1. Get an Authorised Review Officer decision
Make sure you have a decision in writing from a Centrelink Authorised Review Officer (ARO). Such a decision will usually be indicated as follows
‘I am an Authorised Review Officer and I have taken a fresh look at your case …’ When you receive an Authorised Review Officer’s decision, make a note of the date on which you received it. The appeal time limit for arrears starts from the next day.
If you do not have a decision from an Authorised Review Officer, you must obtain one before lodging an appeal in the Social Security Appeals Tribunal (SSAT).
The Authorised Review Officer’s letter should include
- the decision itself
- the reasons for the decision
- the evidence on which the decision was based
- the law on which the decision was based.
Many letters about decisions made by Centrelink workers and some letters about decisions made by Authorised Review Officers do not include all this information. If your letter does not include all the required information, immediately lodge an appeal with an Authorised Review Officer or the Social Security Appeals Tribunal. At the same time, ask Centrelink for more information under the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act, or ask for a copy of your file under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI).
2. Lodging an appeal
You can lodge a Social Security Appeals Tribunal appeal by phone or in writing. However, it is best if you obtain the relevant form from Centrelink or write a letter to the tribunal.
Your hearing will be scheduled at the earliest possible time. However, it may be 7 or 8 weeks before you are told of the decision, and it may be even longer before Centrelink implements it.
If you will face hardship if the decision is delayed, tell the tribunal when you lodge your appeal. They may be able to arrange an urgent hearing. Centrelink may also agree to continue your payments until the appeal is decided, or you may be able to apply for a Special Benefit.
If you need an interpreter at the hearing, tell the tribunal when you lodge your appeal.
If another person will be acting as your advocate at the tribunal hearing, tell the tribunal who the person will be, and ask the tribunal to send any documents to that person.
After you have lodged your appeal, the tribunal will
- send you a form to fill in
- tell you they have received your appeal application
- notify Centrelink, and ask them for a summary of your case and any relevant documents from your file
- send you any documents they receive from Centrelink invite you to make a time for your hearing.
3. Preparing for a hearing
Prepare for your hearing. Find out as much as you can about the law related to your appeal. For example, if the appeal is about your eligibility for a payment, learn about the criteria for that payment. Similarly, if the appeal is partly about Centrelink’s interpretation of the law, learn about their policies on the subject.
Think about the arguments you will need to present in order to win your appeal. If possible, study similar cases, and talk to people who have been involved in similar cases.
Seek independent advice (see ‘Independent advice and assistance’), and ask about your chances of success. Do not rely only on Centrelink’s advice.
Think about what evidence you might need to support your case, and who might provide it. Make sure any evidence you obtain is relevant.
If you need an adjournment (postponement) of the hearing, ask for one as early as possible.
If you are disputing a decision about a disability payment, talk to your doctor, and ask them for a letter or evidence supporting your argument. If your doctor is unsupportive, get a second opinion from another doctor.
If you are advocating for someone, make sure they understand the arguments you will be using and what they should and should not say in the hearing. There is nothing more frustrating than having a person inadvertently disadvantage themselves because no-one has explained the case to them. If the person does not speak English well, ask for an interpreter.
Prepare a written submission, and post or fax it to the tribunal before the hearing. The submission should include
- background information about the case
- a summary of the case
- any relevant facts any documentary evidence
- any laws and cases you have considered
- a recommendation.
4. Your hearing
In most cases, your hearing will be held in person. Most hearings are held in Melbourne, but sometimes they are held in country areas.
Sometimes, telephone hearings are held. If your case is heard by telephone, make sure the tribunal has your submission and all the necessary documents before the hearing.
You should attend your hearing, because it will increase your chances of succeeding. However, if you do not attend, the tribunal will probably still make a decision.
If possible, take a relative, friend or advocate with you to the hearing. Having someone present often helps, particularly if they know about your case, because they can give you support and remind you when you forget something.
Try to present your case as it is. For example, if you have a disability, do not try to pretend that it is more or less severe than it really is.
If you have any special needs, such as needing to lipread, tell the tribunal beforehand.
If you have to travel to attend your hearing, you can claim reasonable travel and accommodation expenses at the tribunal’s reception desk.
Remember, Centrelink will not be present at your hearing, because they will present their case in writing to you and the tribunal beforehand.
5. After the decision has been made
Usually, the tribunal will not make a decision about your case at the hearing. Instead, they will write and inform you of their decision several weeks later.
When you receive your decision, seek independent advice (see ‘Independent advice and assistance’ section), so you know what the decision means and what to do next.
If you win the appeal, Centrelink may not implement the decision immediately. They have 28 days to appeal the decision in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. If they decide to appeal, they may also apply for a postponement of the decision until the Administrative Appeals Tribunal has made its decision.
Usually, if Centrelink does not appeal the tribunal’s decision within 28 days, they must implement it. If they have not done so after 28 days, you may need to ring them to remind them of their obligations.
If the matter is urgent, you may contact Centrelink Legal Services Branch to find out if they intend appealling the decision. If they do not intend doing so, they will tell you when the decision was or will be referred back to the Customer Service Centre for implementation.
If you lose the appeal, you have 28 days to appeal the decision in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
Next Section: Independent advice and assistance