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.