Victoria Legal Aid

Debts owed under the Status Resolution and Support Services program

This information is for people who have been told by Centrelink that they owe money due to an overpayment while receiving financial assistance under the Commonwealth Government’s Status Resolution and Support Services program.

This page is for people who have been told by Centrelink that they owe money (a debt) because they have been overpaid under the Commonwealth Government’s Status Resolution and Support Services programExternal Link . It provides some information on how to ask for a review of a debt decision or a possible waiver (setting aside) of this debt.

About the Status Resolution and Support Services program

The Status Resolution and Support Services (SRSS) program provides support services to people who are living in Australia while their protection visa applications are being decided.

The types of services include financial, medical and housing.

The Department of Home Affairs provides these services through various organisations. Financial help is given through Services AustraliaExternal Link (Centrelink).

If you are applying for a protection visa and experiencing financial hardship, you will mostly likely be able to get SRSS payments.

The Department of Home Affairs will find that a person (or family) is in financial hardship when:

  • their income is below a certain amount
  • they have no assets or money in Australia or overseas that they can use to live on
  • there is no ongoing support available from friends, family or other organisations in Australia or overseas.

There are several reasons why you may no longer be able to get SRSS payments:

  • your visa application is either granted or refused
  • you find a job or get money from another person
  • you send money overseas, or get money from overseas (over a certain amount)
  • you do not contact the Department of Home Affairs about your visa application, when you are asked to.

Sometimes, Centrelink may continue to pay you even when you are no longer able to get support. This can result in an ‘overpayment’. Centrelink will then send you a letter saying that you have been overpaid and asking for you to pay back the overpayment or ‘debt’.

Overpayments may also happen if you don’t tell Centrelink that you are working, or if you give the wrong information about your income.

Sometimes, overpayments may be due to administrative errors (mistakes) by Centrelink staff.

Centrelink has a special telephone number that you can call to speak with someone about an SRSS overpayment. To speak with an SRSS debt service officer, call 1800 316 556.

If you do not agree that you have been overpaid, or disagree with the amount of the overpayment, then you can ask for Centrelink’s decision to be reviewed.

How do I ask for a review of Centrelink’s decision?

Decisions about SRSS payments (including decisions about overpayments) can be reviewed by Centrelink.

If you have received a letter from Centrelink saying that you have been overpaid, you can ask that the debt be ‘reviewed’ by a review officer.

A review officer is a senior Centrelink officer who did not make the original decision about your debt. They will have another look at the decision and call you to discuss. You can give new information about your circumstances to the review officer. The review officer will either confirm, vary or set aside the debt.

The review officer must make the ‘correct’ decision based on all the information available. This means that your debt could be increased, decreased or cancelled on review. The review officer should send you a detailed letter explaining their decision.

If the review officer confirms the debt, there are no other options for you to have the debt reviewed.

If your debt is cancelled on review, then any repayments you have made towards the debt will be returned to you.

You can ask for a review in the following ways:

  1. in person – at your local Centrelink officeExternal Link
  2. by phone – by calling the number on the letter from Centrelink
  3. online – via your myGov account by clicking on ‘Complaints’ and in the free text box, note that you want a review by a review officer. Or you can download the Review of decision formExternal Link from the Centrelink website. Note – the information under ‘Further right of review’ does not apply to SRSS debts. There is no right to a further review by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
  4. in writing – to Centrelink, Reply Paid 7800, Canberra BC ACT 2610. Download our Centrelink template letter - request for review.
  1. by fax – 1300 786 102

You can also ask Centrelink to suspend (pause) repayments while the debt is being reviewed. If Centrelink decides not to suspend repayments, you can request that a review officer also review that decision. You can also complain if Centrelink refuses to suspend payments.

Make sure you ask for a receipt number from Centrelink for every request you make and keep copies of any documents you give Centrelink.

Is there a time limit on seeking a review?

There is no time limit on seeking a review. However, Centrelink may ask you to pay back the debt while the decision is being reviewed.

Centrelink can seek repayment of a debt at any time.

What happens if I don’t pay the debt when it is due?

If by the due date you do not pay your debt, seek a review, or start a payment plan, Centrelink (or the Department of Home Affairs) may take legal action to recover the debt.

If you have asked for a review of a debt and are then contacted by a debt collector, you can tell them that you want the debt sent back to Centrelink because you are seeking a review of the debt. You do not have to enter into a payment plan with a debt collector.

If you feel that a debt collector is harassing you or giving you misleading information, contact the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission on 1300 302 502 or make a consumer complaintExternal Link via their website.

If you are unable to repay the overpayment amount, it will become a debt that you owe to the Commonwealth Government.

It may affect your application for another visa if you have not made any arrangements for repaying this debt. You may not have to repay this debt in full. A reasonable payment arrangement can include a payment plan or an agreement that no payments be made, given your financial circumstances. To request a payment plan, contact Centrelink (or the Department of Home Affairs). You will need to give them information about your financial situation.

What can I do if I am unable to repay the debt?

If you are unable to pay the debt amount because of your financial situation, you may be able to apply for a ‘waiver’ of the debt. If granted, a waiver wipes out a debt which means that the Commonwealth will not seek to recover the money it is owed.

Only the Department of FinanceExternal Link can waive a debt. Debts may be waived where recovery of the debt would cause ongoing financial hardship, or where it would otherwise be unfair to seek recovery.

There is no automatic right to a waiver and it is generally an option of ‘last resort’. It is not to be used where there are other options open to you, such as internal review by Centrelink.

What is financial hardship?

If repaying the debt would mean you could not pay for food, housing, clothing, medical treatment, education or other essential things for yourself, or your family, then you may be able to show financial hardship.

However, the waiver of debt is discretionary (not automatic) which means that even if you do show financial hardship you may not get a waiver.

How do I apply for a waiver?

Any person can apply for a waiver for themselves or on behalf of another person.

You can apply for a waiver by using the application formExternal Link on the Department of Finance website.

You need to include evidence in support of your application such as:

  • letters to and from Centrelink about your debt, and any decision on review
  • letters or reports from your case worker or financial counsellor (if any)
  • letter or report from your doctor or health professional (if you have any medical conditions which affect your ability to work).

If you are applying for a waiver because of financial hardship, then you will also need to fill out a Statement of Financial DetailsExternal Link form. In this form, you need to answer questions about your personal circumstances including your employment status, income, assets and household expenses.

Once completed, send your application (and any supporting documents) to the Department of Finance:

  1. By email –
  2. By post – Discretionary Payments Section, Significant Matters Taskforce, Department of Finance, 1 Canberra Avenue, FORREST ACT 2603. Download our Department of Finance template letter - request for waiver

Contact the Discretionary Payments Section by phone if you have any questions on 1800 227 572.

It may take a long time for you to get a decision on a waiver application.

What if my application for a waiver is refused?

If your application for a waiver is refused, then you should contact Centrelink to discuss repaying the debt in instalments (small amounts).

Another application for a waiver will only be looked at by the Department of Finance if your circumstances change or you have new evidence.

In limited cases, the waiver decision may be reviewed by a court if there has been an error of law.

You should get legal advice if you are considering appealing the waiver decision.

If you are not happy with how you have been treated by Centrelink staff, you have the right to complain.

Your right to complain is separate from your right to have the debt decision reviewed.

You can complain to:

Complaints to the Commonwealth Ombudsman are usually a ‘last resort’ so you should try and raise your complaint with Centrelink first.

Even if the ombudsman finds your complaint valid, it cannot change a Centrelink decision or take any action. It can only make recommendations, which may or may not be accepted by Centrelink.

Also, if you are not happy with the way the Department of Finance has handled your request for a waiver, then you can also ask the ombudsman to investigate. Once again, the ombudsman has no power to change the decision.

More information

Other Support

See other support for immigration and migration.

Disclaimer: The material in this print-out relates to the law as it applies in the state of Victoria. It is intended as a general guide only. Readers should not act on the basis of any material in this print-out without getting legal advice about their own particular situations. Victoria Legal Aid disclaims any liability howsoever caused to any person in respect of any action taken in reliance on the contents of the publication.

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Reviewed 17 May 2022

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