Disability Support Pension

1. Eligibility Criteria

You may be eligible for a Disability Support Pension if

  • you are 16 years or older, but younger than the Age Pension age
  • meet the residency requirements
  • have an impairment rating of at least 20 points
  • have a ‘continuing inability to work’.

Other eligibility criteria apply for people who are permanently blind, but they are not discussed here.

2. What is an impairment rating?

An impairment rating measures how much a particular disability affects you and your ability to work. The Social Security Act 1991 contains 22 impairment tables for all the body’s functions and systems. Each table lists a range of conditions, symptoms and impairments, and gives a rating for each according to how severely it affects your capacity to work.

To be eligible for a Disability Support Pension, you must be assessed as having an impairment rating of at least 20 points from any of the tables. If you are assessed as having an impairment rating of less than 20 points, your claim will be rejected.

3. How is an impairment rating obtained?

When you apply for a Disability Support Pension, you will usually be required to attend a work capacity assessment. You will be exempt from a work capacity assessment only if the severity of your condition makes eligibility for a Disability Support Pension self-evident or ‘manifest’, which happens only rarely. One of the purposes of the work capacity assessment is to determine your impairment rating.

Your work capacity assessment will consider all the available medical evidence, including all the reports from your treating doctors and specialists. If a doctor conducts the assessment, they will usually also conduct a medical examination at the same time.

Your assessment will take into account as many different conditions as is relevant. However, you will receive a rating only for your ‘permanent’ conditions. Permanent conditions are conditions that have been ‘fully diagnosed, documented, treated and stabilised’, and are expected to last for more than 2 years. This issue is discussed in more detail below in the ‘Newly diagnosed, controversial, difficult to diagnose and episodic conditions’ section.

Each of your permanent conditions will be given an impairment rating, and all the ratings will be added together to give a total impairment rating.

To maximise your impairment rating, it is most important that you provide information about all your health problems, not just your main medical or psychiatric conditions.

4. What is a ‘continuing inability to work’?

Centrelink will also consider whether you have a ‘continuing inability to work’. A continuing inability to work means that, for the next 2 years, your illness or disability will prevent you from working for 15 hours per week ‘independently of a program of support’.

Independently of a program of support means that you are unlikely to need frequent or ongoing support from a government-funded agency to enable you to prepare for, find or maintain work.

Centrelink will also consider whether you are able to undertake a ‘training activity’, and, if so, whether such training would probably enable you to work within 2 years. The training activity may involve education, pre-vocational training, vocational training, vocational rehabilitation or work-related training (including on-the-job training).


‘Work’ means any type of work that you are capable of undertaking for more than 15 hours per week without special assistance from a government-funded agency . It is not confined to the type of work you have undertaken previously.

In addition, Centrelink will determine for how many hours a week they think you are capable of working. They will not just consider for how many hours you are currently working. For example, if you are currently working for 10 hours per week and receiving a part pension, they will consider whether you are capable of working 15 hours or more per week.

The state of the labour market is not regarded as being relevant to your continuing inability to work. For example, you cannot argue that it is difficult for people of your age to obtain work. However, your age may be relevant when considering suitable training courses.

Sometimes, the 15 hour per week ‘work test’ is not assessed fully, and you may need to raise the matter with Centrelink. For example, if the work capacity assessor decides that your impairment rating is 20 points or more, but you can work for only 12 hours per week (and no more), you are eligible for a Disability Support Pension. The payment you receive will be reduced because of your earned income, but you are eligible for a Disability Support Pension, so you should receive it.

If your claim for a Disability Support Pension is refused, it may be because Centrelink has made unrealistic conclusions about your ability to do certain types of work or training. For example, they may decide that your condition does not prevent you from working or training, but would severely interfere with your ability to attend or concentrate. If an unrealistic conclusion is drawn about your situation, ask your doctor to write a report that specifies and clarifies your condition and its impact.

Training or education

Your work capacity assessment will also consider your ability to undertake and benefit from training or education. If they decide that you are capable of undertaking training that would enable you to work for more than 15 hours per week in 2 years time, you will not be eligible for a Disability Support Pension.

5. What payment can I receive while Centrelink makes a decision?

Centrelink may take a long time to decide whether you are eligible for a Disability Support Pension. In the meantime, you may be able to claim another payment such as Newstart (Incapacitated) or Youth Allowance (Incapacitated). If so, you will be exempt from the activity test until your claim for a pension has been decided.

If you are not eligible for another payment when you lodge a claim for a Disability Support Pension , you should lodge a claim for a Special Benefit at the same time. Details of the Special Benefit are not covered in this guide.

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