No doubt you have heard of the Robodebt settlement achieved by Gordon Legal. At SSRV and the Integrated Services Project, this has been very exciting news!
Reflecting on the success of the Robodebt case, we are very warmed and thank Gordon Legal for acknowledging the contribution of SSRV and other community legal centres to the case. Many financial counsellors, other organisations, and hundreds of individuals have contributed as well, and should be acknowledged.
We should pause for thought and consider the pain and suffering that poor social policy wreaks on our society, and our place in the continual fight for fairness and dignity.
The Integrated Services Project is here and ready to support financial counsellors with these matters.
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.
Integrated Practice Case Study
Mrs Brzk* approached our service with concerns that she was being denied the Age Pension – she had been receiving Widow Allowance since being of pension age, and Newstart Allowance prior to that. Due to the lower rate of payment of Widow Allowance compared to Age Pension, Mrs Brzk was unable to meet her living expenses and some of her basic medical expenses were beginning to mount – in some cases late fees were exceeding the costs of her initial bills.
Mrs Brzk had been granted Newstart Allowance with the assistance of a social worker. However, this was an administrative error as Mrs Brzk was eligible for Widow Allowance at the time. Mrs Brzk was subject to a ten year Newly Arrived Resident’s Waiting Period which prevented her from accessing the Age Pension. However, had she been receiving Widow Allowance prior to being of Age Pension age, instead of Newstart Allowance, she would have been eligible for the Age Pension without being subject to the waiting period.
Mrs Brzk had spent significant time communicating with Centrelink in person and on the telephone seeking to be transferred from Newstart Allowance to a more appropriate income support payment. – well before reaching Age Pension age.
SSRV’s Financial Counsellor Patricia was able to engage in a practical manner to assist Mrs Brzk with her overdue bills, and make arrangements to have late fees withdrawn, arrears waived, and a manageable payment plan set up for her rent. Patricia was able to help by double-checking her budget to ensure that the next few months were manageable.
SSRV Community Lawyer Karl represented Mrs Brzk in making an application to the General Division of the AAT – and the application was met by Services Australia lawyers with tea and sympathy: “Yes, we agree that the client should have been put on Widow Allowance earlier, but decisions are only reviewable where a review is applied for within 13 weeks of the decision being made.” Mrs Brzk had made her formal application for review about one year outside of the allowable timeframe.
SSRV was able to put the case to Services Australia that Mrs Brzk’s efforts to have her income support payments reviewed prior to reaching Age Pension age were substantial efforts, and actually constituted a review request, and that Mrs Brzk shouldn’t be expected to use the magic words “I am seeking a review of the decision”.
The result of advancing this argument was that Services Australia (Centrelink) extended an offer to settle the matter, with an agreed finding at the AAT that Mrs Brzk was in fact eligible to be receiving Widow Allowance instead of Newstart Allowance from the beginning.
This resulted in an immediate arrears payment of nearly $1000 being paid to Mrs Brzk – being the difference in the two allowances (supplements), and Mrs Brzk’s Age Pension claim has now succeeded.
Changes in the ISP team
Karl, our ISP Community Lawyer, has moved on from SSRV, and we are recruiting a new Community Lawyer to join the team.
Karl said “I want to thank our director Gillian, my teammate Patricia, and my colleagues at SSRV for being such a great place to work. I also want to thank Sandy, Tanja, Lyn, and James at FCVic for their valuable support to the project – much of our success in the project is because of this support. The greatest thanks must go to each and every financial counsellor I have worked with during the project. Whether by coming to a CPD session, calling the Worker Help Line, or working on client cases together, each and every financial counsellor has my greatest thanks. I couldn’t have done it without you!”
We thank Karl for his contribution and wish him every success in his future endeavours.
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.