David Fry was living with dementia and resided in residential aged care when Centrelink decided to suspend, and then cancel, his aged pension. According to his son, John, he was living under “full care” and “pretty much a vegetable” at the time.
John had been appointed to make decisions on behalf of his father in 2018, although he told the tribunal he found it “difficult” to do so.
John found the process of becoming responsible for his father’s affairs “highly distressing”, and found it easier to “not think about his father’s affairs”, particularly as he was “in the midst of caring for his own children”.
In 2018, Centrelink wrote to David and John asking for information about David’s financial affairs. When neither responded, in September 2018, Centrelink suspended David’s pension.
David contacted Centrelink and the payment was reinstalled.
But then in December 2018, the pension was cancelled after further requests for information were again ignored.
John told the tribunal he found it “difficult to find the information Centrelink requested.”
He was “unfamiliar with both the social security system and his father’s financial arrangements”.
The Administrative Appeals Tribunal found that Centrelink cancelled the man’s age pension even though David “did not have the mental capacity to be aware of, let alone respond to … requests” for information.
In finding that Centrelink should not have suspended or cancelled David’s pension and that he should be entitled to the payments, tribunal member Roger Maguire said it was “difficult to contemplate a person who might be more vulnerable than a hospitalised septuagenarian suffering from dementia”.
Maguire acknowledged that John did not comply with the requests for information “in a timely fashion,” but said that “he had no knowledge of his father’s financial affairs and had become guardian of his father’s affairs against his father’s will”.
“His father was not forthcoming with information, and this placed him in a situation of particular difficulty,” Maguire said.
The tribunal said Centrelink has the power to obtain information from a person’s financial institution, but in this case did not contact MLC to try to obtain the necessary details.
Instead, it chose to cancel David’s pension, a decision that Maguire determined was “absurd and wrong”.
In the end, Centrelink obtained the information it needed and found David was, in fact, eligible for the pension.
The tribunal found there was evidence John had tried to call Centrelink three times to query the cancellation and so was eligible to receive back pay.
Centrelink did not record the reasons for John’s calls, but the tribunal said it “could not see any other reason why John would have been calling the department.”
It was “fairly obvious he wasn’t phoning up to try and organise a golf game,” he said.