Your Guide to the Disability Pension in Australia

Australia’s social security system strives to support residents in need through targeted financial assistance. But what is the Disability Pension in Australia?

A Disability Pension – formally known as the Disability Support Pension (DSP) – helps to cover the day-to-day living expenses of people who cannot work due to a physical, intellectual, or psychiatric condition that persists for at least two years.

The number of Australians receiving this income support has risen by 22% over the past two decades, totalling 769,300 people as of March 31 2023. But what is this scheme exactly, who can it help and in which ways?

Below, we explain the Disability Pension in Australia, its eligibility criteria, its application process and other key considerations. Read on to discover more about this life-changing financial assistance.

How much is a Disability Pension in Australia?

The amount of financial support you can receive from a Disability Pension in Australia varies depending on your income and living arrangements.

This pension automatically includes an energy supplement on top of the basic rate. A pension supplement is also included for anyone aged over 21, or those under 21 with a dependent.

There are also maximum limits on each of these elements. For example, here are the maximum rates for a single adult over the age of 21:

  • Maximum basic rate: $860.60
  • Maximum pension supplement: $69.60
  • Maximum energy supplement: $14.10

Take a look at the Services Australia payment rate charts to learn the maximum amount payable to couples, adults under 21 and dependents.

A word on advance payments

You may be able to receive an advance on your Disability Support Pension if you’re in urgent need of more money than your standard fortnightly payment. This amount will be capped and must be paid back out of the next six months of payments.

For instance, an adult over 21 years old has a minimum advance of $446.40, and a maximum of $1,339.20.

Note that within a six-month timeframe, you’re eligible for either one large advance, two advances of a lesser amount, or three advances at the minimum level.

How do you qualify for a Disability Pension in Australia?

To receive the Disability Support Pension, you’ll need to meet a range of non-medical and medical rules.

Non-medical rules

To qualify for the Disability Pension in Australia, you must:

  • Be 16 or older and still below Pension age;
  • Have income and assets within specified thresholds depending on your circumstances;
  • Make the claim while in Australia; and
  • Be an Australian resident who has lived here for at least 10 years, with no breaks in residence in the past 5 years.

Importantly, this 10-year rule may be waived for refugees or those who could not work or were blind while being:

  • An Australian resident; or
  • The dependent child of an Australian resident, who then secured resident status during this time.

Medical rules

Once you satisfy all the general eligibility criteria of non-medical rules, it’s time to ensure you follow the medical rules. There are two types of medical rules to consider: manifest and general.

You’ll only have to fall under one of these categories to get the Disability Pension. Whichever one applies, it’s essential to provide medical evidence of your condition.

Manifest Medical Rules

Manifest medical criteria are considered after confirming non-medical eligibility. Six manifest conditions can qualify you for the Disability Pension:

  • Permanent blindness
  • A terminal illness with a life expectancy of less than two years
  • Category 4 HIV or AIDS
  • Intellectual disability with an IQ under 70
  • The need for long-term nursing home care
  • Receipt of Special Disability Pension Rates from the Department of Veterans Affairs

Qualifying for any of these manifest conditions removes the need for further medical assessment. In most cases, you’ll have to submit medical evidence from your practitioner, such as a letter detailing your diagnosis, stage of condition, treatment and prognosis.

Non-manifest rules

Even if you don’t have one of the above medical conditions, you could still be eligible for a Disability Support Pension based on non-manifest guidelines. To qualify, you need to satisfy five criteria. Essentially, your condition must:

  • Be diagnosed, reasonably treated, and stabilised;
  • Be assigned an impairment rating of 20 points or higher (more on this below);
  • Be likely to last for a minimum of two years; and
  • Prevent you from working at least 15 hours per week over the next two years.

Finally, you’ll also need to participate in a Program of Support where applicable, such as if you have multiple impairments. This type of program can help you to train for, secure and maintain a job.

Impairment rating measures

The Impairment Tables are a tool for evaluating the impact of a specific disability on your ability to work. A continuing inability to work occurs when your condition prevents you from working (independently of a program of support) for more than 15 hours per week over a two-year time frame.

When applying for a Disability Pension in Australia, you’ll typically need to undergo a Job Capacity Assessment (JCA). A JCA determines your overall eligibility for this support by looking at whether you can work, how much and with what assistance.

All available medical evidence, such as doctors’ reports, will be reviewed. Additionally, the assessor uses a set of impairment tables to determine your impairment rating for each permanent condition. Individual ratings are then added up to calculate your overall impairment rating.

As mentioned above, you’ll need to have an impairment rating of at least 20 points to get a Disability Support Pension. Otherwise, your claim will be denied.

To ensure you receive an accurate impairment rating, it’s important to supply comprehensive health information as opposed to focusing solely on your permanent condition.

How do I apply for a Disability Pension in Australia?

Proving medical eligibility is the most important part of your entire application. This requires backing up your claim with substantial medical documentation.

Providing medical certificates isn’t enough for a DSP claim. Evidence must be more comprehensive, like detailed medical history or diagnostic reports. Accepted types of medical evidence include:

  • Medical records or reports
  • Psychologist evaluations, such as IQ tests
  • Reports from physical examinations and medical imaging
  • Hospitals and outpatient records

The exact medical evidence needed varies based on the applicant’s particular disability or health condition. In certain cases, particular details must be included, such as relevant medical documentation from a treating specialist like a psychiatrist, audiologist or ophthalmic surgeon.

Once you’re all set to apply, you have the option to do so online via your myGov account, in person at a Centrelink service centre, via mail, or by phone on the Centrelink Disability, Sickness, and Carers Line.

For postal applications, print out the relevant form. Choose the ‘Claim for Disability Support Pension for a Terminal Illness Form‘ if you’re diagnosed with a terminal illness, or the standard ‘Claim for Disability Support Pension Form‘ for other disabilities. You should also attach the ‘Income and Assets Form‘.

If submitting the ‘Claim For Disability Support Pension Form’, you’ll also need to fill out the ‘Consent to Disclose Medical Information Form‘ and ‘Claim for Disability Support Pension Form Medical Evidence Checklist Form‘. This checklist outlines the necessary supporting medical documents to help you gather the right evidence of your condition.

While all required paperwork must be submitted with your claim, you can provide additional documents up to 14 days after filing your claim.

What to do if Centrelink rejects your application

If Centrelink denies your application, it’s important to understand the reasoning behind their decision.

They might inform you that additional treatment is necessary or that you must spend 18 months in a support program. Once these requirements are fulfilled, you can submit a new claim.

Remember, there’s no cap on the number of times you can apply for a Disability Pension in Australia.

Should you believe that you’ve satisfied the criteria and disagree with Centrelink’s refusal of your claim, you also have the option to request a review of their decision by an authorised review officer.

Discover NDIS support services in Newcastle & the Hunter

At Hunter Care Group, we offer support coordination, Supported Independent Living and psychosocial recovery coaching services to empower NDIS participants in Newcastle.

For more information on our NDIS support services, please get in touch with our friendly team at (02) 4950 2269 or enquire online. Plus, we will do our best to answer any questions you may have about the Disability Pension in Australia!