If you are unhappy about a Centrelink decision that affects you, you have the right to know the reasons for the decision and can have the decision reviewed.

Centrelink does not discriminate against customers who exercise their right of appeal.

What are my rights under social security law?

You have the right to:

  • receive written reasons for any decision that Centrelink makes about you or your payment;
  • appeal any Centrelink decision that you believe is wrong;
  • obtain copies of the law or policy which Centrelink used in making its decision; and
  • obtain a copy of your social security file under Freedom of Information laws.

What kinds of decisions can I challenge?

The Social Security (Administration) Act 1999 provides that a person affected by a decision of a Centrelink officer may apply for review of that decision.

If Centrelink makes a decision that affects you personally, such as cancelling your Centrelink payment or deciding that you are not eligible for a payment that you have applied for, you can ask for the decision to be reviewed.

How do I challenge a Centrelink decision?

The social security appeals system is divided into internal review procedures (reviews within Centrelink) and external review procedures (reviews by tribunals and courts). You will need to start by requesting an internal review, because external tribunals will only look at a decision if it has already been reviewed internally.

Internal review

You can talk to a staff member at Centrelink over the phone or at a Centrelink Service Centre. You can ask them to check the details of the decision they have made about you and also ask them to explain it to you. You can also give them more information or correct any wrong information they might have.

If this does not result in the decision being changed, you can ask for a free internal review by an authorised review officer.

The review officer will be a person who has not had any previous involvement in your case and can change the decision if it is wrong.

The review officer will:

  • where possible, talk to you about the decision;
  • look at the facts, the law and policy;
  • change the decision if it is not correct; and
  • advise you in writing about the result of the review.

You should appeal to the review officer within 13 weeks of receiving written notice of the original decision. If you ask for an appeal within this 13-week timeframe, you may receive backdated payments from the date you were affected by Centrelink's original decision. You can still ask for a review after the 13-week timeframe, but any changes will only apply from the date that you requested the review.

You must apply for review of some Family Tax Benefit decisions within 52 weeks of being notified of the decision. 

There is no time limit if you are asking for a review about money you owe Centrelink, but you may have to pay back the money to Centrelink while the decision is being considered.

An appeal for review can be made:

It is usually a good idea to inspect your Centrelink file before appealing for a review because it may contain information that is useful for the review.

The review officer will look at the information used by the original decision maker and ensure that all relevant available information was taken into account. The review officer will also check whether any new and relevant information is available and correct any mistakes. When the review is complete, the review officer will send you a letter outlining the reasons for their decision.

External review

If an internal review has been completed but you still believe the decision made is incorrect, you can apply for an external review. The external review process is divided into two stages:

First Review

If you believe the decision made by the review officer is incorrect, in most cases you can seek a free review by the Social Services & Child Support Division of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. This review is called a "first review".

The Administrative Appeals Tribunal is an independent statutory tribunal that can review Centrelink decisions, including social security, family assistance, paid parental leave, child support, and education or training payments.

You can apply for a first review of a Centrelink decision by:

  • filling out an application form and sending it directly to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (via email, fax or post) – application forms can be found here;
  • visiting one of Administrative Appeals Tribunal’s offices;
  • visiting the Administrative Appeals Tribunal website and lodging an application online; or
  • calling the AAT on 1800 228 333.

There are time limits for making some applications for first review:

  • Social security – there is no time limit for applying for first review. But your application should be made within 13 weeks of the review officer’s decision so that you are eligible to receive backdated payments;
  • Family assistance – there is no time limit for applying for first review if the decision is about payment of family tax benefit by instalment or about raising of debt. But your application should be made within 13 weeks of the review officer’s decision so that you are eligible to receive backdated payments. All other family assistance decisions have a time limit of 13 weeks from the review decision (which may be extended in special circumstances). 
  • Student assistance – you must make an application for first review within three months of the date of the review decision. This may be extended in special circumstances.
  • Paid parental leave – you must make an application for first review within 28 days of receiving the review decision. This may be extended in special circumstances.

After you have lodged an application for first review, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal will write to you to let you know that they have received your application. The Tribunal will also contact Centrelink and let them know that they have received your application for a first review.  Centrelink will be required to provide the Tribunal with a statement of reasons for its decision, which will include all Centrelink documents.

You will be assigned an Administrative Appeals Tribunal officer who will be your contact person throughout the review process. The Tribunal officer will not be at the hearing and will not be the person who makes a decision on your application for review. Applications are usually heard by one member. The Administrative Appeals Tribunal will hold the first review hearing in private. Apart from any Tribunal staff members, the Tribunal generally does not allow anybody else to be present at the hearing. If you would like to bring along a representative to speak on your behalf, or a person to simply come along and silently support you, you must ask the Tribunal for permission first.

Most first hearings take up to an hour.

In some circumstances the Administrative Appeals Tribunal may tell you the decision on the day of the hearing. Otherwise, the Tribunal must write to you with its decisions and reasons within 14 days. The decision of the Tribunal will confirm, change or set aside the decision of Centrelink. The Tribunal will also tell you about your right to apply for a “second review.

Second Review

If you are unhappy with the decision made by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal under the first review, you have a right to a further review by the Tribunal's General Division. This is called a second review. Centrelink may also appeal to the Tribunal for a second review. Appeals to the Tribunal must be made within 28 days from the date you receive the first review decision (unless the Tribunal grants you an extension), and applications must be made in writing.

You can apply for a second review of a Centrelink decision by:

  • filling out an application form and sending it directly to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (via email, fax or post) or dropping it off at one of the Tribunal's offices. Application forms can be found here; or by
  • writing a letter to the Tribunal requesting a second review.

You must provide reasons for your application for a second review. For example, you may think the decision is wrong and a different decision should be made, or that the information you provided was not taken into account, or that the law was not applied correctly.

The Administrative Appeals Tribunal will write to you to confirm receipt of your application. If the Tribunal thinks that the decision you want reviewed is not reviewable by them, they will write to you to explain why and give you the chance to tell the Tribunal why you think they are wrong. If the Tribunal decides to review the decision made at the first review, the Tribunal will hold a conference at which you or your representative can meet with a Centrelink representative. At this conference, the Tribunal will seek to clarify the main issues in dispute and, if possible, resolve the matter. If the matter is not resolved, both parties will then have the opportunity to present evidence and argue their cases in an open hearing.

The Tribunal aims to have the case finalised within 12 months.

Decisions made by the Tribunal are binding. Either party can appeal a decision of the Tribunal to the Federal Court of Australia, but only on a question of law.

How much does it cost to appeal?

Generally, there is no charge for an internal Centrelink review, a first review or a second review of Centrelink decisions.

Each party will bear their own expenses and no costs can be awarded against you. In some circumstances, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal may pay for your reasonable travel expenses. The Tribunal will not pay travel expenses for a representative or a support person to attend the hearing.

Whom can I ask for assistance?

If you would like to challenge a Centrelink decision, you can contact Victoria Legal Aid on: 1300 792 387*. Victoria Legal Aid provides free assistance in social security matters.

Your local Welfare Rights Centre will also give you free, independent advice and assistance on any social security matter. All information that you give to a Welfare Rights officer is confidential, and Centrelink will only be contacted about your case if you ask your advocate to do so. Contact details for Welfare Rights Centres around Australia are available at National Welfare Rights Network, or, in Victoria, at Social Security Rights Victoria Inc.

Contact Social Security Rights Victoria on (03) 9481 0355 (Melbourne callers) and 1800 094 164 (rural callers) or email them on info@ssrv.org.au.

*Calls to 1300 numbers from your home phone cost the same as a local call. Calls from public and mobile phones may be timed and charged at a higher rate.