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Securing your finances and future - steps to take and where to go for help.

3b. Tips for dealing with Centrelink

Est. read time: 5 min

This section contains information in relation to how to make the most of your interactions with Centrelink, your obligations when something changes, what to do if you get a Centrelink debt letter or if you need extra assistance such as languages other than English or hearing difficulties.

There are a number of things you should do to ensure that your contact with Centrelink is as productive as possible:

  1. Documentation
    • Regardless of what assistance you are applying for, payment will only ever be made if the details you have provided meet Centrelink's eligibility requirements. Ensure you provide all necessary documentation when applying for a payment to ensure your application is considered.
    • You need to have valid proof of identity and Centrelink is required to sight the original documents. Information about what documents you can take to prove your identity can be found at the Department of Human Services website.
    • The Express Plus Lite mobile app can be useful way to provide documents to Centrelink. It allows you to take a photo of the document and upload it through the app.
    • If you have trouble gathering documentation to provide to Centrelink, you should let Centrelink know and they may be able to offer alternative arrangements.
  2. Record Keeping:
    • Keep a record of every interaction with Centrelink, whether it be on the phone, in person or by letter or email. Include in the record: times and dates; what you asked and what they advised; what documents you provided; the customer assistant's name; and any receipt numbers.
    • If you upload documents to your online Centrelink account or through the Express Plus Lite mobile app, consider taking screen shots of the ‘upload successful' pages to keep with your records.
    • Keep your Centrelink records together – in a diary, on a spreadsheet, on a USB or in an online server account such as Dropbox or GoogleDrive.
  3. Contacting Centrelink
    • Getting in contact with Centrelink can be a lengthy process. Centrelink does not take appointments and you may need to wait in line before you can see a support staff member in person.
    • Centrelink's phone lines are open Monday to Friday from 8am to 5pm local time. The Family Assistance Office is open from 8am to 8pm local time.
    • Before contacting Centrelink, make a list of what you need to ask – bullet point the key issues.
    • When contacting Centrelink in person or on the phone, it's often best to try as early as possible to avoid busier periods. Waiting times are usually shortest early in the morning or on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
    • If you are calling on the phone, and are able to, put the phone on speaker while on hold so you can do other things whilst waiting. Stay on the line – hanging up and re-dialling may mean a longer wait than staying on the line.
    • A convenient way to contact Centrelink is through an online Centrelink account. Further information about how to create an online account can be found at 1f. Centrelink online and setting up a myGov account.
    • In most instances, if you are polite, patient and grateful, people will go out of their way to help. This is not always easy in difficult circumstances but it does pay off – on most occasions. Be polite and positive if you can and thank them for their assistance.
  4. Problems with service from Centrelink
    • If you have a complaint about Centrelink, you can find out more about the complaints process on the Centrelink website, including appealing to the Commonwealth Ombudsman.
    • You have the right to review a decision that Centrelink has made if you do not agree with a decision about a Centrelink payment or service. You can find out more about the review process.
    • If you believe Centrelink has made a mistake that has caused you financial loss, you may be able to claim compensation from Centrelink. You may need to seek legal assistance. You can find out more about this Department of Human Services website.

Your responsibilities – Welfare Fraud and Change of Circumstance

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Centrelink fraud involves intentionally getting a payment or benefit from Centrelink for which you are not eligible. Fraud is treated very seriously by Australian courts. It is very important that you declare all your income and assets correctly, and keep Centrelink notified of any change in your circumstances. Information about when you need to inform Centrelink about a change, and how to do that can be found on the Department of Human Services website.

Welfare fraud may include:

  • claiming a welfare payment or service using a false identity or someone else's identity;
  • making false or misleading statements;
  • not telling Centrelink about income and assets, or under-declaring them;
  • not telling Centrelink if you receive a lump sum payment or large sum of money.  This may be from a settlement with your partner, an inheritance, or somewhere else;
  • not telling Centrelink you're living with someone as a member of a couple;
  • claiming a child is in your care when they're not; and
  • not telling Centrelink you left Australia while receiving a payment – either on a trip or to live.

If you are receiving Centrelink payments, you need to tell Centrelink within 14 days of changes to your circumstances, including:

  • If your child turns 18, if you have another child, or if the way you share care of a child changes, as this may affect your support payments for your children.
  • If you had a partner and you are now single. Single people are generally entitled to a higher rate of payment for certain support payment types, including for Crisis Payments and Parenting Payments. You will need to provide proof or witnesses to confirm that you and your partner are separated. You may need to fill out a Separation details form to inform Centrelink of a change in your relationship, especially if you were already receiving support payments from Centrelink. Centrelink may define a “relationship” to include an on-again-off-again relationship, or distinguish whether a person is still living in the same home as an ex-partner. This can affect the rate and type of support payments you may be entitled to receive. You will not be entitled to single parent rates if you are reconciled with a partner for more than 6 months. Child support payments can be suspended if you and your partner get back together, and completely cease if you and your partner have reconciled for 6 months or more. A new child support assessment will need to be put in to receive payments again.

Debt

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If you are sent a Centrelink debt letter, before paying, be sure to:

  1. Check your records carefully; and
  2. Ask Centrelink for all relevant documentation showing your alleged debt and check that carefully too.

If you can't afford to repay the money immediately, you may be able to ask for a repayment arrangement and payment plan with Centrelink.

In special circumstances, such as financial hardship, Centrelink may waive your debt. You may need supporting documentation and make several attempts.

If you disagree with the assessment, or need help with payment arrangements you can find out more via the National Debt Helpline for Centrelink debts.

If you do not believe you owe Centrelink money, you may appeal Centrelink's decision by writing to Centrelink or over the phone. A further appeal can be made to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

You may also seek support from a financial counsellor by calling the National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007.

Extra Assistance

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Centrelink provides support to people of diverse backgrounds. Details about how to contact Centrelink in a language other than English, or in the case of hearing difficulties, can be found at their Information in your language webpage.

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