Tips For Navigating Centrelink
- Whenever you contact Centrelink by phone or attend an interview in person, obtain the name and position of the officer you speak to, or if telephoning, obtain a reference number for your call. It is very helpful for your case if you are able to identify all the times you have called, and all the requests/inquiries you have made.
- If you need to call Centrelink be prepared for a long wait! Set aside at least 30 minutes and have your details ready (including your Customer Reference Number).
- Payment denied? Seek further advice. Errors are frequently made by Centrelink staff, and it is always possible to have a decision reviewed. You generally have 13 weeks after being notified of the decision to seek a review (time limits are different if you are seeking review outside Centrelink, such as through a court or a tribunal - see below).
- Moved in with a partner? Changed addresses? Got a new job? It is essential to report changes to Centrelink. If you are unsure about whether you should be reporting something, contact an Arc Student Support Officer, Welfare rights, or you can call Centrelink anonymously and discuss your situation.
- Think you're eligible? Lodge your intent to claim ASAP because you can be backpaid to that date if your claim is approved.
- This page will only detail Youth Allowance, Austudy and Abstudy however there are other types of payments that you may be eligible for such as the JobSeeker payment (formerly Newstart). Come and see us for more information!
*All the payment rates quoted in this document are correct as at March 2020 Payment rates are subject to change, so head to Centrelink for the most up to date payment details and rates.
Main Types Of Payments For Students
Youth allowance is a payment for full time students who are aged 16-24.
The payment is available to Australian residents and newly arrived migrants after 104 weeks as an Australian resident in Australia.
Eligibility for Youth Allowance is dependent upon a number of factors: parental income, assets, the amount you earn per fortnight, and whether you are assessed as a "dependent" or "independent" student.
If you are a student under 22 years old and do not meet any of the independence criteria you will be deemed dependent and your parents' income and assets may impact your eligibility and rate of payment.
The amount of Youth Allowance you are entitled to receive will be reduced once your parent/s taxable income exceeds $54, 677. If your parents have other dependent children, their taxable income be considered to affect your rate of payment. You can use the online rate estimator to calculate your approximate potential payment at www.humanservices.gov.au/customer/enablers/online-estimators.
If you are 22 or older you are automatically considered independent.
If you are under 22, some of the ways you may be considered independent, include where you:
- have supported yourself through full-time employment of an average of 30 hours per week for at least 18 months during any period of 2 years,
- have or have had a dependent child, or
- are unable to live at home due to extreme circumstances, or your parents can not exercise their responsibilities.
If you are from an area classified as 'inner regional', 'outer regional', 'remote' or 'very remote' then you may be classified as independent if after finishing high school you have:
- earned at least 75 per cent of Wage Level A of the National Training Wage Schedule included in a modern award, in an 18-month period, or
- worked part-time (at least 15 hours each week) for at least 2 years.
Your income and assets will be taken into account when assessing your eligibility. You may also be subject to a "waiting period" if you have liquid assets (for example, over $3000 in cash).
The maximum Youth Allowance payment rates per fortnight:
Under 18, living at home
18 or over, living at home
Away from home
Single, with children
Member of a couple, no children
Member of a couple, with children
This is a payment available to students over the age of 25. It is similar to Youth Allowance and also has income and assets tests.
What factors affect whether I am eligible or how much I can receive?
- Your income and assets
- Whether you are single or have a partner
- Whether you have dependent children
- Whether you are a long term income support student.
You will be regarded as a long-term income support student if you
- Do not have a dependent child, and
- Are undertaking study in a course that you started after turning 21, and
- Have been on a payment from Centrelink for at least 26 out of the 39 weeks before starting your course (not including Youth Allowance or Austudy).
Basic Austudy rates per fortnight:
|Single, with children||$606.00|
|Partnered, with children||$507.90|
|Partnered, no children||$462.90|
This is a payment available to students of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent.
You may receive Abstudy if you are studying at an approved course at an approved university. Most courses in schools, colleges, TAFE and universities are "approved" for Abstudy purposes. You can get Abstudy as long as you are not receiving other Centrelink payments such as Youth Allowance, Austudy or Newstart. To qualify, you must be an Australian citizen as well as an Indigenous Australian.
In making a claim, check whether you are eligible for:
- incidentals allowance
- additional incidental allowance
- residential costs option
- fares allowance
- away from base assistance
Abstudy payments are available to masters and doctoral students. These students may also be eligible for other allowances including living allowance, relocation allowance, thesis allowance and compulsory course fees.
Rates per fortnight:
Given the number of different payments, you should contact Centrelink for a personal assessment or see us for a consultation.
How Much Can I Earn Whilst Receiving Centrelink?
Youth Allowance, Austudy & Abstudy
up to $437
between $437 and $524
Reduction in payment (income bank is zero)
none - full payment
50 cents for each dollar over $437 and under $524
$43.50 plus 60 cents for each dollar over $524
Income Bank allows you to build up "credit" to offset any decreases in your Centrelink payment should you get a job.
For example, if you receive Youth Allowance you can earn $437 per fortnight without your Centrelink payment being reduced. This figure is known as your "fortnightly income free area". If you do not work during a semester/session of study (or if you earn less than $437 per fortnight) you can accumulate any unused portion of your fortnightly income free area to form an income bank (up to a total of $10, 900). This means that when you start earning more than $437 per fortnight your extra earnings can be offset against your income bank balance instead of reducing your Centrelink payment. Once your income balance is reduced to zero, any money you earn over $437 per fortnight will reduce your Centrelink payment by the amounts shown in the tables above.
Additional Payments You May Be Eligible For:
This is a payment to assist those who pay rent in the private rental market. Students eligible for a payment may also be eligible for rent assistance if they are over 25, or under 25 and live permanently/indefinitely away from their parents
The maximum payment of rent assistance for people without children is $137.20 per fortnight which you will receive if you are paying $305.33 or more per fortnight rent in rent. You are not eligible for rent assistance if your fortnightly rent is $122.40 or less.
Payments are different if you have children, share with others or are in a relationship. Payment rates can be found here.
Crisis payment entitles you to money if you have been forced to leave your home and find a new home because of extreme events such as domestic violence or your house burning down.
You qualify for Crisis Payment if:
you are a new or existing Centrelink customer, and:
- are qualified for some other social security pension or benefit
- are in severe financial hardship
- have left your home and cannot return due to an extreme circumstance, and
- have set up a new home
- have served at least 14 days in jail and have just been released and are in severe financial hardship
You must also have been in Australia at the time of the event occurring, an Australian resident or citizen previously resident in Australia, and claim the crisis payment within 7 days of the event taking place.
The Crisis Payment is a one off payment - equal to one week's payment of normal benefits you would normally be entitled to, and limited to four payments in one year.
A crisis payment is also avalaible to anyone who needs to self-isolate (with a medical certificate) due to COVID-19.
This is an allowance which is available to university students who are living away from their permanent home to study.
The allowance helps you cover the costs of selected travel between your permanent home and university each year using the least expensive form of public transport that is practicable. Only trips from your permanent home and university are covered by this payment. The payment does not assist with your daily trips to and from university each day.
The number of trips covered are:
- a single journey from your permanent home to your place of study at the beginning of the academic year
- one return journey between your place of study and your permanent home during the year (if you have been receiving Youth Allowance, ABSTUDY, Austudy, or the Pensioner Education Supplement for six months or more), and
- a single journey from your place of study to your permanent home when you finish or stop your studies for the academic year
Click here for more information eligibility requirements
This payment assists you with the purchase of prescription medicines available through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).
You qualify for the Allowance if you are receiving:
- Youth Allowance
- Newstart allowance
- Widow allowance
- A pension from Centrelink
- Austudy payment where you are over 60 years of age
Once you have paid for 52 prescriptions through the PBS in a calendar year, all PBS medications will be free for the rest of the year.
If you are:
Payment rate per fortnight
This is a payment for people who are employed and who are temporarily unable to work due to a medical condition. Full time students on Austudy or Abstudy may qualify for Sickness Allowance. You cannot receive sickness allowance if you currently receive Youth Allowance. Sickness Allowance is not a long-term payment; rather it is paid for temporary illness or incapacity.
Centrelink is not accepting new applications for the Sickness Allowance, however if you currently receive it, the payment will continue until your medical certificate expires.
Rate of sickness allowance per fortnight:
Single, no kids
Single, with kids
Partnered, under Age pension age
Generally you can be paid sickness allowance for a maximum of 13 weeks.
If you can’t work or study due to illness or injury, you may be able to apply for the JobSeeker payment.
Other payments and benefits
There are various other payments or benefits that you may be eligible for such as the Youth Disability Supplement or Low Income Health Care Card.
Breaches and Overpayments
Centrelink has become far more aggressive in its approach to cracking down on those who may have been overpaid. Centrelink engages in an extensive system of data matching between itself, the Tax Office and other government bodies. Centrelink's policy is to recover money incorrectly paid to people, even if the payment was the result of Centrelink error.
What is a breach?
Depending on the circumstances, you may be sent a "breach" notification. For students, a breach may be a failure to report earnings for a period, reporting an incorrect amount, or failing to notify Centrelink of changes which affect payments (such as your current living arrangements).
Penalties for non-compliance
- Referring your account to an external collection agency (Dun & Bradstreet or Recoveries Corporation)
- reducing your payments from Centrelink to help repay the amount owing
- referring your case to our solicitors for legal action, and/or
- issuing a garnishee on your wages, your tax refund, other assets and income (including money you may hold in a bank account
I received a notice, what do I do?
- Do not automatically accept a demand or request for payment from Centrelink. Contact the person listed on the notice, Welfare Rights, or an Arc Student Support Officer to discuss your options.
- You may be able to negotiate a staggered repayment arrangement or repayments to be delayed for a period.
- You may also wish to challenge the decision
What Should You Do If You Disagree With A Decision?
Centrelink officers regularly make mistakes, and you have the right to challenge any decision made by them.
1.Speak to the officer who made the decision. Ask for the reasons for the decision, explain why you believe it is wrong and why your circumstances justify a different decision.
2.You have the right to a review of any Centrelink decision. Ask for your matter to be examined by an Authorised Review Officer. This person is a senior staff member who has had no previous contact with your case. At first, the person who originally made the decision may look at it again unless you request that they do not. If they do not change the decision or you are dissatisfied with the new decision, an authorised review officer will examine the case. This person will probably contact you to make further inquiries, check facts, examine the material which the original decision maker used.
3.If you are still dissatisfied with the result, you may appeal to the Social Security Appeals Tribunal (SSAT). This is an independent statutory body made up of professionals such as welfare workers, social workers and solicitors. Your case will be heard by two or more members of the tribunal. It is a fairly informal environment.
4.If the SSAT decision is not in your favour, you may appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT). The AAT is more like a court. There will be a conference between yourself and Centrelink at first, and if the issue cannot be resolved you will be asked to present your case at a formal hearing. The AAT can affirm (uphold) Centrelink's decision or overturn it.
5.Your final avenue of appeal is to the Federal Court, and in very limited circumstances the High Court. Appeals to courts may only be on matters of law, not on the merits of your application.
When Should You Seek Legal Advice?
Seek legal advice in these circumstances:
- If you have been contacted by a debt recovery agency or received a debt recovery letter (usually called a "Dunn and Bradstreet" letter)
- If you have received any court documents such as a Statement of Claim
- If you wish to challenge a Centrelink decision to the Social Security Appeals Tribunal or Administrative Appeals Tribunal
- If Centrelink is attempting to recover money from you which was from a payment period more than six years ago
- If you believe that you have been denied access to benefits from Centrelink on discriminatory grounds - for example a disability
- If Centrelink staff are in any way unduly harassing or interfering
- If you believe your privacy has been breached, or you believe Centrelink are asking you for confidential information you do not believe they are entitled to ask.
Our Top 5 Most Commonly Asked Centrelink Questions
Will I get Centrelink while I am on exchange?
Yes. If you are a full-time student you can get your payment if you are studying outside Australia as part of a full-time Australian course.
You will need to get a statement from UNSW confirming:
- that you will remain enrolled with your Australian educational institution
- your study load while overseas
- the duration of your overseas study, and
- that your overseas study will count towards your Australian course.
I'm thinking of moving in with my girlfriend, will this affect my Centrelink payments?
Yes potentially. First Centrelink will determine whether you are a member of a couple by looking at factors like your
- social relationships
- nature of your household
- presence or absence of a sexual relationship, and
- nature of the commitment.
Under youth allowance there is a minimum time period applied for a relationship to be regarded as de facto (unlike other payments where people are considered to be in a de facto relationship from the time they start living together as a couple). Make sure you report all changes to Centrelink.
If Centrelink affirms you are a member of a couple and you believe that the decision to treat you as a member of a couple may cause you unfair hardship you can ask Centrelink to consider whether there is a special reason for you not to be treated as a member of a couple under Section 24 of the Social Security Act 1991.
Will I have to pay back the start up scholarship I receive every semester?
If you have previously received the Start-up scholarship then you will continue to do so until the end of your degree without having to pay it back. Students commencing as of 2014 will be required to pay back the start-up scholarship.
I am on youth allowance, how long can I take to finish a course?
To receive Centrelink you need to maintain a full-time load. You also need to complete the course within the allowable limit (based on the minimum time it normally takes to complete the course).
For youth allowance
If the normal length of the course is
Then the allowable time is
1 year or less
up to twice the course duration
more than 1 year and at least 1 subject in the current year is a year-long subject
the minimum time for that course plus 1 year
more than 1 year and there are no year-long subjects
the minimum time for that course plus 1 semester
If you are studying honours, the minimum time for completing a course will be extended by one year.
If you are unable to complete the course within your allowable time, and have not been affected by circumstances beyond your control, you may still be able to receive Youth Allowance.
If this is the case, come in to see us or contact Centrelink on 132 490.
For information on allowable time for Austudy recipients please click here.
I'm a bit stressed at the moment. Can I underload this semester and still get Centrelink?
To continue receiving youth allowance you need to be enrolled in a minimum of 12 Units of Credit (UoC) each term, or 36 UoC across three standard terms with at least one course enrollment in each term. So while you can underload, be aware that if you extend your studies beyond the 'allowable' time, you might not be eligible for Centrelink for the whole duration of your studies.
Centrelink Multilingual Call
1800 556 955
Indigenous Debt Recovery
(Freecall) 1800 138 193
Services & Payments
Disability and Carers
Youth allowance, Austudy, Low Income Health Care Card
1800 132 317
Click here for more contact information.
Need more information
If you are a UNSW student and Arc member we can give you free legal advice. Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.