The partnership between FCVic and Social Security Rights Victoria (SSRV), the Integrated Services Project (ISP) aims to improve client outcomes through financial counsellors and social security lawyers working together more effectively.
We’re excited to report that our Continuous Professional Development (CPD) program is now in full swing online. Karl from the Integrated Services Project is presenting a series of CPD sessions for financial counsellors, with the next unit in the series to be presented on 4 August: Centrelink debts and why they have been raised against your client, which considers common reasons for debts being raised, and delves into leveraging the Freedom of Information (FoI) process to give you the information you need to understand why Centrelink has raised a debt against your client.
Following on from this, on 19 August is Debts and FoI in depth where we will look at interpreting the documents from Centrelink’s FoI process, applying the law, and tips on writing a review request to have the debt decision reconsidered.
This and other sessions will be available for FCVic members to register for soon – keep an eye on the FCVic Events Calendar!
A Centrelink debt – like all large debts – can be a cause of enormous strain for our clients. A financial counsellor contacted us on the Worker Help Line in relation to Narelle’s matter:
Narelle* was overpaid more than $5 000 of Parenting Payment. Narelle sought assistance with appealing this debt. The reason for the overpayment was a failure by Centrelink to consider Narelle’s partner’s income when calculating her fortnightly payments.
Narelle had done everything Centrelink required of her and complied with the instructions they had sent her. Narelle completed her yearly income estimate for FTB and was never made aware that she had to report her partner’s income for Parenting Payment differently. Narelle didn’t receive any letters showing her partner’s income as incorrect, and that if they were sent to her myGov account they shouldn’t have been, as she had previously requested they be sent to her physically.
The financial counsellor was integral in connecting Narelle with SSRV. The financial counsellor first made contact via the Worker Help Line and requested for SSRV to review Narelle’s situation and the Authorised Review Officer (ARO) decision. She was also responsible for making the initial application to the AAT.
The connection with the financial counsellor helped to enhance SSRV’s interactions with Narelle. She was able to provide the hands-on support Narelle required, and assist her with things like filling in forms.
The financial counsellor’s expertise was also incredibly valuable in this matter. Preparing a “statement of financial circumstances” is not something that legal staff are generally experienced with, equipped for, or even qualified to do, but the information is crucial in showing Narelle had financial hardship for the purposes of a special circumstances waiver.
In short, the financial counsellor provided support, experience and expertise that a community legal centre such as SSRV can tend to lack.
The result for Narelle was a reduction in the amount of overpayment that would be recovered, and a refund of some of the money she had already paid back. For a client experiencing financial disadvantage, extra money in her pocket was a real win.
The integrated service helped to achieve this first through the referral pathway for Narelle into SSRV’s service, which may never had happened if not for her being linked in with a financial counsellor, and second through the support and enhancement of that service by the financial counsellor.
Latest Information on JobSeeker
Economic Justice Australia has released an update on their JobSeeker and COVID-19 webpage http://ejaustralia.org.au/latest-news/jobseeker-and-covid-19/ which incorporates last week’s announcements, including the re-instatement of the assets tests, and the larger income test free area limits of $300 for JobSeeker Payment and Youth Allowance.
Get in touch
Please contact Lawyer Karl Schaffarczyk ([email protected]) or Financial Counsellor Patricia Bove ([email protected]) at SSRV to discuss the Integrated Services Project and related services and activities. We are keen to hear from financial counsellors about issues impacting upon your clients and their social security entitlements and to discuss potential collaboration opportunities.
Financial counsellors are invited to call the SSRV Worker Help Line (0429 450 346*/ 03 9481 0655 – 9.00am-5.00pm, Monday – Thursday) for information and support in assisting clients with Centrelink matters and to make referrals to SSRV.
Individuals can be referred the SSRV General Advice Line (0419 793 652*/ 03 9481 0355), which is operating between 9.30am -12.30pm, Monday to Thursday).
These are the primary pathways for intake and assessment for further legal casework and representation services.
*Direct mobile phone numbers to telephone advice services while SSRV delivers services remotely during the COVID-19 response period. Calls to the usual numbers will be diverted to these mobile numbers.