This section of the Manual looks at social security from the perspective of someone who has been diagnosed with a mental health condition in NSW.
People with mental health conditions often find themselves dealing with Centrelink, the Commonwealth Government agency that manages social security benefits or payments.
A mental health condition can affect how a person interacts with Centrelink in several ways:
This section looks firstly at how you can access Centrelink and the services it can provide.
It then goes on to look at eligibility for those benefits that are more likely to be relevant to someone with a mental health condition. These are the Disability Support Pension, Sickness Allowances, JobSeeker (formally known as Newstart) and the Youth Allowance.
The final section looks at how decisions by Centrelink can be challenged, either when Centrelink says you are not eligible for a benefit or when your benefits are stopped or changed.
Centrelink is the agency of the Australian Government that is responsible for delivering a wide range of services and unemployment benefits to Australians who find themselves on a low income or without an income.
It manages social security policy and it is responsible for making sure that all social security payments are made in an accurate and timely manner.
It is important to keep your details with Centrelink up to date. This includes information about your income, assets, work status, care arrangements, etc. Centrelink conducts regular reviews to make sure people are receiving the correct amount of payment.
If you would prefer to have someone else interact with Centrelink for you, you can authorise a person or organisation to do that. For more information, click here.
You can contact Centrelink by calling them, online through myGov or in person at a Centrelink Service Centre.
You can call Centrelink on 136 240 to:
myGov is a portal that provides access to many government services in one place. Go to my.gov.au and follow the prompts to create an account.
Once you have a myGov account, you can create an online Centrelink account. You’ll need to link your service to your myGov account. You only need to do this once.
An online Centrelink account will allow you to claim, manage your payments, details and money, give us documents and report your income online.
There are Centrelink Service Centres across Australia. Each Centre has three main sections:
Centrelink also deals with service information about Medicare and Child Support. Click here to find your nearest centre.
If you want to make a claim for any sort of Centrelink payments and allowances this is done at a Centrelink Service Centre. Other activities at Centrelink Service Centres include:
There are several pensions and benefits that may be available to you if you have a mental health condition:
A mental health condition may be considered a disability for the purpose of eligibility to a Disability Support Pension (DSP).
A DSP may be paid to you if you:
You need to submit medical evidence from your treating health professional to support your claim. This helps Centrelink understand how your medical conditions affect you. Click here and check the last page of the fact sheet for a sample letter to your doctor asking them to help you provide evidence.
You may need to take part in a Program of Support for a total of eighteen (18) months in the three (3) years before you claim DSP. A Program of Support will help you prepare for, find and keep work. It can include activities such as looking for a job, work experience, rehabilitation or education and training.
Depending on your circumstances, you may need to meet participation requirements if you are getting a DSP. If you are over thirty-five (35) years old, you do not need to participate. If you are under thirty-five (35) years old, for information about your participation requirements click here.
If you are eligible for DSP, you will receive the fortnightly payment and a Pensioner Concession Card.
You can access the National Disability Insurance Scheme if you are receiving or claiming DSP.
To read more information on the National Disability Insurance Scheme click here.
Almost all pensions and benefits are subject to a ‘means’ test. This means that if you or your partner’s income and assets are above a certain amount, you may only be eligible for a reduced pension amount or not eligible for a pension at all. Income can mean money you earn from a part-time job, but it may also mean interest from money you have in a bank account, superannuation payments, dividends (a sum of money paid regularly by a company to its shareholders out of its profits) or rent received (from properties owned and leased). Receiving a large gift (for example, transfer of property or money from a family member) can impact your Centrelink payment and you should seek advice before accepting it.
There are specific types of money that you may receive that is not counted for the income test. For example, rent assistance from the government or emergency relief. To see the list of types of income that are not counted, click here.
The value of your family home is exempt from the assets test. Depending on their value, other assets can either reduce the amount of your benefit or rule you out from getting a benefit altogether.
If you have not claimed the DSP before, you can be referred to a job capacity assessor to assess your capacity and the barrier you might experience to work. This person is a trained health professional. The assessment is free.
The job capacity assessment is part of the Job Access program. Job Access is an information and advice service funded by the Australian Government. It offers help and workplace solutions for people with disability and their employers.
If you are a recipient of the DSP, your circumstances may be reviewed to check that you are still eligible. To read about these reviews, click here.
DSP recipients already granted on clear grounds will be excluded. People already assessed as having a work capacity of less than eight (8) hours a week will also be excluded.
DSP recipients who have a comprehensive review of their eligibility for DSP will be reviewed against ‘impairment tables’ and an assessment of their work capacity. Eligible DSP recipients will be supported to help maximise their work capacity.
If your mental health condition, illness, injury or disability prevents you from working or studying for only a short time, then depending on your age and other circumstances, you may be eligible for JobSeeker or Youth Allowance.
If you lose your job because of a mental health condition or you become an involuntary patient under the Mental Health Act 2007 (NSW) and you subsequently lose your job, then you are likely to be eligible for JobSeeker or a Youth Allowance. If you are in hospital, the hospital social worker can help you with this.
If you are already on JobSeeker or a Youth Allowance, and you are either at home or in hospital being treated during an acute phase of mental illness, you will need to contact Centrelink about your situation. If you do nothing in these circumstances, you are likely to be taken off your current benefit for not completing Centrelink’s required ‘mutual obligations’. Mutual obligations are things that you have to do to help you find work. If you are in hospital you should talk to the hospital social worker about this as soon as possible after your admission. If you are being treated in the community, you should talk to your case manager about this.
There are a number of benefits and payments available from Centrelink other than those that are particularly relevant to people with mental health conditions. They all have eligibility rules, and means (income and assets) tests.
There are a number of benefits and payments available from Centrelink other than those that are particularly relevant to people with mental health conditions. To read more about other benefits and payments click here.
Examples of pensions, benefits and allowances are:
If you are not happy with a Centrelink decision, there are a number of steps you can take.
First, you can ask to have the reviewed by Centrelink. To read about reviews and appeals click here.
If you disagree with the Centrelink Authorised Review Officer’s decision, you can appeal to the Social Services and Child Support Division (SSCS) of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT). A negative outcome of review by an Authorised Review Officer does not mean that an appeal will be unsuccessful at the SSCS. The AAT can review the following decisions by Centrelink:
The decision of the SSCS Decision can also be appealed, this time in the General Division of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT). Either you or Centrelink can appeal to the AAT. For more information, click here.
Before lodging a review or appeal, you should seek independent advice and ask about your chances of success. You can speak with Centrelink directly, but it is also important to seek independent advice.
You can get free legal advice from a Welfare Rights Centre. For more information about appealing a Centrelink decision click here.
You could also ask Legal Aid NSW through LawAccess on 1300 888 529* for general legal information and advice. Legal Aid NSW can assist in paying for legal representation at the AAT if you pass the means test and you have a strong case.
*Mobile phone calls to local call numbers (numbers starting with 1300) are charged to the caller at the usual mobile rate.
Welfare Rights Centres provide information, advice and representation to people affected by decisions made by Centrelink. The assistance they provide is free.
The Centres operate on the principle that social security is a right, not a privilege. They work on the principle that people affected by Centrelink decisions should be able to have decisions re-examined if they either do not understand the decision or believe it is incorrect.
You can contact a Welfare Rights Centre about:
There is a Welfare Rights Centre in NSW and it offers an independent assessment of all decisions referred to it. It can act as an intermediary if communication between you and Centrelink has broken down. It can help by finding out what information is missing or has been wrongly interpreted.
The Welfare Rights Centre is located in Sydney at:
Phone: (02) 9211 5300
Freecall: 1800 226 028* (from outside Sydney)
Fax: (02) 9211 5268
Teletypewriter (TTY): (02) 9211 0238
Street and Postal address: Suite 102, 55 Holt St
SURRY HILLS NSW 2010
The Welfare Rights Centre also has staff in other centres across NSW. To find out where they are click here.
The Seniors Rights Service also provides advice about pensions and benefits relevant to seniors in the community. Click here to contact them or phone on (02) 9281 3600 (Sydney), or 1800 424 079*.
*Mobile phone calls to freecall numbers (numbers starting with 1800) are charged to the caller at the usual mobile rate.
The Commonwealth Ombudsman investigates complaints about Australian Government agencies including Centrelink. They:
They cannot advocate for you or give you legal advice.
They cannot direct Centrelink to take action or change a decision.
Under the Commonwealth Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act), if you are receiving payments and you wish to challenge a Centrelink decision, you have a right to access on request:
However, the personal details of another person or information considered by Centrelink to be prejudicial to the public interest will not be given to you. If there is information judged by Centrelink to be prejudicial to your psychological wellbeing, you can ask for the information to be given to a ‘qualified person’ such as a doctor or psychologist.
You can make an FOI request for your Centrelink document by using the form here. This form can also be used to update your information with Centrelink.
Updated May 20, 2020