Disability pensioner ordered to repay $30k Centrelink debt
A DISABILITY pensioner must repay Centrelink almost $30,000 after failing to inform the agency about her relationship - even though she'd been subject to violence, fear and coercion to stay in that partnership.
The Launceston woman was paid the single rate of disability support pension between 2012 and 2018, but the Department of Social Services said she was overpaid during that time because she actually had a partner.
According to a newly-published Administrative Appeals Tribunal decision, the government investigated the woman and discovered she'd signed joint agreements for rented household goods with a man she was living with, that he was a signatory to her bank account, and they'd described themselves variously as a couple of being in a de facto relationship.
Centrelink then raised a debt of $41,246 against the woman before gathering further evidence to show the woman had listed the man as her next-of-kin, her partner or her de facto.
However, the further evidence also showed that in December 2019, the woman had told Centrelink she was experiencing "on and off" domestic violence.
The documents revealed that a Police Family Violence Order had been made for the woman's protection and that she was being provided with crisis support.
The woman told the tribunal that during the relevant period, she didn't consider herself the man's partner and said that he'd "entrenched his presence in her life".
"The applicant said that she was coerced, sometimes by physical violence, to complete documents stating that he was her partner," tribunal member Sandra Taglieri SC said in her decision.
"She also stated that during interactions with medical professionals about her health and wellbeing, (the man) instigated his involvement and referred to himself as her partner or de facto."
Ms Taglieri said the woman claimed she'd been unable to refute people's assumptions that the pair was in a relationship because she was afraid of him, isolated, and suffered both physical and mental health problems.
She argued her case constituted special circumstances warranting the exercise of discretion to waive her debt.
However, the tribunal said it had "no hesitation" in concluding the pair was in a relationship and that the woman should only have received disability payments at the partnered rate.
It also said the conditions required to write off the debt hadn't been established - because the woman could repay it over time and there hadn't been any administrative errors made.
Ms Taglieri said the tribunal was also satisfied - on the balance of probabilities - that the woman had been exposed to episodes of domestic violence and that the "on-off, difficult relationship" became worse by mid-2018.
"The tribunal is satisfied that the debt should be partially waived by 30 per cent," she said.
Originally published as Disability pensioner ordered to repay $30k Centrelink debt