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Chapter 7 Section F: Social security

7F.1: Introduction

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:

  • having a serious mental health condition might make you eligible, if you have no other source of income, to get a Disability Support Pension; and/or
  • you might already be on a pension or benefit, but the symptoms of your mental health condition may make it difficult to follow the rules for getting that pension or benefit.

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.

To read more click here.

7F.2: Centrelink

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.

7F.2.1: Calling Centrelink

You can call Centrelink on 136 240 to:

  • check payment information, such as past and future payments
  • update your family income estimate
  • complete your Rent Assistance review
  • apply for an advance payment
  • hear your Working Credit or Income Bank balance; and
  • to ask for certain information to be sent to you such as payment summary or replacement card.

For more information, click here.

7F.2.2: Contacting Centrelink through myGov

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.

To register for myGov, click here.

To create an online Centrelink account, click here.

7F.2.3: What happens at Centrelink?

There are Centrelink Service Centres across Australia. Each Centre has three main sections:

  • Retirement: which deals with Age Pension, Wife Pension, Widow Pension, and Carer Pension
  • Employment Services: which deals with the JobSeeker Allowance, Youth Allowance, Disability Support Pension, Carer Payment, and Special Benefit; and
  • Family Assistance: which deals with Family Tax Benefit, Parenting Payment and Double Orphan Pension.

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:

  • you can get answers to questions about Centrelink payments and allowances
  • you can give Centrelink documents that are needed to support your claim for a payment
  • you can get Centrelink forms and publications about Centrelink payments and allowances
  • Centrelink officers make decisions about whether you are entitled to any Centrelink payments and allowances
  • you can challenge Centrelink decisions.

7F.3: Pensions and benefits relevant to a mental health condition

There are several pensions and benefits that may be available to you if you have a mental health condition:

7F.3.1: Disability Support Pension

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:

  • are sixteen (16) or over, but not eligible for the aged pension; and
  • have a disability, mental health condition, illness or injury that will stop you from working or retraining for working full time for two (2) years or more.

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.

For more information about the DSP from Centrelink click here.

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.

7F.3.1.1: Income and Asset tests for the Disability Support Pensions

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.

To read more about income and assets tests for the DSP click here.

7F.3.1.2: Job Capacity Assessment and Disability Medical Assessment

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.

To access the Job Access website, click here.

For more information about job capacity assessments and support at work, click here.

7F.3.1.3: Reviews of DSP

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.

To read about how Impairment Tables are used to assess eligibility, click here.

7F.3.2: Allowances if you are acutely unwell and/or hospitalised

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.

For more information about the Disability Support Pension, click here.

7F.4: Other pensions, benefits and allowances

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:

  • JobSeeker Allowance: available if you are between twenty-two (22) and Age Pension age, unemployed and looking for work. It also applies if you are sick or injured and cannot engage in your normal work or study for a short time.
  • Youth Allowance: applies if you are sixteen to twenty (16–20) years old and looking for full-time work or have a combination of approved activities, or have a temporary exemption from the participation and activity test requirements. There is also an income support benefit if you are sixteen to twenty-four (16–24) years and studying full time or doing a full-time Australian Apprenticeship.
  • Mobility Allowance: helps with travel costs for work, study or looking for work. You may get it if you cannot use public transport without help because of disability. To be eligible, you must be looking for work or participating in paid or voluntary work, study or training. If you have NDIS, you are not eligible for the Mobility Allowance.
  • Aged Pension: To read more about Aged Pension eligibility, click here. Pensioner education supplement: The Pensioner Education Supplement (PES) helps you with the costs of full-time or part-time study. To read more about the PES, click here.
  • Carers benefits and allowances: This is an income support payment if you personally provide care to an adult with disability, a child with ‘profound disability‘, or two or more children with disability. For more information about these other allowances and benefits, click here

7F.5: Reviews and appeals of Centrelink decisions

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:

  • rejection of a claim
  • suspension or cancellation of a payment
  • the rate of a payment; or
  • raising and recovering a debt.

For more about how to appeal to the SSCS, click here.

To read more about appeals to the AAT, click here.

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.

7F.6: Where to get independent advice and assistance

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.

7F.7: Welfare Rights Centres

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:

  • Information: for example, to find out what information Centrelink is allowed to obtain from people
  • Eligibility for particular payments: for example, whether you are likely to be eligible for a Disability Support Pension, or some other pension or benefit; and
  • Rejection of applications for payment: if you applied for a Disability Support Pension but were rejected.

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
E-mail: welfarerights@welfarerights.org.au
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.

7F.9: Commonwealth Ombudsman

The Commonwealth Ombudsman investigates complaints about Australian Government agencies including Centrelink. They:

  • can investigate complaints about Centrelink
  • consider all complaints, but not all complaints proceed to an investigation
  • will always contact you in response to your complaint and give you reasons for their decisions
  • may suggest other options available to you; and/or
  • can make suggestions and recommendations to Centrelink about a better way of doing things.

They cannot advocate for you or give you legal advice.

They cannot direct Centrelink to take action or change a decision.

Click here to go to this webpage.

7F.10: Right to access to information

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:

  • copies of any statements that you have made to Centrelink
  • copies of any documents that you have provided to Centrelink; and
  • detailed reasons for any decision made by Centrelink.

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