Last updated 5 August 2016

Most Centrelink decisions are subject to internal and external review. A person affected by an adverse Centrelink decision has the right to an internal review to a Centrelink-authorised Review Officer and an external review to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT). Appeals to Centrelink and the AAT are free.

Levels of appeal

Shows the Hierarchy of appeal. "Original decision by Centrelink" appeal to "Centrelink authorised review officer reviews decision" appeal to "Social Security Appeals Tribunal can vary, affirm or set aside the authorised review officer's decision" appeal to "Administrative Appeals tribunal can change the SSAT decision" appeal to "Federal Court can review a question of law"

Authorised Review Officer appeal

A person has a further right of appeal to the Federal Court of Australia. However, appeals to the Federal Court are not free and a person should seek further expert legal advice before appealing.

The first level of appeal is an internal review to an Authorised Review Officer (ARO) who is a senior officer within Centrelink. The request for an ARO review can be made in person, in writing or over the telephone. The ARO will look at the facts, the law and current policy. The ARO can change the decision if it is not correct and will advise the claimant in writing of their decision and how they reached their decision.

The ARO may contact the payment recipient to obtain additional information as part of the appeal process. They do not have to seek additional information and can make their decision on the existing information. If a person has information that may assist their review, or would like the opportunity to find out if there is any additional evidence that may assist, they can make contact with their ARO. A person can ring Centrelink and be given the name of the ARO allocated to review their matter.

In instances where a payment has been cancelled or reduced, and the person is appealing this decision, they can request for their payments to continue at the original rate until after the appeal has been completed (this is known as payment pending review).

A person should apply for an ARO review of a social security decision within 13 weeks of being given notice of the decision to ensure they remain eligible for back pay to the date of the original decision.

Decisions are provided to people in writing. If the decision is not changed, a person can access the next level of appeal, the AAT (Social Security and Child Support Division (SSCSD)). A person must have appealed their decision to the ARO before they can appeal to the AAT.

Administrative Appeals Tribunal Social Security and Child Support Division

Once a Centrelink ARO has reviewed a decision, the next level of appeal is to the AAT (SSCSD). The AAT (SSCSD) is independent of Centrelink and can make a fresh decision or affirm, set aside, vary or substitute a decision made by Centrelink.

The AAT (SSCSD) (AAT Tier 1) usually sits with one or two members. The tribunal members have a variety of backgrounds including law, social welfare, medicine, accounting and government. If a case involves a medical issue (e.g. Disability Support Pension eligibility), an appropriately qualified member will usually sit on the tribunal.

How to appeal to the division

A person should appeal to the AAT (SSCSD) within 13 weeks of receiving notice of the ARO decision to safeguard eligibility for payment arrears.

A person can appeal to the AAT (SSCSD) only if they have already appealed to and received a decision by an ARO at Centrelink.

A person can appeal by:

  • using the AAT (SSCSD) application form available at Centrelink or the AAT (SSCSD) offices or website
  • writing a brief letter to the AAT (SSCSD) stating that they want to appeal including contact details so the AAT (SSCSD) can contact the person
  • telephoning the AAT (SSCSD) and advising they wish to lodge an appeal.

Within two weeks of lodging an appeal, the person should receive a letter from the AAT (SSCSD) stating that the application for appeal is being reviewed. Time frames for hearings vary, but the process is usually completed within a few months.

When an appeal is made to the AAT (SSCSD), the AAT will request that Centrelink provide to them a copy of the person’s file. The person’s file will then be provided to the applicant prior to the hearing.

The AAT (SSCSD) hearing is an informal process. Centerlink is not represented at the tribunal. The person seeking the review can be represented at the tribunal by a solicitor, social/community worker or supported by a family member. At the hearing, the person seeking the review will need to be prepared with documentary evidence and a summary of why they are appealing the Centrelink decision. The person may be required to take an oath or affirmation. All hearings are recorded.

The tribunal is required to provide a written decision and reasons within 14 days of the hearing. The decision will be mailed to the person appealing. If the decision is in the person’s favour, Centrelink has four weeks to implement it. If this would cause financial hardship, the person can request that the decision be put into action urgently.

If it is possible that the person could be prosecuted for a criminal offence, including fraud, they should get legal advice, as anything said during an AAT (SSCSD) appeal can be used by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecution in a prosecution case against them.

Administrative Appeals Tribunal

If a person or Centrelink disagrees with the decision of the AAT (SSCSD), they can appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (General Division). The appeal must be lodged in writing within 28 days of receiving the AAT (SSCSD) decision.

Appealing to the AAT (General Division) is free. A person can download an application form from the AAT website or can write a letter to the AAT (General Division), and include a copy of the decision that the person would like to appeal and an outline of the reasons why the decision was wrong.

The AAT (General Division) is a more formal tribunal, and hearings are public and witnesses must give sworn evidence. The tribunal hearing is a de novo hearing, which is a fresh rehearing on the merit of the case.

Federal Court of Australia

If the person disagrees with the decision of the AAT (General Division), they can appeal to the Federal Court on a question of law only. It is important to speak to a legal professional about whether the person has the right to make an appeal to the Federal Court. An appeal must be lodged within 28 days of receiving the decision of the AAT (General Division).

Additional time limits for appeals

A person must apply for a review of some Family Tax Benefit decisions within 52 weeks of being notified of the decision.

Different rules apply to ABSTUDY and Assistance for Isolated Children Recovery of Debt decisions, which normally should be requested within three months.

There is no time limit for requesting a review of other ABSTUDY or Assistance for Isolated Children decisions.

For Paid Parental Leave scheme decisions, parents must seek a review normally within 28 days of the decision.