Disability support pension

Disability support pension

A disability support pension (DSP) is a payment from Centrelink for people who have a permanent medical condition that stops them from working.

Having a disability or medical condition is not enough to qualify for DSP, you must prove that the medical condition stops you from working.

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How do I apply for disability support pension?

If you want to apply for DSP you need to show Centrelink six things:

If you are under 16 you are not eligible for DSP. Contact Centrelink to discuss other payment types that you may be eligible for.

You must be a citizen or hold a permanent visa and reside in Australia to be eligible for DSP.

A program of support is a program that helps a person prepare for, find or maintain work. Your program of support might include looking for jobs or doing some training. Make sure that your employment service provider enrols you in a program of support and that you attend. Read more about programs of support and employment service providers.

You must complete a program of support with an employment service provider before you can qualify for the DSP.

Usually you need to complete a program of support for 18 months in the three years before you qualify for the DSP. There are very limited exceptions to this rule.

If you get a medical exemption from doing a program of support then this time will not count towards the 18 months and you will have to wait longer before you can qualify for the DSP.

If you have completed a program of support you can ask your employment service provider to write a letter to Centrelink to confirm your participation.

The only exemption from completing a program of support is if you have a single impairment which is so severe that it scores 20 points or more on a single impairment table. Centrelink uses impairment tables to work out how much your conditions impact (or ‘impair’) your ability to function.

Read more about programs of support.


Sam has an old back injury which got really bad last year and he had to stop working. He has been on Newstart and enrolled in a program of support but got a medical exemption because he didn’t feel up to going into his Employment Services Provider for the training. This means that until the medical exemption finishes, and he participates in a Program of Support, none of that time will count towards the 18 months he needs to complete before applying for DSP.

‘Permanent’ has a special legal meaning. A medical condition is ‘permanent’ if it is ‘fully diagnosed, treated and stabilised’.

This means that your condition must be diagnosed by a doctor. You must have had reasonable treatment for your condition and show that your condition is unlikely to change in the next two years, even with treatment.

There are special rules for some conditions:

  • If you have a mental health condition, you must have a diagnosis from a psychiatrist or a clinical psychologist
  • If you suffer from hearing loss, you must have evidence from an audiologist or an ear, nose and throat specialist
  • If you have a visual impairment you must have evidence from an ophthalmologist
  • If you have an intellectual disability you must have an assessment of your IQ and adaptive behaviour.

If your condition has only just been diagnosed, or if you only just started treatment, Centrelink will probably say that your condition is not ‘permanent’ even if you are very sick. It might be better to wait until you have had treatment before you lodge a claim for DSP.


Sam takes pain killers but hasn’t had any other treatment. His doctor says that physiotherapy will probably help.

Physiotherapy is a ‘reasonable treatment’, so unless Sam completes the physiotherapy, Centrelink will probably say that his back injury is not ‘fully treated’.

Sam has also been feeling depressed since he had to stop working. His doctor has sent him to a psychologist for counselling and he’s been going for about six months. He has not seen a psychiatrist or a clinical psychologist. Centrelink will probably say his depression is not fully diagnosed.

Centrelink uses impairment tables to work out how much your conditions impact (or ‘impair’) your ability to function. Your conditions need to score at least 20 points and you and your doctor need to work out which Impairment Tables you need for your particular medical conditions.


Because Sam has a back injury he will need Impairment Table 4 – Spinal Function.

Sam will also need Impairment Table 5 – Mental Health Function for his depression and will need to give this to his doctor and his psychologist.

You should ask your doctor to write a letter about whether your condition is ‘fully diagnosed, treated and stabilised’ and how many points they think your condition should get by referring to the relevant impairment table.

‘Work’ has a special legal meaning – it means ‘any job that exists anywhere in Australia’.

This means that even if you can’t work in your old job you might be able to work in a different job. If you can work in a different job it means that you won’t qualify for DSP.

You must show that your medical conditions:

  • stop you from working 15 hours a week in any job
  • stop you from training to do a different job from the one you did before you got sick.


Sam can’t carry out physical work anymore because of his back. But he may be able to retrain and carry out office work.

You can ask your doctor to write about your continuing inability to work in their support letter.

Disability support pen​sion checklist​

To help you lodge a DSP claim with Centrelink download our disability support pension checklist (docx, 141.69 KB).

What happens if Centrelink rejects my claim?

If Centrelink rejects your claim, ask them why.

Centrelink may tell you that you need to get more treatment or to complete 18 months in a program of support. You may put in a new claim after you have completed these tasks.

There is no limit to the number of DSP applications you can make.

If you think that you have met the six criteria and that Centrelink’s rejection of your claim is wrong, you can ask Centrelink to have their decision reviewed by an authorised review officer.

For more information see disagree with a Centrelink decision.


Sam goes to a physiotherapist and the doctor writes him a letter saying that his back problem scores 10 points on Table 4 and his depression scores 10 points on Table 5.

Centrelink rejects his claim because he hasn’t completed a program of support, which the law says is one of the six criteria for a DSP.

Because Sam hasn’t completed a program of support, the authorised review officer will not change Centrelink’s decision because they have to apply the same law.

Sam calls Victoria Legal Aid’s Legal Help line about the authorised review officer decision and to get some advice on making a new DSP claim.

Get help

Find out how you can get help with Centrelink.