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:



Disability Support Pension Webinar

Are you applying for DSP or are you a worker helping someone put together their application? The DSP can be complex and we’re running an education session to give you everything you need to know. 

Who: Anyone looking to apply for DSP or workers helping someone apply for DSP

When: 10 November 2022, 10:00am – 11:30am

Where: Online via Zoom – link will be provided upon registration.

What the webinar will cover:

· The DSP medical eligibility criteria

· What is a Program of Support

· Practical tips when applying for DSP

· Resources available including SSRV and DSP Help

· Appealing a Centrelink decision

Questions? Please call us on 03 9481 0299 or email info@ssrv.org.au.

To register your attendance, please email info@ssrv.org.au, including your name, email and phone number.

SSRV’s Financial Counselling Services

When Sienna contacted the SSRV Legal Assistance Line for advice, she was stressed and overwhelmed. Struggling to find a rental property for herself and her children while existing on social security payments, for two years Sienna had been forced to live in the same house as her violent ex-partner. Now, she had been been informed of a Centrelink debt she said was incorrectly issued and would take her years to repay.

As single mother, Sienna had been receiving Parenting Payment Single despite having been living separated under the same roof with her ex-partner, and the recent Centrelink decision had deemed that for two of the years she had been receiving the payment she had been in a relationship, and she would now have to repay those payments. She had also had her Parenting Payment Single cut and was moved to the Jobseeker payment, at a much lower rate. 

In addition to her Centrelink debt, Sienna also had debts totaling tens of thousands of dollars, that she said she was coerced into accumulating by her ex-partner. 

Yet, when she disclosed her problems with SSRV’s financial counsellor Graeme Parsons, it soon became clear that her debts were the least of her problems. Sienna and her children were about to become homeless. 

“Centrelink issues rarely happen in a vacuum,” says Graeme. “Assisting someone to appeal a Centrelink decision might solve that issue, but not necessarily the overall problem.” 

SSRV staff regularly engage with clients who are experiencing a multiple, inter-connected and compounding difficulties. That is why the organisation sought and was so pleased to be granted funding for the Integrated Service Project, which is now in its fourth year. SSRV’s community lawyers and in-house financial counsellor work together, and with financial counsellors employed by other agencies, to improve client outcomes.

When a person calls SSRV to seek assistance regarding a Centrelink problem, SSRV’s front-line and legal team make an assessment of whether the person may benefit from meeting with the financial counsellor. If so, and the person agrees, they may be offered an appointment with the in-house financial counsellor or referred to the National Debt Help Line.

When Sienna contacted SSRV, the lawyer she spoke to identified that Sienna’s financial problems extended beyond her Centrelink debt, and connected her with Graeme, who worked with Sienna to understand her financial and related problems. 

“Working through the detail of a person’s finances, behaviours and current situation is often the best means of understanding what needs to happen next,” explains Graeme.

Sienna’s immediate need was to find housing. Once that was secured, with SSRV’s support she was able to address how her financial situation and address the Centrelink debt that had resulted from her ex-partner’s abuse, including appealing the Centrelink decision to raise the debt. 

Sienna says that having a lawyer and financial counsellor working together meant that she was able to get her financial state back in order more quickly and painlessly than having to deal with multiple organisations, and without having to relive her trauma by being forced to repeatedly tell her story.

In addition to his work with SSRV clients, Graeme and the Project team works with other financial counselling services to raise awareness of the big picture financial problems facing disadvantaged people and areas where changes to laws or processes, especially those relating to income support payments, could make a real difference.

Speaking about the provision of integrated services, Graeme says “It’s about the lawyers picking up on related issues being experienced by clients and referring them through to a financial counsellor who may help them address these needs. Often that involves working with creditors, and saying in Sienna’s case for example, yes Sienna did take out this loan for a motorcycle – but what does it tell you that she doesn’t have a motorcycle license? She was in an abusive relationship with man who already owns two other motorcycles and who pressured her to do so. Can you take this into consideration?” 

SSRV’s Integrated Service Project, says Graeme, is all about social security lawyers and financial counsellors working together in a person-centred way. 

“We work as an integrated service,” says Graeme. “People who contact SSRV are often already feeling isolated, alone and without allies – when they call us, we don’t insist they isolate their issues.” 

Staff Profile: Eloise Cox, Community Lawyer

I started working for SSRV in August 2022, and I am part of the Integrated Services Project (ISP) team.

ISP is an ongoing partnership between Financial Counselling Victoria and SSRV, which aims to improve client outcomes through financial counsellors and social security lawyers working together more effectively. Our service often engages with clients who are experiencing multiple, inter-connected and compounding financial difficulties. The project aims to provide holistic care to clients.

Prior to joining SSRV, I worked as a community lawyer primarily in family violence, employment law and tenancy. I have also volunteered for several years in the community legal centre sector. I am passionate about using my law degree as a tool to advocate for clients and help them to gain access to our legal system.

Outside of work, I take pottery classes, enjoy cooking and trying new recipes, and hit the slopes with my snowboard in winter. 

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