Case Studies

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Jane – Disability Support Pension (DSP); medical issues

Jane had been rejected for DSP on the basis that she did not meet the requirements to receive 20 points for her medical conditions, namely osteoarthritis in knees and spine, adjustment disorder, hypertension, hyperlipidaemia and hyperthyroidism.  Centrelink considered the osteoarthritis in the knee was not fully treated, nor the adjustment disorder.  Jane saw us after she had received her Centrelink Authorised Review Officer’s decision, but before her Social Security Appeals Tribunal (SSAT) hearing.  We agreed to represent her at the SSAT.

WRC wrote to Jane’s doctors to obtain more information; however, we were unable to get this before the hearing.  Based on our submissions, the SSAT adjourned whilst we gathered further evidence.  We also sought a letter from Jane’s psychologist.

Centrelink had stated that, even if Jane did meet the medical requirements, she would fail on the “program of support” requirement.  WRC needed to counter this argument also.  Jane had participated in Job Services programs for several years and completed at least two TAFE courses aimed to get her back into the workplace, so we also sought a letter from her former Job Services Providers to put to the SSAT. 

The SSAT accepted our submissions and the extra evidence. Jane was given 30 points and the tribunal accepted that Jane had a continuing inability to work. She was granted DSP with back-pay from July 2012 as the appeal had been going on for so long.  This decision has greatly assisted her as her husband is currently undergoing intensive cancer treatment and they were struggling financially. 

This case study was provided by the Welfare Rights Centre (SA)

Michael – DSP debt; living overseas

Centrelink had told Michael he owed $28,000 as had been receiving Disability Support Pension (DSP) while living in a country with which Australia does not have an international agreement.  The Welfare Rights Centre QLD looked into the case and realised there was much more to the story and good prospects of having the debt waived.

Despite serious congenital disabilities Michael had worked as a taxi driver for thirty years. Michael’s legs end just below the knees, one arm ends just below his elbow, the other has one finger and one pincer-like thumb.  Eventually Michael’s arthritis became too painful to continue work; he was granted DSP and became his elderly father’s carer.

After his father died, Michael decided to pursue his lifelong dream of sailing up the Queensland coast.  He sold his home, informed Centrelink of his plan and set off for USA, where boats were cheaper, expecting to return in a few months.

Transporting his yacht back home proved problematic and Michael spent two years living on the boat in Panama, trying to arrange things. 

When Michael’s sister told him he’d received a letter about transferring from Disability Support Pension to Age Pension, he contacted Centrelink, whereupon his payment was cancelled.  Michael returned to have his payment restored, but a debt of $28,000 was raised as Michael had been living in Panama, a country which does not have an international social security agreement with Australia.  Michael was unaware that living in Panama was a problem for him.  Since returning to Australia, Michael had to sell his boat at a substantial loss, leaving him with little cash remaining.

The Qld Basic Rights successfully argued at the Social Security Appeals Tribunal for waiver of the $26,000 debt still outstanding on the basis of his special circumstances.  We argued that Michael did not “knowingly’ receive payments to which he was not entitled and would have complied with DSP rules, if he had known them.

As a result of this case, Michael will be able to keep his car and retain his mobility.

This case study was provided by the QLD Basic Rights

Samantha – Carer Payment; debt

Samantha cares for her two young children who both have severe development disorders. She also works part-time in the evenings.  She receives carer payment and family tax benefit.

When Samantha first claimed carer payment, she gave Centrelink copies of her payslips, which showed that she was working and that her earnings varied from fortnight to fortnight. Centrelink should have put her on fortnightly reporting to make sure she wasn’t overpaid, but it did not. Samantha also told Centrelink how much she and her husband earned every year when she reported her annual income for family tax benefit.

Unfortunately, Centrelink paid Samantha carer payment as though she was earning no money at all for several years. When Samantha called to check how her payment would be affected if she worked a few more hours a week, Centrelink told her it didn’t know she was working at all. Centrelink then continued to overpay Samantha for almost another full year before realising its mistake and raising a debt. When Samantha asked for review of the debt, Centrelink said that although it made mistakes, its letters to Samantha should have made her aware of their mistakes, and on that basis it refused to waive all but a small fraction of the debt. Samantha, whose life was already highly stressful, began to suffer extreme stress, anxiety and depression as a result of the debt.

The Welfare Rights Centre (NSW) represented Samantha at the Social Security Appeals Tribunal (SSAT). We argued that the entire debt should be waived on the basis that it was solely attributable to Centrelink’s error, and that Centrelink’s letters were misleading and confusing. Centrelink should have taken into account Samantha’s variable earnings, and it should have made it clear to Samantha that the reports of her income for family assistance purposes were not being taken into account for the purpose of her carer payment.

The SSAT agreed, and found that the debt was entirely Centrelink’s fault. It ordered that the whole of the debt be waived, including a refund of the amount Samantha had already paid off. The SSAT also noted that although it did not need to consider Samantha’s circumstances, they were special and uncommon and it would have considered waiving the debt on the grounds of special circumstances as well. 

This case study was provided by the Welfare Rights Centre (NSW)

Nell – Parenting Payment; Debt

Nell contacted the Hobart Community Legal Service (HCLS) after Centrelink decided she was living as a member of a couple with her ex-husband. Centrelink cancelled Nell’s Parenting Payment (Single) and raised a debt of $33,259.90.  The HCLS represented Nell at the Social Security Appeals Tribunal (SSAT). The SSAT found that Nell was not living as a member of a couple and set aside Centrelink’s Authorised Review Officer’s decision. As a result the Parenting Payment and Family Tax Benefit debts raised against our client were found not to exist. The Commonwealth did not appeal the decision of the SSAT to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

This case study was provided by Hobart Community Legal Service (TAS)