Skip To Content

    This Is What It's Like To Go Through A Gruelling 18 Month Welfare Assessment. Spoiler: It's Not Great.

    After 30,056 people were reviewed by the department, only 16 were kicked off welfare.

    Amy* has been waiting 18 months for Centrelink to decide whether or not she can continue to receive the Disability Support Pension (DSP).

    Amy's review began in September 2016 as part of the Turnbull government's crackdown on people receiving the DSP.

    The plan was introduced by then-social services minister Christian Porter in the 2016 Budget, and aimed to put 90,000 existing disability pensioners through a reassessment process over three years.

    If they were found to be wrongly claiming the DSP they would be kicked off welfare or moved onto a lower Centrelink payment.

    For a single adult with no children, the disability pension is around $440 a week. The same person would receive less than $270 on Newstart benefits.

    Porter forecast 2,300 people a year would have their benefits cancelled and 1,800 would be moved onto a lower Newstart allowance payment. He predicted it would save the budget $61.2 million over five years.

    Amy's review started in September 2016 and still hasn't been completed. She was told originally that she had 14 days from receiving the review letter to have a specialist medical appointment and obtain the documentation to meet Centrelink's specific requirements.

    "It is not possible to get a specialist medical appointment in that timeframe, even if I paid to see them privately," she told BuzzFeed News. "Waiting lists are measured in months, but I managed to get an extension and I thought things were wrapped up around November 2016."

    For months, Amy heard nothing from Centrelink or the Human Services Department. But her pension kept getting paid, so she assumed the review was over.

    "I heard nothing for months on end, even going in to the local office to ask if I was going to hear back if they had found the review in my favour ... if they found otherwise, I would know because my payment would be cancelled," she said.

    "They said I would be notified, but after more months passed and I still heard nothing at all and was still getting the payment, I eventually thought, well, I must have passed the test and they just didn't tell me or something."

    It wasn't until February 2018, 17 months after the process began that Amy was told by Centrelink that her review had not been resolved.

    Last week the Department of Human Services told Senate Estimates that since the review process started in July 2016, just 16 people had been found ineligible for the disability pension.

    Of the 30,056 reviews commenced by the department, only 135 people have come off the DSP, with the majority transferring onto the dole.

    As of November 3, 2017, 119 people had voluntarily chosen to have their DSP cancelled. Fifty-six are no longer receiving income support and 63 have been moved to another payment.

    "16 recipients had their DSP cancelled because of, for example, changes in their financial circumstances and are either no longer receiving an income support payment (10 people), or are receiving an income support payment more appropriate to their circumstances," the department said.

    Out of the 10,000 completed reviews, 66 are no longer on welfare.

    "The Department of Human Services has initiated 30,000 Disability Support Pension medical eligibility reviews, of which around 10,000 have been finalised," Department of Human Services general manager Hank Jongen told BuzzFeed News.

    "Recipients continue to receive their benefits while these reviews are being conducted."

    Jongen wouldn't answer questions on whether 18 months is a typical length of time to complete a review.

    "The review process is also comprehensive, with a rigorous quality assurance process, and safeguards to ensure recipients are assisted — for example, if they are having difficulty obtaining medical evidence," Jongen said.

    The department says it selects people for a review if they have not had a recent medical assessment or provided current medical evidence, as it's likely their pension was granted years ago, under less stringent criteria, and their medical condition may have changed over the years.

    Govt measure to review people on DSP (90,000 in total over three years) began July 2016. To November last year, 30,056 had a review of their disability pension. About 140 people removed themselves off DSP or had payment cancelled. That would be 0.45% #estimates

    Greens senator Rachel Siewart told BuzzFeed News that the "incredibly stressful" process is now costing taxpayers money and the government should scrap it.

    “In an attempt to scrape back savings, the Turnbull government has been putting people on the Disability Support Pension through what is for many an incredibly stressful medical review process to prove their eligibility," Siewert said.

    “The government would have likely spent more money carrying out the checks than the money they’ve clawed back from these people, meanwhile 30,000-plus recipients have gone through a stressful process that didn’t need to occur in the first place.

    “I urge the government to stop this awful process ... It is obviously not saving money and is just causing harm and stress”.

    The Department of Social Services told estimates the review process is currently being reviewed to see if it is "operating as it was intended to operate ... it is fair to say that this [process] continues to be be scrutinised".

    * Not her real name.