-off lump sum payment, and Disaster Allowances are a temporary income support payment for people who have lost income due to the floods. The payments have specific eligibility requirements, more information can be found here.

Centrelink recipients, or persons eligible to receive Centrelink, who have had to relocate may be able to access the Crisis Payment. More information about eligibility requirements can be found here.

If you are affected by the floods, or expect to be, we recommend securing your identity information and taking it with you if you leave. You will likely need your identity information to apply for payments.

If you currently receive a payment with mutual obligation requirements, you can seek a temporary suspension on meeting the obligations by contacting Centrelink or your service provider and explaining how you are impacted by the floods. 

WorkForce Australia have suspended mutual obligations for specific regions affected by the floods. You should have been notified if this suspension by WorkForce Australia applies to you. Further information, including the regions and dates, can be found here. 

If you haven’t been notified, you may need to make a specific request for suspension of your mutual obligations. We recommend staying in contact with your service provider to ensure you have up-to-date information about your mutual obligations and impacts upon your payments.

If you have any questions about disaster payments administered by Centrelink, you can contact Centrelink’s Emergency Information Line on 180 22 66.

We are here to help if you have any disputes with Centrelink – such as if your Centrelink payment is cancelled, or Centrelink rejects your payment application. 

You can call our Legal Assistance Line on 03 9481 0355 if you would like to speak to us about the legal services we provide.

The Victorian State Government is also providing a range of support, including financial support, to people affected by the floods, with various eligibility requirements. More information can be found here:

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