Your social security rights
If you are unhappy about a Centrelink decision, you may have the right to have it reviewed.
Centrelink does not discriminate against customers who exercise their right of appeal. Centrelink decisions can be complicated and so can the appeal process. You should consider getting legal advice about a Centrelink decision before appealing it.
You have the right to:
- receive written reasons for any decision that Centrelink makes about you or your payment
- appeal most Centrelink decisions that you believe are wrong, including decisions to cancel, suspend or refuse your payment, change your rate of payment, or raise a debt against you
- obtain or access copies of the law or policy that Centrelink used in making its decision
- obtain a copy of your Centrelink file under freedom of information (FOI) laws.
You can challenge most decisions about:
- your eligibility for a payment
- your rate of payment
- suspensions or cancellations of a payment
- debts when Centrelink has overpaid you.
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, as external tribunals will only look at a decision if it has already been reviewed internally.
Types of Centrelink payments and decisions
Centrelink is in charge of different types of payments and they have slightly different rules. The main types of payments Centrelink is in charge of are:
- Social security: for example, the Jobseeker Payment, Disability Support Pension, Age Pension, Parenting Payment, Carer Payment, Austudy Payment, Youth Allowance
- Family assistance: for example, the Family Tax Benefit, Child Care Subsidy, Additional Child Care Subsidy
- Student assistance: for example, ABSTUDY, Assistance for Isolated Children (Austudy is a social security payment)
- Paid Parental Leave.
These payments can be challenged in the way described below. Some payments (for example, JET Child Care Fee Assistance, Status Resolution Support Services payment, and COVID-19 Disaster Payment) are not like the payments mentioned above and cannot be challenged or appealed in the same way.
How to request an internal review
Firstly, talk to a Centrelink staff member over the phone or at a Centrelink Service Centre about the decision that has been made. You can request the Centrelink officer who made the decision to give you specific information about the reasons why they made the decision. If you would like a copy of your Centrelink file or documents that relate to the decision, you can lodge an FOI application with Centrelink. Centrelink will then have 30 days to respond to the request. It is free to get your own information under a FOI request, but other requests may have processing fees.
Centrelink should be able to explain the reasons behind their decision. If the decision was based on incorrect or outdated information, and you provide them with new details, the Centrelink officer who made the original decision may change it.
If this does not result in the decision being changed and you are not satisfied with the explanation provided, you can ask Centrelink to have an authorised review officer complete a formal internal review. This is a free process. Centrelink has no time limit to complete a review but aims to complete all reviews within 49 days of receiving a request.
An authorised review officer is a Centrelink worker who has not had any previous involvement in your case and has the ability to change the decision if it is wrong. Their review is the first formal stage of the review or appeal process.
You should appeal a Centrelink decision within 13 weeks of receiving written notice of the original decision. If you ask for a review within this 13-week timeframe, you may receive backdated payments (if applicable) from the date you were affected by Centrelink's original decision. For most decisions, 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.
For some decisions, you must ask for a review within 13 weeks or Centrelink cannot review the decision. This includes decisions about the Child Care Subsidy and the Additional Child Care Subsidy. For decisions about debts relating to ABSTUDY and Assistance for Isolated Children, you have three months. For family assistance payments other than the childcare subsidies, like the Family Tax Benefit, you usually must ask for a review within 52 weeks. There is no time limit for asking for a review of a decision to ask you to repay a debt. If the decision is about a debt, you can ask Centrelink to put on hold your debt repayments until they complete your review.
You can request a review:
- over the phone by calling your regular payment line, or the Debt Recovery Line if you’re seeking a review of a decision to raise a debt against you
- in person at a Centrelink Service Centre
- in writing by completing an and uploading it to myGov or posting it to Centrelink.
Having a conversation (either in person or over the phone) is an easy way to start the review process, but it is a good idea to submit your request in writing, so you have a copy. If you do lodge your review request over the phone, you can ask the Centrelink officer for the receipt number of your conversation. It is recommended that you always ask for the receipt number of any call you have with Centrelink and make a note of the date and time of the call, as well as what you discussed.
It is sometimes a good idea to obtain a copy of, and inspect, your Centrelink file before asking for a review, as it may contain information that is useful for the review. You can ask Centrelink for a copy of your Centrelink file by lodging a .
When conducting a review, the officer will:
- talk to you about the decision and properly explain it to you, where possible
- look at the facts, the law, and Centrelink policy
- request further information from the original decision-maker if required
- affirm, change, or set aside the original decision
- advise you in writing about the result of the review and how they reached their decision.
How to request an external review – first review
If an internal review has been completed but you still believe the decision is incorrect, you can apply for an external review by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT). The AAT is an independent statutory tribunal that can review and revise Centrelink decisions, including for social security, family assistance, paid parental leave, child support, and education or training payments. The external review process with the AAT is divided into a first review and a second review. It is important to note that an external review can only be applied for if there has already been a formal internal review.
If you believe the decision made by the authorised review officer is incorrect, in most cases you can seek a free review by the Social Services and Child Support Division of the AAT. To apply for the first review of a Centrelink decision, you can:
- lodge an application online through the
- fill out an application form, available on the , and send it to the AAT via email, fax, or post
- call the AAT on .
Some decisions have time limits on making an application for a review. Even for payment decisions without time limits, it’s important to make sure you apply before the cut-off for receiving backdated payments if the AAT changes the decision.
If your application is about social security, you should make it within 13 weeks of the authorised review officer’s decision so that you are eligible to receive backdated payments. You can make an application after 13 weeks, but you won’t be able to receive full back pay. There is no time limit for applying for a first review about decisions relating to debts.
For many decisions about family assistance payments, you need to make an application within 13 weeks. You can make an application about Family Tax Benefit after 13 weeks if you get it paid fortnightly, but you won’t be able to receive full back pay. There is no time limit for applying for a first review about decisions relating to debts.
For student assistance payments, you must make your application for first review within three months of receiving the authorised review officer's decision. This deadline may be extended in special circumstances.
For paid parental leave payments, you must make an application for first review within 28 days of receiving the authorised review officer's decision or, if you are an employer, within 14 days of receiving the decision. This deadline may be extended in special circumstances.
If the time limit has expired, in some cases you may be able to apply for an extension to the AAT. You can send an email or a letter detailing the reasons why your application is late. The AAT will continue with the review if they decide to give you an extension of time.
After you have lodged an application for first review, the AAT will write to you to confirm that they have received your application. They will also notify Centrelink and any other person affected by the decision. Centrelink is required to provide the AAT with the reasons for its decision and all relevant documents within 28 days of receiving notification. You and any other party involved will also be provided with these documents. If the AAT believes that they cannot review the decision, they will write to you and give you the chance to appeal their stance.
You will be assigned an AAT officer who will be your contact person throughout the review process. The officer will not be at the hearing and will not be the person who makes a decision on your application for review. You can stop your application for first review at any time without incurring further cost by informing the AAT in writing or orally.
The AAT will write to you and inform you of the date, time and location of the hearing. At the hearing, there will likely be one tribunal member who will make a decision. You, or your chosen representative, will be able to talk about why you disagree with Centrelink's decision. The first review hearing will be held in private. If you would like to bring along a representative to speak on your behalf, or a person to silently support you, you must ask the tribunal for permission first. Most first hearings take up to an hour.
In some circumstances, the AAT may tell you the decision on the day of the hearing. Otherwise, the tribunal must write to you with its decision and reasons within 14 days. The AAT can confirm the Centrelink decision, change the decision, or set it aside and send the matter back to Centrelink to make a new decision.
How to request an external review – second review
If you are unhappy with the decision made by the AAT under the first review, you have a right to a second review by the General Division of the AAT. Centrelink may also appeal to the General Division for a second review. Appeals to the General Division must be made within 28 days from the date you receive the first review decision (unless the AAT grants you an extension), and applications must be made in writing.
To apply for a second review of a Centrelink decision, you can:
- fill out an application form from the and send it to the AAT via email, fax, or post, or choose to deliver it to the AAT office yourself
- lodge an application online through the
- write a letter or email to the AAT.
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.
It is free to apply for a second review, unless your review is about paid parental leave or child support. For those reviews, the standard application fee is $962.00. A reduced fee of $100.00 is available in limited circumstances. The AAT may dismiss your application if the fee is not paid within six weeks of lodgement.
The AAT will write to you to confirm receipt of your application. If the AAT 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 appeal their stance. Any decision in place will continue to operate during the second review, unless application for a stay order is made by you or Centrelink.
If the AAT decides to review the decision made at the first review, it will hold a private and informal conference within 6–10 weeks attended by you or your representative and a Centrelink representative. At this conference, the AAT will seek to clarify the main issues in dispute, consider new evidence, and, if possible, resolve the matter. If the matter is not resolved, the AAT may arrange a second conference or list the application for a hearing, where both parties will have the opportunity to present evidence and argue their case.
The hearing is open to the public, unless you make a written application to the AAT and outline a reason why it should be held in private. You can bring any support person to the hearing. Most hearings are finished in under three hours.
The AAT aims to have cases finalised within 12 months from the date they are opened.
The AAT may tell you the decision directly after the hearing. However, if the AAT wants more time to decide, it may provide the decision in writing – this process usually takes up to two months. If the AAT tells you the decision on the day, you can ask for them to give you a written decision, but only if you ask within 28 days.
Decisions made by the AAT are binding and publicly available. Either party can appeal a decision of the AAT to the Federal Court of Australia, but only on a question of law and only within 28 days of receiving the decision.
Where to get help
Social Security Rights Victoria
Social Security Rights Victoria (SSRV) offers specialist social security law advice to the Victorian public, and to lawyers and community workers helping clients with Centrelink matters.
Contact SSRV Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm (note they are closed 1–2 pm) on:
Reviewed 23 November 2023