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Challenging a Centrelink decision

Challenging a Centrelink decision

Last updated: October 2020

If you are unhappy about a Centrelink decision that affects you, you have the right to know the reasons for the decision and to 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 that Centrelink used in making its decision
  • 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 (Cth) provides that a person affected by a decision of a Centrelink officer may apply for review of that decision.

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, as external tribunals will only look at a decision if it has already been reviewed internally.

Internal review

A good starting point is to 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. This can be a good opportunity for you to also give them more information or correct any wrong information they might have. 

At first instance, the same Centrelink officer that conducted the initial review would normally undertake an internal review. Normally, this would be the case where new information has been provided or wrong information has been corrected.

However, if this does not result in the decision being changed and you are not satisfied with the reasoning provided, you can ask Centrelink to conduct a formal internal review by an authorised review officer. This is a free process and an authorised review officer would normally complete his or her review within 49 days of receiving the request.

Review by an authorised review officer (Formal review) 

An authorised review officer is a senior member of the team (and usually a subject-matter expert on the topic in question) who has not had any previous involvement in your case and has the ability to change the decision if it is wrong. A review by an authorised review officer is the first formal stage of the review or appeal process.

The authorised review officer will:

  • where possible, talk to you about the decision and properly explain it to you;
  • look at the facts, the law and policy and request further information from the original reviewer if required;
  • affirm, vary or change the original decision; and
  • advise you in writing about the result of the review and how they reached their decision.

Timeframes for requesting a review

Generally, a Centrelink decision should be appealed 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 (if applicable) 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.

In certain situations, such as a determination for Child Care Subsidies or Additional Child Care Subsidies, a review request must be lodged within 13 weeks of you (as the applicant) being notified of the decision. For other determinations (i.e. Family Tax Benefit or Child Support Entitlements) the review request must be lodged within 52 weeks of you being notified of the decision. 

For more information about timeframes visit the 'Time limit for a review initiated by affected person' section on the Department of Social Services Guide (Internal Reviews) website.

If the decision is about a debt, you can ask Centrelink to put on hold your debt repayments until they complete your review. In very special cases, Centrelink may determine (as it deems appropriate), that you are still eligible for a review even if the request for review was not brought within the 13 or 52 week period of the original decision (depending on what the decision related to), if it could be proved there were special circumstances that prevented a person from making a review application.

An appeal for review can be made:

Whilst having a conversation (either in person or over the phone) is a good way for starting the review process, it is always best practice to submit your request in writing (or keep a written record of it) for your personal records. This will be useful should you require a further external review at a later date.

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

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

A right to review is set out in s129 of the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999 (Cth).

Request for further information

You can request for the individual who made the decision to provide specific items from your record. However, if you would like a complete record of your social security file, a Freedom of Information (FOI) request should be lodged with Centrelink. Centrelink will then have 30 days to respond to the request. Depending on the nature of your request, certain fees may be payable under a FOI request.

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 by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT). The AAT is an independent statutory tribunal that can review and replace 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 two stages, a first review and a second review.

It is important to note that an external review can only be applied for if a formal internal review by an authorised review officer is undertaken. A 're-review' by the original officer will not qualify for AAT purposes.

Stage one – 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 (AAT).

Avenues to apply for first review of a Centrelink decision:

  • lodge an application online through the AAT website;
  • fill out an application form, available on the AAT website, and send it to the AAT via email, fax, or post; write a letter or email to the AAT; or
  • call the AAT on 1800 228 333 or call Translating and Interpreting Service on 131450 and request to call the AAT. 

Time limits for making an application for first review:

  • Social security – there is no time limit for applying for first review. However, 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 – if the review is about a family assistance debt  or payment of a family tax benefit by instalment, you should make an application  within 52 weeks of receiving the review officer's decision. Your application should be made within 13 weeks of receiving the review officer’s decision so that you are eligible to receive backdated payments. For all other family assistance decisions, you must make an application within 13 weeks of receiving the review officer's decision (which may be extended in special circumstances).
  • Student assistance – you must make an application for first review within three months of receiving the review officer's 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 officer's decision, or if you are an employer, within 14 days of receiving the review officer's decision. This may be extended in special circumstances.
  • Child support – for other decisions not relating to the care percentage of a child, you must make an objection application within 28 days of receiving the review officer's decision. This deadline commences from the day you receive the decision letter. For objections about the care percentage of a child, you can object at any time. However, if you do not lodge your objection application within 28 days, Centrelink may not backdate your child support changes if you live in Australia. 

In some instances where the time limit has expired, you may apply for an extension to the AAT. You can send an email or a letter detailing reasons why your application is late. The AAT will continue with the review if the time limit extension is permitted.

After you have lodged an application

After you have lodged an application for first review, the AAT will write to you to let you know that they have received your application. They will also notify Centrelink and any other person affected by the decision to let them know that they have received your application for a first review. 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, 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 tell the tribunal why you think they are wrong. 

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 hearing

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, vary or replace the Centrelink decision or set it aside and send the matter back to Centrelink to make a new decision.

Stage two – 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 tribunal's General Division. 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. 

Avenue to apply for second review of a Centrelink decision:

  • fill out an application form, from the AAT website, 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 AAT website; or
  • 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.

There is no fee payable to apply for a second review, unless your matter relates to paid parental leave, a refusal of an extension of time to apply for a child support review or about a percentage of care for a child in a child support review. For second review of a paid parental leave application, the standard application fee is $952.00. 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.

After you have lodged an application

The AAT 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. 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 tribunal decides to review the decision made at the first review, within 6–10 weeks the tribunal will hold a private and informal conference attended by you or your representative and a Centrelink representative. At this conference, the tribunal 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

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 are able to bring any support person to the hearing. Most hearings are finished in under three hours. 

The AAT aims to have the case finalised within 12 months from the date it was opened.

The tribunal may tell you the decision directly after the hearing. However, if the tribunal wants more time to deliberate, it may provide the decision in writing – this process usually takes up to two months.

Decisions made by the tribunal are binding and made accessible to the public. Either party can appeal a decision of the tribunal to the Federal Court of Australia, but only on a question of law and within 28 days of receiving the decision.

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 (other than as set out above).

At the AAT, each party will bear their own expenses and no costs can be awarded against you. In some circumstances, the 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.

Where to get help

Victoria Legal Aid

Tel: 1300 792 387, Monday to Friday, 8 am to 5 pm

Social Security Rights Victoria

Specialist social security law advice for the general public and for lawyers and community workers who are assisting their clients with Centrelink matters.

Tel: (03) 9481 0355 (metro), 1800 094 164 (rural), Monday to Friday, Monday to Thursday 9.00 am to 5.00 pm.


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.