I gave up my career several years ago to care for my mother. I received a carer’s pension and together with her aged pension we were able to live in a semi-comfortable manner in country NSW. Sadly, she passed away in March last year and I attempted to find employment. But at 63 years of age, I found it impossible to obtain an interview, let alone a position.
I have a severe, untreatable form of muscular myopathy which has resulted in approximately 70% loss of muscle bulk and mobility. I am able to walk short distances with difficulty but have had four falls in the past three years, caused simply by turning too quickly, or tripping over uneven objects. As well as HIV, I also have hepatitis C and angina.
In early May, I applied for a Disability Support Pension (DSP), provided the required medical assessment forms completed by my doctor, and was placed on ‘New Start’ while awaiting a decision. For a person my age, New Start pays $656.20 per fortnight including rent assistance.
After a psychological assessment (by phone) and a medical assessment (also by phone), I was denied the DSP. I appealed, was again medically assessed over the phone and denied.
From what I can determine, there is now a seemingly magical, 20-point ‘table’ system for determining a person’s medical condition. These tables are extremely rigorous and appear to have been compiled to prevent almost anyone from successfully qualifying for a DSP.
It was now early August. Another appeal and I was then referred to a Centrelink Area Review Officer — a process with a supposed waiting time of another 3-4 weeks. So, I contacted my local Federal Member of Parliament and wrote several e-mails to the Minister for Human Services and to the Prime Minister.
I also appealed to the Social Security Appeals Tribunal (SSAT) and underwent a video link-up with them in October. The SSAT eventually ruled in my favour and stated that I did in fact qualify for a DSP from my original application in May. I had a further wait of 28 days so that Centrelink’s Legal Department could decide whether or not to contest the SSAT decision.
But there has been a resolution to my situation. In November, I was informed that I will be receiving a DSP backdated to June when my carer’s pension ceased.
My message to others who may be suffering under the same distressing and depressing process is to not give up. This application and appeals process took me 6½ months. The tables are simply unjust, and the process is intended to make people give up. Both must be reviewed as a matter of urgency.
(Name withheld by request)
We asked the Department to comment . . .
We cannot comment on individual cases; however, the following provides information on the application process for a Disability Support Pension.
As with any payment, when a person is assessed for Disability Support Pension (DSP), the Department of Human Services (the Department) follows a thorough and fair process to make sure the applicant meets eligibility rules and receives the right level of support.
Assessing the impact of medical conditions on a person’s work capacity can be very complex. No two cases are the same.
It is important that the Assessor has all the relevant information available to them — especially medical documentation — in order to make an informed decision.
When an assessment is conducted for a DSP claim, the Department looks at the person’s physical, intellectual or psychiatric impairment and their ability to work.
The functional impact of a person’s impairment is assessed using the Impairment Tables. A person needs an impairment rating of at least 20 points to be eligible for DSP. The person must also be unable to do any work of at least 15 hours a week at or above the relevant minimum wage, or be re-skilled for any work for at least the next two years.
The Impairment Tables have been reviewed recently and the revised Impairment Tables were introduced on 1 January 2012.
An Advisory Committee made up of medical and allied health professionals and disability stakeholders oversaw the review and provided expert advice on the revised Impairment Tables to bring them up to date with current medical and rehabilitation practices.
The Impairment Tables are designed to focus on a person’s ability, not their disability.
The descriptors in the Impairment Tables do not list specific medical conditions; instead they assess the functional impact caused by the conditions.
Advances in technology, medicine and rehabilitation techniques now make it possible for many people with disability to work in some capacity. We want to ensure that people with disability who have some capacity to work get the assistance they need to help them prepare for and find work.
DSP is designed to provide support for people who have a permanent disability that prevents them from working.
If it turns out someone is not eligible for DSP, we can discuss other options available to them such as applying for an alternative income support payment such as Newstart Allowance or Sickness Allowance, as well as other support options to find work.
If a person’s claim for DSP is rejected, they can request a review of the decision by a Centrelink Review Officer or make a new application.
If they are not happy with the decision of the Review Officer they can appeal to the Social Security Appeals Tribunal (SSAT) and we encourage people to understand their right to appeal.
The SSAT is an independent review process and the reason a decision could be changed may be because new evidence becomes available during the SSAT review that was not available when the Department was making the original decision, for example, new medical evidence.
For more information on DSP eligibility and other payments available, visit humanservices.gov.au, call 13 2717 or visit one of the Department’s Service Centres.
(A spokesperson for the Department of Human Services)
To improve your chance of a successful application, make sure:
- you understand the criteria
- you have the full support of your primary doctor
- your documentation is impeccable.
Having a support worker to help you through the process is also a good idea. Contact your local AIDS Council or PLHIV organisation for a referral.