Fact Sheets | Everyday Money
Centrelink - overview
Sometimes, Centrelink pays more than you are entitled to. When this happens, even if it is not your fault, the amount you were overpaid is a debt owed to Centrelink or the Family Assistance Office. That debt is called a Centrelink or Family Assistance Office (FAO) debt.
If Centrelink thinks that the overpayment is due to fraud they may ask you to come in for an interview and they may prosecute you for a criminal offence. You should get legal advice immediately if this happens.
Check to make sure you owe the debt
Just because Centrelink/FAO says you have been overpaid does not mean they are right. They can make mistakes too, and sometimes act on wrong facts or wrongly apply or interpret the law. You are entitled to ask for the details of:
• What they have paid you each fortnight and
• What they say you were entitled to for the same period.
If you agree you owe the debt
If you believe you owe the debt you can:
• Ask Centrelink to waive the debt so you don’t have to pay.
These debts can only be waived if:
• There is a proven administrative error or
• There are extreme special circumstances. Special Circumstances are things like severe financial hardship, poor health, high medical costs.
Be persistent in seeking waiver of your debt. It may be useful to ask doctors, counsellors or community caseworkers to provide reports to help explain your circumstances. Usually, you will need to try more than once to get Centrelink to waive the debt. If they refuse, you can appeal that decision.
• Negotiate a payment plan
You can ask Centrelink for a payment plan that you can afford to pay. This would be an amount each fortnight, or month that you pay off the debt over time.
You can talk to a financial counsellor or get legal advice to help you deal with Centrelink.
What if you don't pay your debt?
If you don't pay, as well as the usual enforcement action Centrelink can take up to 15% of your pension or benefit to repay a debt.
How do you appeal a Centrelink/FAO decision?
If you think a Centrelink decision is wrong you have the right to appeal against it. Appealing is easy and free. It is best to lodge an appeal in writing and you should keep a copy of your appeal letter. However, you can also lodge an appeal over the telephone by telling Centrelink/FAO that you are not happy with its decision and that you would like to appeal to an Authorised Review Officer (ARO). The ARO is a senior officer in Centrelink who has the power to change the original decision. Many people are successful at this level.
If you think the ARO decision is wrong you can appeal to the Social Security Appeals Tribunal (SSAT). The SSAT is independent of Centrelink. You have further appeal rights to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and the Federal Court. Time limits apply. You should get legal advice about appeals after the ARO decision.