Parenting Payment – Single (PPS); Member of a couple debt and cancellation
Our client was a single parent with dependent children. She was an extremely vulnerable client with a history of trauma and self-harm. Centrelink had raised a debt and cancelled her parenting payment (single) on the basis that she was in a member of a couple relationship.
Prior to the current investigation, Centrelink had undertaken several prior investigations, all of which had concluded that there was insufficient evidence that our client was a member of a couple.
All the investigations had been triggered by dob-ins from family members the history of which suggested that they were maliciously motivated. Despite there being no compelling evidence, and the investigating officer finalising the case on the basis that there was no member of a couple relationship, this decision was overruled by another senior Centrelink officer who recorded on the critical decision record: ‘stop payment. Partner them and let them appeal.’
Our client was devastated by the decision which plunged her into crisis leaving her with no money to support her family. WRLC was able to quickly act to lodge an appeal against the decisions and get her PPS payments restored pending the outcome of the appeal.
We subsequently lodged detailed submissions with the Authorised Review Officer (ARO) in support of the appeal against Centrelink’s decision to treat her as a member of a couple.
During the appeal, due to significant concerns for our client’s mental health and wellbeing, as a result of the Centrelink investigation and the raising of the debts, WRLC also worked with the client’s psychologist to put in place a safety plan in the event that the ARO appeal was not successful.
Fortunately the ARO appeal was successful with all the debts being set aside and a determination that our client was not in a member of a couple relationship.
This case study was provided by the Welfare Rights and Legal Centre (ACT)
Newstart Allowance; debt
Our client from a non-English speaking background had incurred a substantial Centrelink debt. The client was on Newstart Allowance and in financial hardship. Centrelink had decided to continue to recover this debt even after he had been discharged from Bankruptcy. Darwin Community Legal Service represented the client at the Social Security Appeals Tribunal (SSAT). The SSAT decided that Centrelink had made a mistake. The debt had not been incurred through fraud and was therefore irrecoverable following bankruptcy. The result was that Centrelink had to stop recovering the debt and refund all moneys recovered in error.
This case study was provided by Darwin Community Legal Service (NT)
Newstart Allowance and Disability Support Pension; debt
Our client contacted in relation to a debt recently raised by Centrelink for overpayment of Newstart Allowance (NSA) and Disability Support Pension (DSP), as they considered that he had income that had not been disclosed to them.
The original debts were approximately $55,000, representing his entire payments over several years, because there were unidentified deposits in his bank account. He had sought an internal review of the decisions, and eventually the debts were reduced to approximately $26,000, however there was also a prosecution investigation pending.
The Welfare Rights Centre (SA) took on the matter and represented him at the Social Security Appeals Tribunal (SSAT). Centrelink, in the words of the Tribunal, had identified data, formed presumptions about that data, asked him to rebut the presumptions and then refused to accept the rebuttal.
We laboriously went through 1600 pages of bank records, credit card records and statements to match the information with the client’s story. After the initial SSAT hearing, the matter was adjourned to ask for Centrelink to explain the calculations and to justify the presumptions being made. These were then given to WRC to explain on the client’s behalf.
The question was ultimately what is income for Social Security Law purposes? Home equity conversions, explicitly excluded under the legislation had nevertheless been included in this debt calculation. Transfers between his own bank accounts had also been included.
Ultimately, the SSAT found that the debt had been so badly calculated and the assumptions that Centrelink had made were unfounded and the debt was found not to exist. The SSAT also noted and formally acknowledged the efforts of the advocate from WRC in this matter and the assistance we provided the SSAT.
This case study was provided by the Welfare Rights Centre (SA)