Persistence solves Centrelink dilemma

Vikram is a
Sydney resident and client of the Multicultural Disability Advocacy Association
(MDAA). He has refractory epilepsy and uses an anti-convulsant medication to
control his illness.

In 2001, Vikram’s
medication changed. As a result, he developed anxiety and depression and became
unable to make basic everyday decisions. Vikram experienced problems with his
relationships, became divorced, isolated and homeless, and lost his job.

In 2004, Vikram
re-applied at Centrelink for the Disability Support Pension (DSP) but his
application was rejected. Vikram appealed through the Social Security Appeals
Tribunal (SSAT), undergoing several tests to establish the type and level of his
disability as part of this process.

At Centrelink’s
encouragement, Vikram enrolled in a TAFE course to develop his skills. While he
was at TAFE, Vikram made contact with a TAFE counsellor who
told him about the Pension Education Supplement (PES) available through
Centrelink and who encouraged Vikram to apply when the DSP appeal process was
finalised. Vikram followed this advice.

Vikram was
successful in his DSP appeal and subsequently applied to Centrelink for the
PES. Centrelink granted Vikram the PES payment from the date of his application
but refused to back pay from the date Vikram commenced TAFE in 2007. This back pay
represented over a year’s payment and was worth several thousand dollars.

Vikram lodged
an appeal against the Centrelink decision with SSAT. The appeal was unsuccessful
and Vikram took the matter to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) in

appeal to the AAT was also unsuccessful. He then sought help to take the matter
to the Federal Magistrates Court. Throughout these appeals, Vikram engaged the
support of his advocate from MDAA. The advocate, in turn, sought help from the
Mental Health Legal Services Project (MHLSP) solicitor at MDAA.

With the
assistance of his MDAA advocate and the MHLSP solicitor, Vikram wrote to his
local Member of Parliament, the Hon Anthony Albanese, who in turn wrote to the Minister
for Human Services, the Hon Joe Ludwig, explaining the unfairness of Vikram’s

Vikram also
wrote to Centrelink, setting out his circumstances. He noted the lack of public
information available to pensioners about applications for pension supplements.

situation was favourably resolved as a result of these letters. The Minister
for Human Services supported Vikram’s position and advised that Centrelink
information about PES would be updated; Centrelink sent Vikram a letter approving
an ‘act of grace’ payment for an amount equivalent to the backdated PES.

believes he was able to negotiate these difficulties because of the help and
support he received from MDAA and the MHLSP solicitor and the encouragement he
received to raise the matter with relevant Ministers. He now volunteers as a
Community Voice Advocate for MDAA and talks about his experiences as a way to
help others.

Nancy Walker for further information about the MHSLP solicitor at MDAA.

Pictured: The Hon Anthony Albanese, Vikram’s local Member of Parliament. Photo courtesy of Nic Macbean, Flickr.

Other stories in this edition of Mental Health e-news, #2:

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