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Centrelink clients’ rights

An overview of the basic rights of Centrelink clients.

At informal interviews and home visits

If a Centrelink officer asks a person to attend a Centrelink office for a voluntary or informal interview the person does not have to attend. They will not be penalised for not attending.

Also if a Centrelink officer arrives at a person's home unannounced, the person does not have to let them in. They can arrange for an interview at a Centrelink office instead.

If a person agrees to a home visit, the officer must not look into private areas of the home, such as bedrooms. They must wear their official identification card while they are in a person's home. The person can also ask an officer to leave their home at any time. Home visits are not very common now, but Centrelink still have the power to visit a person unannounced. Centrelink staff may visit if they are investigating to make sure that the client is entitled to the benefits they are being paid. They must explain the reason for their visit.

Note: Some interviews at Centrelink are compulsory and the person has to attend unless they have a reasonable excuse. Centrelink should make it clear if attendance is compulsory, usually by giving a written notice, but it is a good idea to ask if unsure.

See ss. 63, 64, 192, 196—Social Security (Administration) Act 1999 (Cth)(opens in a new window).

Answering questions

It is important to understand that everything said to Centrelink goes onto the person's file. This includes anything a person says to Centrelink by phone, in writing or in person. For this reason it is vital that anything a person does say to Centrelink is accurate.

Centrelink officers can ask questions but they cannot force anyone to give information. A person being interviewed has the right to stop the interview at any time, particularly if they:

  • do not understand the question
  • are not sure whether Centrelink should be allowed to ask the question
  • feel intimidated
  • don't know the answer, or
  • would like time to get advice, including legal advice.

If Centrelink did not provide the questions before an interview, the person can request that all questions be written down and that they be given time to answer.

Getting support during an interview

A person can also have:

  • an interpreter present for an interview if they are not comfortable speaking English
  • a friend, lawyer or supporter present at an interview, regardless of where they are held.

Centrelink’s obligations

The Centrelink officer must:

  • let the person know the reason for the visit or interview
  • give the person a brochure from Centrelink explaining their rights before being interviewed
  • give the person their details, including their contact number.

Centrelink officers are bound by the privacy principles under the Commonwealth Privacy Act 1988 which states that they must:

  • not obtain information unlawfully (by using threats or deception)
  • not intrude unreasonably into person's affairs
  • only collect information directly needed for lawful purposes, and
  • tell the person why information is required.

See Part 3 Div 6—Privacy Act 1988 (Cth)(opens in a new window)

Signing statements

If person is asked to sign a statement at the end of an interview, they do not have to sign it straight away. Clients have at least 7 days to return a signed statement.

They should be advised to get legal advice or help from a welfare rights advocate if they are unsure about any detail in the document.

Statements of interview

If a person gives Centrelink information during an interview they can ask the interviewer to read out their record of the interview so the person can check the accuracy of their notes. Ask for a copy of the record of interview.

If the person is asked to make a statement at the end of an interview and to sign it, they are within their rights to ask for extra time to comply.

Keeping documents

People should be encouraged to keep a copy of any written correspondence received or sent. They should also make notes of any phone contact, including the name of the Centrelink officer they spoke to and what was said.

More information

Legislation

Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth)

  • s. 45—documents containing material obtained in confidence

See Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth)(opens in a new window)

Social Security (Administration) Act 1999 (Cth)

  • Part 3 Div. 6—requirement to provide information, undergo medical examination etc
  • s. 63—requirement to attend
  • s. 64—effect of failing to comply with requirements to attend
  • s. 192—general power to obtain information
  • s. 195—obtaining information to verify claims etc

See Social Security (Administration) Act 1999 (Cth)(opens in a new window).

Privacy Act 1988 (Cth)

  • Part 3 Div. 2—information privacy principles
  • s. 16B—personal information in records
  • s. 80P—authorisation of collection, use and disclosure of personal information

See Privacy Act 1988 (Cth)(opens in a new window)

Updated