Complaints about Centrelink and Child support

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Jason Bryce – Business & Finance Specialist


Complaints about Centrelink and Child support Exclusive!

Jason Bryce | 9 July 2012

  • How to complain to Centrelink or the Child Support Agency
  • The five biggest issues that infuriate parents about the Child Support Agency
  • About ten per cent of calls to the Centrelink tip-off line involve single mothers
  • Sometimes Centrelink puts mothers under surveillance

It is hard to win an argument with government agencies and those who try can be left feeling powerless and poor

However it is possible and if you genuinely feel a mistake has been made, gather your evidence and prepare to run the gauntlet of call centres, review officers and appeals tribunals.

Any single mum who hasn’t had a tense conversation or meeting with Centrelink or the Child Support Agency (CSA) is a member of a tiny minority of very lucky individuals.

Centrelink says they want to hear your complaint but won’t respond if you abuse their staff. That sounds fair enough. You must provide specific details of letters you have received and phone calls you have had, so have a note book and pen handy when you get on the telephone.

While calling Centrelink can involve a long wait time, it can be worthwhile. Ninety per cent of callers reported they were satisfied with the outcome of the call they made to Centrelink in last financial year, according to Centrelink’s latest Annual Report.
You have the right to ask for a review on almost every decision made by Centrelink or the Child Support Agency. There is no cost and while the chances of a successful outcome for you are not great, they can be improved by sending in new information or fresh evidence of your earnings that has not been previously provided.

There are hundreds of thousands of Centrelink and CSA decisions reviewed each year. And more than 12,000 people took their complaint about Centrelink or a Centrelink decision all the way to the Social Security Appeal Tribunal (SSAT) last year. 2,526 of those applications for review concerned child support issues.

The SSAT is supposed to try and finalise its decision within three months of receiving the application. Last financial year, the average time from registration of an application for review to hearing was five weeks.

“SSAT applications regarding child support issues have a much higher rate of success…”

Good news for single parents is that SSAT applications regarding child support issues have a much higher rate of success than other applications about other Centrelink payments. Overall, 26 per cent of applications to the SSAT result in any measure of success for the applicant. Of those successful applications, 44 per cent found success due to new information supplied, 30 per cent because Centrelink made an error of fact, 15 per cent because Centrelink made an error of law and 10 per cent were due to the special circumstances of the applicant.

However 39 per cent of people who took their child support issue to the SSAT had at least partial success last year.

65 per cent of those successful applications to SSAT from Child Support Agency clients relied on new information being supplied, 22 per cent were due to an error of fact by CSA, 7 per cent resulted in an agreement between parties and 7 per cent came down to an error of law by CSA.

The good news is that the numbers of these serious complaints and issues have been trending down in recent years. The SSAT reports applications fell 11 per cent compared with a year ago and have been on a downward trend since 2009. Child support complaints or applications to SSAT for a review of a CSA decision have also been trending down in recent years – five per cent down last year. That possibly indicates improvements in service delivery in recent years following big investment in technology and a big review of the CSA by David Richmond which was completed in 2009.

Richmond’s “Delivering Quality Outcomes” report realigned the focus of the CSA, away from balancing the demands of the mother and father and towards collecting money for the benefit of the children.

the five biggest issues that infuriate parents about the Child Support Agency

David Richmond identified the five biggest issues that infuriate parents about the Child Support Agency. In order of the numbers of infuriated parents, they are:

  1. A failure to collect child support payments
  2. The way CSA reconciles income estimates and actual income
  3. Confusing CSA letters
  4. Managing complex family situations
  5. The way child support affects Centrelink payments

Some of these issues relate to policy matters and are not able to be appealed. For example, when a single parent receives a lump sum payment of owed child support monies, she will almost certainly also be hit with a family tax benefit (FTB) debt and lower FTB payments.

Almost one hundred thousand single parents reliant on Parenting Payment Single (PPS) had debts raised in their name by Centrelink last year. And the Welfare Rights Centre estimates that over ten thousand single mothers were ‘dobbed in’ to Centrelink’s tip-off line last year because conscientious members of the community thought they didn’t qualify for the riches of Parenting Payment Single (PPS).

108,000 Centrelink recipients were reported as not qualifying for their payments last year, often anonymously, wrongly and maliciously.

“About ten per cent of calls to the Centrelink tip-off line involve single mothers on parenting payment and are typically alleging the mother is in a marriage-like relationship and therefore should not be receiving the PPS,” said Gerard Thomas, Policy Officer at the Welfare Rights Centre.

“Many are simply vexatious, often from former husbands or aggrieved individuals…”

“Many are simply vexatious, often from former husbands or aggrieved individuals.

“Sometimes Centrelink goes to the trouble of putting the mothers under surveillance only to discover that the people entering the house are not in a marriage-like relationship with the single mum at all.

“Sometimes Centrelink finds that a person going the front door is there to mind the children while the mother is leaving for work out the back door.”

Jason Bryce is also on Twitter – @jasonbryce
Business & Finance Specialist

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Jason is a business and finance journalist with 20 years experience, and is also a member of the Expert Opinion Panel. He has a regular weekly column in the Sunday Mail (Brisbane) and writes regularly for the Business Daily section of the Herald Sun in Melbourne and many other newspapers and magazines.

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