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SSAT (child support) hearing procedure

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How does it really work - what really happens ?

Is there any place that has some detailed info on the SSAT (child support) hearing procedure?

I have the leaflets, but what I really want to know is not in those.

What info are you requested to provide?

what info do they access themselves?

I have heard of them even accessing/using housing loan applications form the past.

I was also told that CSA will be representing me, as the application was lodged about/against the CSA decision. Not directly against me.

My Ex who lodged the application, is being advised / represented by Legal Aid - should I get legal assistance too?

Also, will I have to provide personal / financial information from those who live with me; ie adult children.
Hi Tira

I have just been through the SSAT process as the respondent. I can give you some information on what happened to my case but I am not sure if it is univeral.

What info are you requested to provide?

CSA provide SSAT with all the required material. You will have to do another Financial statement and maybe have to reply to any new evidence the applicant uses.

 have heard of them even accessing/using housing loan applications form the past

CSA already would have their hands on this information as my ex's home loan application showed up with the CSA searches.

I was also told that CSA will be representing me, as the application was lodged about/against the CSA decision. Not directly against me.

CSA told me this one as well and I was very disadvantaged for not attending. You are not entitled to a copy of the decision and the SSAT can make many decisions while you are not there even though they state that it is only what the applicant objects to they can change all sorts of things.

Not sure about he Legal aid. I would say they can only advise.

I see no reason why you would have to provide any information about the people who live with you.

i hope this helps and it is only from personal experience… Good luck
I am very concerned about this view that CSA is representing the respondent.  This is NOT the intent of having the SSAT consider CSA cases.  My understanding is that the CSA reps attend to "assist the SSAT".  Sec SPCA or CSA can you clarify this point?
When it was explained to me that the SSAT was my last course of 'easy recourse' I felt I needed to source legal advice.

My first call was to Legal Aid and they promptly told me they could not represent me, for this matter -  Ethical Reasons …

I then started to phone around and it was during this adventure I was told by a solicitor, that I would be represented by CSA. As in fact it was not myself that was being represented or being defended it was the CSA.
Was the solicitor part of CSA or someone separate?

I was told by a COA person and believed them but it didn't happen that way I don't think. I would make sure you are part of it as I do regret believing that  my best interests were being represented by CSA like I had been informed. There were a lot of changes including care arrangements so be very careful to understand that even CSA back down to the SSAT.
According to my interpretation of the legislation, any person who's interests are affected by the decision can be a party to the review by making a request to the SSAT executive director in writing (however there are then restrictions to this). The SSAT executive director can also remove parties.

Here's the legislation regarding the parties (Part V11A Division 3 101 of the Child Support Registration and Collections Act):
Part V11A Division 3 101 of the Child Support Registration and Collections Act said

Division 3Parties to reviews

101  Parties to reviews
   (1)   The parties to a review under this Part are:
   (a)   the applicant; and
   (b)   the Registrar; and
   ©   any other person who was entitled to apply for review of the decision under section 89; and
   (d)   any other person who has been made a party to the review under subsection (4).

SSAT Executive Director may add parties
   (2)   Any person whose interests are affected by the decision may apply in writing to the SSAT Executive Director to be made a party to the review.
   (3)   However, a person may not apply under subsection (2) if:
   (a)   the person is a child of a party referred to in paragraph (1)(a), © or (d); or
   (b)   a party referred to in paragraph (1)(a), © or (d) is an eligible carer, but not a parent, of the person.
   (4)   The SSAT Executive Director may order that a person who has applied under subsection (2) be made a party to the review.


SSAT Executive Director may remove parties
   (5)   The SSAT Executive Director may direct that a party to a review no longer be a party to the review if:
   (a)   the party consents; or
   (b)   the SSAT Executive Director is satisfied:
   (i)   after having communicated with the party; or
   (ii)   after having made reasonable attempts to communicate with the party and having failed to do so;
      that the party does not intend to participate in or proceed with the review; or
   ©   the party fails to comply with a direction or order of the SSAT or of the SSAT Executive Director given in relation to the review; or
   (d)   the party fails to attend the hearing.
Thus Tira you may need to write to the SSAT Executive Director, here's the contact details:

24th Floor, 500 Collins Street, Melbourne
(PO Box 218, Collins Street West, Melbourne Vic 3000)
E-mail: info@ssat.gov.au

Phone: (03) 8626 4923
Fax: (03) 8626 4949

Key Staff:
Executive Director: Les Blacklow
National Manager: John Collins

The details were obtained from the SSAT website at
ERROR: A link was posted here (url) but it appears to be a broken link.
SSAT Website You may wish to have a look here, if you haven't as it may conatin additional information that you may find useful.
Saw this on the SSAT website, which doesn't appear to have been the case in Annies case :-
SSAT website said
After an application for a review of a Child Support Agency decision is received by the SSAT, an acknowledgement letter is sent to the applicant explaining what happens next. As the other parent is automatically a party in most child support appeals, a letter is also sent to him/her. The letter notifies the other parent that an appeal has been lodged, encloses information received from the applicant and provides the other parent with the option of not participating in the appeal. CSA then has 28 days to provide the SSAT, the applicant and the other parent with a written explanation of its decision and any other relevant papers from the CSA file. Once these documents have been received, the SSAT notifies the applicant and the other parent of the appointment time for a hearing, or in some cirumstances a pre-hearing conference.
Big Red, my understanding (or is that misunderstanding) was that SSAT is for appealing a decision made by the CSA and as such, they are the respondent, as it's the CSA's decision being questioned, whilst the parent/carer supplies the information that is used for the decision making. However as I said this is not an area in which I have any experience. It would certainly be good to know.

With regard to guide V legislation the website says:
SSAT website said
In making decisions, the Tribunal applies the relevant legislative provisions to its findings of fact. In interpreting those provisions, the Tribunal is bound to follow decisions of the Federal Court, the Family Court and the High Court. It also follows its own relevant previous decisions and decisions of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, although it is not strictly bound by them. Similarly, the Tribunal has regard to the policies of the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations and the Child Support Agency. However, the Tribunal may depart from these policies in the particular circumstances of a case.
MikeT in practice the SSAT sits as the delegate, rather than CSA hence my remark about assists.  Because the other party is likely to be affected they should make sure they attend the hearing because CSA cannot represent their interests and if appellant introduces new evidence they have foregone the opportunity to respond.  

Considering how CSA dodges factually based decision making it is quite likely that a new decision could be made.  

Oh where are the CSA's stats for 2007-08?
I fully intend on being a party to the proceedings. I have been sent a letter asking if I wish to be or not. I have also received my booking phone call, for the pre-hearing conference.

I just feel I should have some advice before hand; I need to be prepared, I believe this process and decision is not something to take lightly. To challenge the outcome will almost be impossible.

It's almost a one shot process.

The comment about the CSA representing me was just one in a number of comments I found questionable, during the time I took looking for some legal advice (which I still don't feel I have yet).

I was also told, by random solicitor/s that no legal advice is allowed, no legal representation or accompaniment is allowed.

I would really like to know how to find a solicitor/advice who is familiar with the SSAT (Child Support) in Sydney.

Annie:

I have read parts of your situation and feel for you. I will say thank you for sharing your experience, I hope I can be wiser for 'meeting' you/ reading of your experiences.
I just found this on the Queensland Legal Aid site and would assume that it would be the same for all other states.

If you have gone through the internal review processes of the Child Support Agency (change of assessment and objection) and disagree with the notice of objection decision, you can then apply to the Social Security Appeals Tribunal for review of objection decision. In some circumstances, you may be required to go to court.

The court can make a departure order if one of the ten grounds for departure exists (see the ten listed reasons or grounds for changing your assessment referred to under Changing a child support assessment) and it would be just, equitable and otherwise proper to do so.  

When do I apply to the Social Security Appeals Tribunal?

The SSAT can review most objection decisions made by the Child Support Agency if that decision was made on or after 1 January 2007. (If the objection decision was made in 2006 or earlier, see court section).  

You have 28 days from the date of the Objection decision to appeal to the SSAT (or 90 days if you live overseas in certain countries).

***The SSAT is quick, informal and free. You are allowed to have a legal representative assist you when your matter is heard by the SSAT. If you do arrange for legal representation, you must pay your own legal costs even if you are successful.***

What can the Social Security Appeals Tribunal do?

- leave the Child Support Agency's decision unchanged (affirm)

- change some or all of Child Support Agency's decision (vary)

- make a new decision, or

- send the matter back to Child Support Agency to re-decide some or all issues.

The SSAT must put their decision in writing. The SSAT can give their reasons for this decision either orally or in writing within 14 days of making their decision. If the SSAT's reasons for their decision is given verbally, you can ask the SSAT to put these reasons in writing. You must do this within 14 days of the decision being made.   

Until the SSAT decision is made, the objection decision continues to apply. If you are required to pay child support, and are finding it hard to make your child support payments, you should get legal advice about whether a stay order is the best option for you.

What if I disagree with the Social Security Appeal Tribunal's decision?

If you believe the SSAT's decision is wrong, the law says you can only appeal the decision if the SSAT made an error of law only (and not an error about the facts). Your appeal is made to the Federal Magistrates Court.

Strict time limits apply  you have 28 days from notice of the decision (unless you live overseas) to apply for an appeal.

When do I apply to court?

If you are applying to change an administrative assessment, you may need to apply to court in certain circumstances. You should get legal advice before starting court proceedings.

Generally, a person will apply to court where:

- the time period to be reviewed is longer than 18 months earlier,

- the Child Support Agency or SSAT have refused to make a decision because the matter is too complex, or

- there are other child support matters already being heard by the court.

Do I need to notify the Child Support Agency?

If the court makes an order you need to notify the Child Support Agency and send them a copy of the order. Keep a record of this.
I've recently been through the SSAT process myself. Just to give you an idea of what i went through, it started with the ex lodging a COA with CSA. This was heard by CSA who managed to get the facts regarding my income wrong (set my income $10,000 per year higher than it actually was) in making their decision. I obviously appealed this, and the CSA person who oversaw the objection granted they'd erred, but also made a decision that stated my contributions to the private school fees should not include building levees and other things over and above school fees i've been paying. This inflamed the ex no end, and she lodged an appeal with SSAT.

Whilst it seems that the SSAT is reviewing the CSA decision, the CSA doesn't appear to defend their decision. My experience is that the SSAT reviews the whole case and makes their own decision. I was given the opportunity of not having an involvement. I decided to stay involved.

I had to provide SSAT with a financial statement. This financial statement had to also include details of other income earners in the household including my partner's income etc. It is a very inconsistent form and i let them know that in no uncertain terms.

I also received a complete set of documents from CSA that detailed all the information they had gathered on both my ex and myself over the last few years. That makes some scary reading, especially when you see they've requested info from your banks and credit reporting agencies without your knowledge. The phone transcripts between the ex and CSA also made interesting reading to see how nutty the ex is and how she tries to "control" everyone including CSA. I also received a copy of the ex's financial statement which i felt was very incomplete compared to the information i'd provided. I wrote to SSAT and complained, and also raised points that i felt needed raising or answered at the hearing.

We had a pre-hearing conference. This was very formal and intense and lasted about 90 minutes with the person from SSAT ringing her, then ringing me. This went back and forth with me receiving about 4 calls all up. His aim was to try and get a resolution prior to the matter going to a proper hearing. My ex got quite irate that i wasn't buckling and became quite abusive apparently with the SSAT guy. He advised that he had terminated the pre-hearing and that we'd have to go to a formal hearing.

The ex's financials were still incomplete at the pre-hearing. We were both instructed after the pre-hearing to have a copy of our income tax returns on hand during the hearing.

During the formal hearing, (which was in the form of a conference call) we were both instructed that we should be alone. Should anyone enter the room during the hearing, we should advise them and they would wait until that person left the room. They made sure we both had copies of all the paperwork they had and asked us to number it formally as evidence.

No representative of CSA was present. Only me and the ex and the two representatives from SSAT. Once again it was a very intense hearing focussing on financials and the decisions of the CSA and our opinions of those decisions. We had both had the opportunity of providing the SSAT with additional evidence after the pre-hearing to back up what we believed was correct in an attempt to sway the decision in our favour. My paperwork was all complete and clear. The exes wasn't and they pulled hers apart asking her to explain every detail. Unfortunately, the ex broke down under this questioning. She couldn't provide answers on her financials, her home ownership positions etc. She explained that her accountant could provide the information and SSAT should contact him. The SSAT explained that wasn't possible as this was between us only. Due to her emotional distress, the hearing was abandoned with instructions from the SSAT for her to provide the SSAT with a copy of her income tax return.

Five weeks later we're still waiting on their decision. Spoke with them today and they advised that the presiding member wouldn't sign off on the decision as he believed it was badly written. He is currently rewriting it.

Not sure if this helps, but the basic points to remember is to be prepared. Whatever you give to the SSAT in support of your case will go directly to your ex. Review the CSA case file, there's really interesting stuff in there that may assist your case. CSA don't defend their decision, SSAT review the CSA decision and rule upon it accordingly.

Last edit: by Duncton

Thank you Duncton for such a lengthy report of your experience.

I too have received what I think to be the complete CSA documents but there are no financial reports / document in it at all.

I have no financials to report on, never had a credit card (ex my bank ATM credit/debit card with visa). I rent, I/we never owned any property so there was no property split.

I'm a single stay at home mum on benefits.

He however works F/T has just bought a home and a boat all on finance. Should there have been info on this?

The only thing relating to finances in the file from the CSA was his own hand written monthly balance sheet. Where interestingly enough, he claims to be responsible for 100% of both the boat and housing loan. After food and other living costs, he claims to be a few hundred short per week. I know for a fact he is joint owner of the house with his new partner, maybe this is where he will come a tad unstuck at the hearing.

I truly to scrape at the end of the pay fortnight to make sure I have bread & milk some weeks.

I have not yet been asked to provide any bank statements, I am afraid of the part where others in the household are required to present their financial information.

My 2 adult children live with me. I have not told them any of this drama -  but if I need to supply their financial info then I will have to tell them. Them knowing will almost guarantee my 15 y old will find out and it will most defiantly adversely affect her.

I still feel I need to find a solicitor or someone experienced with the SSAT (in Sydney) so I can prepare for this hearing.

Oh also how long after the phone conference pre-hearing was actual hearing held?
Tira.

I'm not sure on this, but you say that you have no financials and are just on benefits,that you have no mortgage/don't own a home and that you two adult working children reside with you.

Therefore I think it could be seen that you are renting the house and that it would then only be fair to expect some financial assistance with regard to the rent, bills food etc, from the two children which could possibly be classed as income.

You may want to consider being able to defend against this if it were to be raised.
It took about 3 to 4 weeks from the pre-hearing to the proper hearing.

I guess it might all come down to why your ex commenced the proceedings with SSAT and what you feel you have to defend and the areas, from your point of view, that need to be highlighted to them. The info provided by the SSAT should show the reasons/points your ex is appealing. Maybe concentrate on those points and try not to get bogged down in non important areas. My ex didn't complete the section about other income earners in the household and the SSAT didn't seem overly concerned with that.

My experience (so far) is that they are looking at all the evidence with a fresh set of eyes. Reviewing the decisions of the CSA and how they relate to each party and if indeed those decisions are correct.

Copies of phone call transcripts?

Can copies of transcripts of phone calls to CSA be provided to both parties during a SSAT hearing?  I had to go through FOI to get a transcript of phone call I had made as a RA, and this was after an ombudsman complaint.
Verity said
Can copies of transcripts of phone calls to CSA be provided to both parties during a SSAT hearing? I had to go through FOI to get a transcript of phone call I had made as a RA, and this was after an ombudsman complaint.
Verity, I believe that they could be, if ordered by SSAT and also if obtained through FOI, although I think that time could well be a limiting factor with the latter. Sorry to ask but could you please explain what you mean by an RA. I don't have a clue.

Hi MarkT

I'm not too sure what an RA is either, I filled out a Represtative Authority Form (RAF) and the CSA staff have since referred to me as an RA, which is either a shortening of RAF or code for something else.  The only reason I asked was that I deal with lots of Govt Agencies and organisations as part of my job, and when I started dealing with the CSA about 3 months ago I could not believe how difficult and obtuse the system was.  I dont blame the individual employees - they are Contact Centre staff who deal with people on very emotional issues every day, but as an organisation they are extremely difficult to navigate and it is almost impossible to speak with someone able to make a decision.   I admit I have been a wee bit too assertive at times with them, but I dont usually deal with front line staff.

At the moment we are objecting to a COA, which is the only way we are able to obtain more information about the COA.  I tried to explain that we are not objecting to the finding at this point, we just want to know how the finding was arrived at and what legislation, reports, data etc was relied on.  The COA decision seems to rely on the opinion of the SCO, nothing else, and this is not enough for me to accept a legally binding decsion.  I am way off topic here ….

Anyway, thanks for your response, I did not really want details of my arguments with the CSA employees distributed far and wide.
Verity.

I think I understand now, I believe it's an authorised representative or customer's representative or later on a representative's authority.

My advice in general when dealing with the CSA is to find out what you need in the way of answers outside of the CSA first. Perhaps be prepared to point them to sections in the guide and be able to quote the relevant parts.

I'd also advise not relying upon one person to get it right, check and probably check at least one more time. My guess is that FOI is the only way, that you're going to get out of being bounced around. Although perhaps looking further up the ladder may be fruitful.
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