Social security

47          Social security law includes the Social Security Act 1991 (Cth) and the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999 (Cth) and is administered by the Department of Human Services (DHS) through Centrelink. The Department of Social Services produces the Guide to Social Security Law to provide guidance to decision-makers.

48          Abuse of an older person may involve the social security system, for example through misuse of a person’s income support payments. There may also be a role for the social security system in providing information about elder abuse, identifying those at risk of abuse and providing safeguards against the abuse of older people.

Identifying those at risk of abuse

49          A large proportion of people engage with the social security system upon reaching Age Pension age. There may be opportunities to provide information and to undertake risk identification in relation to financial and other forms of abuse at this point.

50          DHS has an existing Family and Domestic Violence Strategy, and recognises that older people may experience abuse. The Strategy focuses on providing information about family and domestic violence, identifying those at risk of family and domestic violence, providing referrals and support, staff training in relation to family and domestic violence, and embedding responses to violence across systems and processes.

51          The ALRC is interested in comment about the effectiveness of any element of this Strategy in relation to identifying and responding to elder abuse.

Question 5          How does Centrelink identify and respond to people experiencing or at risk of experiencing elder abuse? What changes should be made to improve processes for identifying and responding to elder abuse?


52          A social security payment recipient may have a ‘payment nominee’ or ‘correspondence nominee’. A payment nominee receives payments on behalf of the social security payment recipient (the ‘principal’). A correspondence nominee may receive any social security notice on behalf of the principal. Nominees have a duty to act in the ‘best interests’ of the principal.

53          The position of payment or correspondence nominee may be abused—for example, a nominee may use payments received on behalf of the principal for their own benefit.

54          The provisions relating to nominees may benefit from reform to improve safeguards against elder abuse. For example, the process for appointment of a nominee, the duties and reporting responsibilities of a nominee, or remedies for failing to comply with the duties of a nominee may need to be changed.

Question 6          What changes should be made to laws and legal frameworks relating to social security correspondence or payment nominees to improve safeguards against elder abuse?

Payment for carers

55          People who provide care to an older person may be eligible for a social security payment—Carer Payment or Carer Allowance. A person may receive a payment for provision of care to an older person, and fail to provide that care, or provide inadequate care. This may, in some circumstances, amount to elder abuse.

56          A person receiving Carer Payment or Carer Allowance must notify Centrelink of changes in circumstances that may affect their qualification for the payment, including where the required level of care to the care recipient is not being provided. However, it may be that further reporting responsibilities on payment recipients regarding the provision of care should be imposed.

Question 7          What changes should be made to the laws and legal frameworks relating to social security payments for carers to improve safeguards against elder abuse?

Income management

57          Income management is a measure that quarantines a percentage of a person’s social security payment to pay for basic needs like food, clothing, housing and utilities. Income management operates only in particular locations, and many of those subject to income management are Aboriginal people.[18]

58          Income management may be compulsorily applied to a person identified by a Centrelink social worker as ‘vulnerable’ for reasons that include vulnerability to economic abuse or financial exploitation. Income management may also be voluntarily entered into.

59          Compulsory income management may be considered to be an overly interventionist response to vulnerability to exploitation, and to limit the agency of a person experiencing exploitation rather than focusing on the actions of the perpetrator. The ALRC is interested in comment about the role income management might play in providing protections or safeguards against exploitation or abuse of older people’s social security payments.

Question 8          What role is there for income management in providing protections or safeguards against elder abuse?

Older migrants’ access to social security payments

60          For older migrants experiencing abuse and who are in situations of financial dependence, there may be limited options for exiting the abusive situation. Social security payments generally have a residence requirement or waiting period. For example, a person must generally have 10 years Australian residence to qualify for Age Pension.

61          Additionally, social security law provides that some classes of visa, including a number of parental visas, will only be granted where an ‘assurance of support’ is provided. An assurance of support is a commitment by a person or organisation (the ‘assurer’) to provide financial support to a person applying to migrate (the ‘assuree’) so that they will not have to rely on social security payments. The assurer also assumes responsibility for the repayment of any recoverable social security payments received by the assuree during the support period, which may be up to 10 years.

62          The ALRC invites comment on the impact of the residence requirement or waiting period for social security payments, or the assurance of support scheme, for older migrants experiencing elder abuse.

Question 9          What changes should be made to residence requirements or waiting periods for qualification for social security payments, or the assurance of support scheme, for people experiencing elder abuse?

Other issues

63          The ALRC invites comment on any other aspect of social security law that may involve a risk of elder abuse or, alternatively, provide opportunities for protecting and safeguarding against abuse.

Question 10        What other risks arise in social security laws and legal frameworks with regard to elder abuse? What other opportunities exist for providing protections and safeguards against abuse?