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Long delays for Centrelink payments to injured workers

Injured workers who have had their Centrelink payments reinstated or who rely on payments while awaiting a Common Law settlement are having to wait long periods during which they have no income.

It is unacceptable to deprive injured workers of income while Centrelink catches up with its paperwork.

In this blog, I examine the problems often faced by injured workers who find themselves waiting weeks for payments.

Re-instatement of Centrelink payments

Centrelink benefits play a useful role as an income safety net for injured workers who are deprived of WorkCover payments.

This can occur if a worker has a WorkCover injury claim rejected, or if the worker has already received 130 weeks of weekly WorkCover payments and which have not been discontinued because the insurer assesses the worker as having the capacity to undertake alternative employment. The work capacity may include the resumption of the pre-injury occupation or alternatively, lighter duties for which the worker might be suited.

Rejected claims delays

When a WorkCover insurer terminates a worker’s entitlement to weekly payments or rejects the claim, he or she has little choice but to apply for Centrelink benefits. Should the decision be contested, there is a waiting time to have the matter reviewed by the Magistrates Court is currently about one year. If the Court overturns the insurer’s decision (generally after the matter has been referred to the Medical Panels to determine whether the worker does have a work capacity), the insurer must determine the amount of arrears owed to the worker and also recommence the weekly payments.

Before any money can be paid to the worker the insurer must obtain Centrelink clearance (whether or not the worker has been receiving Centrelink benefits). The problem arises when the insurer notifies Centrelink that they are obliged to recommence weekly payments and requests from Centrelink a statement of the total weekly payments to be repaid in arrears. Centrelink however, then stops the worker’s benefit as soon as they receive the letter from the insurer.

Up until Centrelink’s decision to “digitise” their records, RCT Law would allow 10 working days for Centrelink to respond to the insurer. However, requests can now take up to seven weeks to process. While most workers may cope with two weeks without financial support, seven weeks results in significant financial hardship.

Common law payment delays

The same problem arises in the matter of common law settlements on claims that include economic loss.

Again, there can be up to a seven-week delay while Centrelink advises the WorkCover insurer that either the worker has not been in receipt of benefits and there is no amount to be repaid, or there is an amount owing.

The problem is not severe where the worker has continued receiving weekly payments from the insurer. WorkCover has for some time continued to pay weekly payments until the settlement cheque has been drawn. However, if the worker’s weekly payments have ceased prior to the settlement, the same long delay is experienced.

I can only hope that enough people complain about this problem so that Centrelink quickly addresses it. At RCT Law, we will continue to pressure Centrelink to address these gaps in its information and payment system.