In any given year, around a quarter of SSRV’s clients are in dispute with Centrelink about social security overpayments. We now know that a disaster can exacerbate these kinds of disputes.
Max* was in the process of seeking review of an overpayment raised against her by Centrelink seven years ago when she lost her rural property and most of her personal belongings in a bushfire. She was then diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Max told us that her capacity to engage with Centrelink and challenge the debt raised against her had significantly declined since the bushfire and the COVID-19 pandemic. SSRV ultimately persuaded the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) that Max’s debt should be waived.
According to the Services Australia Annual Report, in financial year 2021/2022 about one in four Centrelink decisions that were reviewed by the AAT were remitted. This means the AAT disagreed with Centrelink and changed the decision upon appeal.
SSRV’s work in disaster preparedness and response has highlighted the need for Centrelink decision-making to be more considered and trauma informed, especially for people affected by disaster. Improved decision making at the outset will result in less Centrelink recipients having to pursue the process of appeal, to correct a Centrelink decision. SSRV is working to raise this need for change to the attention of legislation and policy makers.
*Name has been changed