This article was written by Sally Crosswell

Sally Crosswell has a Bachelor of Laws (Hons), a Bachelor of Communication and a Master of International and Community Development. She also completed a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice at the College of Law. A former journalist, Sally has a keen interest in human rights law.

Appealing A Centrelink Decision

If a person does not agree with a decision made by Centrelink, they have the right to appeal the decision. An appeal can be made first to Centrelink, then to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) then the Federal Court in limited cases. This article explains the appeal process which applies to payments other than ABSTUDY and Assistance for Isolated Children.

Review steps

There are five possible steps in reviewing a Centrelink decision:

  1. A review by the original decision maker
  2. A review by an Authorised Review Officer and/or Subject Matter Expert
  3. An appeal to a specific division of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal
  4. An appeal to the general division of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal
  5. An appeal to the Federal Court

Review by Authorised Review Officer and Subject Matter Expert

This can be done by phoning or visiting Centrelink, or completing a Review of Decision form. An Authorised Review Officer (ARO) will review the decision and may change it.

There are time limits for reviews, such as:

  • rejection, cancellation or rate of a payment: 13 weeks;
  • Family Tax Benefit: 52 weeks;
  • Child Care Subsidy: 13 weeks;
  • Paid Parental Leave: 28 days.

There is no time limit to appeal a debt.

An ARO will generally complete the review within 7 weeks, but the time it takes will depend on the nature of the case.

If the matter is complex, the review may first be allocated to a Subject Matter Expert (SME), a Centrelink officer with specialist knowledge of a particular payment type. The SME must either decide in your favour or refer the matter to an ARO. If an applicant does not agree with the SME’s decision, it can be reviewed by an ARO.

First review by Administrative Appeals Tribunal

The Social Services & Child Support Division of the AAT can conduct a “first review” if the decision has been reviewed by an ARO or SME. It can review most decisions about:

  • social security pensions, benefits and allowances;
  • concession and health care cards;
  • family assistance payments;
  • farm household support;
  • Paid Parental Leave;
  • student assistance payments.

It can review decisions that relate to:

  • rejection of a claim;
  • suspension or cancellation of a payment;
  • rate of payment;
  • incurring and recovering a debt.

A request for a review can be made online, by phone, by form, by email or by letter. Time limits apply for some decisions: for instance, a review application must be made within 13 weeks for a family assistance decision, or 3 months for a student assistance decision. There is no fee for a first review of a Centrelink decision.

The hearing is relatively informal, usually with one AAT member and the applicant.  Centrelink will not be present but will have provided its decision documents to the AAT and the applicant.

After a first review, the AAT can:

  • affirm the decision;
  • vary the decision;
  • set aside the decision and substitute its own decision;
  • set aside the decision and return it to Centrelink for a new decision.

Second review by Administrative Appeals Tribunal

The General Division of the AAT can conduct a “second review” of most decisions made by its Social Services & Child Support Division. It cannot review a decision by that division to dismiss an application for a first review, or a first review decision about Paid Parental Leave for an employer.

A request for a second review can be made online, by form, by email or by letter. It must be made within 28 days of the first review decision, but the time limit may be extended on application. There is no fee for a second review of most Centrelink decisions. A second review of a Paid Parental Leave decision, however, carries a fee of $952, which can be reduced by $100 for some applicants.

A preliminary conference is held, often by phone, between the applicant, a Centrelink representative and an AAT member to try to resolve the matter without a hearing. If the matter is not resolved, and either party does not withdraw the appeal, the matter will proceed to a hearing.

After a second review, the AAT can:

  • affirm the decision;
  • vary the decision;
  • set aside the decision and substitute its own decision;
  • set aside the decision and return it to Centrelink for a new decision.

Appeal to Federal Court

A decision of a second review by the AAT may be appealed to the Federal Court by either party. An appeal of this type is available in very limited cases and only on a question of law. It will need to be proved that the AAT made an error of law and that error contributed to the decision being appealed.

Payment pending review

Payment pending review allows a person to continue to receive payments while they await a decision from an ARO or on the first review by AAT. Centrelink has discretion to grant payment pending review, considering such factors as a person’s:

  • severe financial hardship;
  • caring responsibilities;
  • medical conditions;
  • accommodation.

Payments made during a payment pending review period are not recoverable as a debt.

Payment pending review is not available for a person awaiting the outcome of a second review by the AAT. However, a person can apply to the AAT for a “stay” order which suspends the decision until the review is completed.


In some cases, a person may be able to claim compensation for financial loss or harm caused by a Centrelink mistake. The person will need to show Centrelink administration was defective, that they suffered loss or detriment as a result, and that the agency could reasonably have expected they would suffer the loss or detriment as a result.

For advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.


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