Newly Released Commonwealth Ombudsman’s Report Shows Over 200,000 Requests for Centrelink Reviews

Australia ( March 15, 2011

Centrelink Reviews 2 Newly Released Commonwealth Ombudsman’s Report Shows Over 200,000 Requests for Centrelink Reviews

Newly Released Commonwealth Ombudsman’s Report Shows Over 200,000 Requests for Centrelink Reviews

A Commonwealth Ombudsman’s report released today has identified ‘systemic weaknesses’ in Centrelink’s review processes, including lack of transparency and insufficient education about available options to customers, often leading to delays and inaction – and that the complexity of Centrelink’s review model contributes to administrative drift and breakdown.

It may surprise many people to learn that they have options when requesting a review of a Centrelink decision, despite some 207,000 requests for review lodged during 2009/10. Almost half of reviewed decisions were changed, often because new information became available – these are just two observations made in a Commonwealth Ombudsman report released today.

“Although some improvements have been made by Centrelink, we identified several deficiencies in administration which delay reviews and in some cases result in a failure to act on a request,” Commonwealth Ombudsman Allan Asher said.

Whilst approximately 47 in 100 reviews resulted in a changed decision, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the original decision was wrong. It does however reinforce the need for timely collection of information to enable a quality decision in the first instance – as well clear explanation of decisions to enable effective access to review.

The Ombudsman’s report reinforces the importance for Centrelink customers to be told of the different types of reviews available and options open to them – in particular the implications of the type of review and whether further avenues of redress can be accessed – for example, the choice to escalate a review or to suspend debt recovery. It also draws attention to the vulnerability of customers and the severe consequences that an adverse decision might have.

“Centrelink customers have a right to independent review of decisions and the review process should be transparent, timely and result in the best outcome for the customer. The options for review, including benefits and implications need to be clearly explained,” Mr Asher said.

The report also highlights the phenomenon of ‘appeal fatigue’ where customers give up pursuing their right to a review after long delays have extinguished their resolve.

One case study of Mr ‘J’ highlighted that he made many calls over several months and was finally told that his request for review had not been upheld but he could appeal to the Social Security Appeals Tribunal. He told the Ombudsman that he ‘didn’t know if he had the strength’ to pursue the matter.

The report highlighted the need for Centrelink to identify and rectify causes of delay in the review model, including obstacles to recognising and acting upon requests for review.

“The office recognises that Centrelink has put significant effort into developing effective review processes, however, it presently falls short of the ideal,” Mr Asher said.

The Ombudsman has welcomed Centrelink’s agreement to implement all recommendations in the report. These recommendations go to the issues of:

  • improving access to appropriate review options
  • timeliness of reviews
  • improving original decisions
  • limiting the negative consequences of incorrect decisions pending review outcomes
  • achieving better alignment of legislative, policy and procedures.

With regards to improving access to appropriate review options, Centrelink has advised it is currently developing ‘an enhanced and affordable internal review process to replace the current checking process’. The Ombudsman has accepted an invitation from Centrelink’s to work with them on the design and review of the new internal review process.

The Ombudsman’s office will undertake a review of Centrelink’s implementation of the new process in about six months’ time.

Download the report: Centrelink: Right to review–having choices, making choices—04|11

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