The Australian Federation of Disability Organisations (AFDO) today released a comprehensive Report on the harm caused to individuals with disability by their interaction with Centrelink’s Disability Support Pension (DSP) application and review processes.
The Report follows a recent appearance before the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs where AFDO gave evidence on:
- The alarming decrease of access to the Disability Support Pension
- The onerous and burdensome nature of the application process
- A review process where people with disability have to fund their own legal supports.
The resulting Report brings to light the systemic failures of the Disability Support Pension application and review processes. It shows how these failures harm people with disability and why such harm constitutes institutional neglect and abuse.
The right to social protection such as the DSP enables people to participate in the life of the community and should not be considered welfare. It is a crucial economic mechanism enabling people with disability to participate as equal citizens in society.
As of March 2021, 376,287 people have been moved from the DSP onto the Jobseeker Allowance. The two largest groups represented in that number are people with chronic illness (e.g., cancer, neurodegenerative illness) and people with psycho social impairment.
Moving people with disability onto the lower rate of Jobseeker, and the subsequent loss of other supports such as travel concessions and access to affordable medications, causes a drastic reduction in living standards and opportunity to participate in the community.
The areas of interaction with Centrelink identified as causing harm are:
- Burdensome nature of proving disability
- Inadequate accessibility arrangements (no provision of Auslan, etc.)
- Complexity of navigating Centrelink processes
- The impact of ineligibility on people with disability
- The experience of users seeking administrative justice (making complaints and seeking reviews of decisions)
AFDO maintains every Australian with disability should have fair and equal access to the DSP, without risk. According to AFDO’s CEO, Ross Joyce, “what we are seeing instead is a dramatic reduction in access to the DSP, effectively relegating people to unrelenting poverty”.
The current policy and processes are inconsistent, opaque and leave both Centrelink and Australians with disability in unhealthy opposition to each other. To protect people with disability, AFDO recommends the Government commit to an immediate and comprehensive review of the Disability Support Pension.
Read the report here.
For more information, please contact Mr Ross Joyce by text on 0402 842 040
Media Backgrounder: Stories from People with Disability on applying for the DSP
Coordinated by AFDO Expert Advisor on Social Security Natasha Thomson.
John: Passed away while waiting for DSP
John had terminal bowel cancer and was given six months to live. When he was discharged from hospital, he had no income and was behind in rent payments as he waited for his DSP application to be processed. As John’s condition was considered a ‘Manifest impairment’, he should have received the DSP immediately. An advocate assisted John with an application for JobSeeker to ensure he had some income. When John was told it would take up to two months to process his DSP application, he attempted suicide.
Two months after being discharged, John was in a vegetative state. His Social Worker advised Centrelink and his advocate advised the Social Worker to insist on a Manifest grant of the DSP. The following week, there was a request from Centrelink for John to attend a Job Capacity Assessment. The Centrelink Social Worker advised the Manifest grant was still outstanding and that the Manager of DSP assessments had written a report and that it still lies with the Quality Team.
John passed away 54 days after his DSP application was first lodged. Unfortunately, the Centrelink processing issues continued following John’s death. Despite notifying Centrelink that he had died the DSP was approved and payments commenced. On receipt of the Death Notice Centrelink advised that John’s estate would now have a debt to Centrelink due to the overpayment.
Steven: DSP claim forms and processes are not accessible
Steven is deafblind. He was initially turned away from Centrelink by a security guard who argued that his guide dog was a pet despite, the dog being fitted with a harness, ID and shirt. When he finally got to the Centrelink counter Steven was told to phone the disability hotline as the office would not provide a person to speak with him. Phoning is problematic for Steven and not an accessible option.
DSP claim forms were not available in Steven’s preferred format and he requested assistance to complete them. This assistance was denied. Steven ultimately had to travel and pay out of pocket for his accountant to assist with the application forms.
Steven found that he was repeatedly told different things about the application, including that additional forms needed to be submitted, and given unrealistic time frames that didn’t allow for assistance to be booked in time for him to attend appointments. When Steven married, his wife who is also his carer, lost her carers pension and related allowances and it was assumed that this would be covered by Steven’s NDIS plan.
Steven made repeated complaints regarding discrimination and bullying practices. These complaints lead to written apologies from the federal Minister and local Centrelink manager. Steven now uses these letters as leverage to speak with a person (instead of being told to phone) if he is required to attend a Centrelink office.
Peter: Program of Support
Peter is in his early 50s and worked in a job he loved until the symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis made it impossible to continue. As the disease progressed Peter experienced significant shaking, pain, muscle weakness, incontinence and deafness. Peter considered retraining but ultimately had to accept this would not be possible due to the degenerative nature of MS. He applied for the Disability Support Pension.
This application was rejected. Peter began the review process and immediately encountered significant delays, not hearing anything for many months after the review process started. Peter felt unheard and found the process degrading. In one conversation he was asked if he had arms and legs, and told that if he did, he was able work.
Eventually, a year after applying for the DSP, Peter was sent to as Disability Employment Services (DES) Provider and told he needed to complete a ‘Program of Support’. This would mean an 18 month delay before Peter would be able to access the DSP, while he suffers from a degenerative condition and has supporting evidence from his medical team to say that he is unable to work at all. The DES Provider advised Peter that they had taken him off their system because of his inability to work, but refused to provide any documentation for Centrelink, insisting that it’s up to Centrelink to officially exit him from the program.
Peter lives with his elderly parents and relies on them heavily. He uses a loaned hearing aid as he is unable to buy his own. He found the entire application process, eligibility criteria, and appeals process confusing and overwhelming. Peter did seek support from family members with higher education and found that they also cannot understand the reasons for rejection. Peter feels as though he has been treated with suspicion and contempt throughout the two years he’s been trying to get the DSP.
Jennifer: Several medical exemptions from Newstart requirements
Jennifer was injured in a workplace accident about 4 and half years ago. English is Jennifer’s second language and she cannot read or write in her first language. She had insurance payments for two years to cover her loss of income after the accident and this was cancelled after a medical review.
Jennifer sought advice from Centrelink. As a result she was placed on Newstart and joined an employment service. Applying for up to 20 jobs a week, Jennifer found that employers would send her home upon realising the extent of her injuries. Jennifer then received several 3-month exemptions as she was in too much pain to work. Jennifer subsequently suffered anxiety, family problems and was at risk of homelessness. In recent months Jennifer’s claim for DSP was successful and she now hopes she can recover from this experience and that her future will be more secure.