6.3.6 Authorised representatives
Parents and carers in the child support scheme may specifically authorise a third person to make enquiries on their behalf.
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Services Australia will communicate with a representative who has been authorised to act on behalf of a child support parent or carer and is able to provide sufficient information to identify themselves. This may involve Services Australia disclosing protected information to the representative, including information about the other party in the child support case that would otherwise be disclosed to the person who provided the authorisation (see 'Disclosure to the other parent' in 6.3.3). This is permitted under the secrecy provisions because the disclosure is for the purposes of the child support legislation (CSRC Act section 16(2A) and CSA Act section 150(2A)).
Services Australia will also communicate with a person's representative who is legally entitled to act on their behalf.
Services Australia is not obliged to recognise the authority of a nominated representative, but will usually do so. If Services Australia considers that an authorised representative is not acting in the best interests of the person they are representing, or is otherwise concerned about their actions, Services Australia will refuse to deal with the representative. The person who provided the authorisation will be requested to make more suitable communication arrangements.
While not an exhaustive list, Services Australia may consider refusing to accept as a representative a person or organisation:
- who routinely broadcasts information in the public domain, for example, media personalities
- whose behaviour is threatening towards the other parent or to Services Australia, or
- who attempts to undermine the integrity of the child support scheme.
Services Australia will not accept a person as a representative if they are under the age of 18. Services Australia will strongly advise against a parent having either a child over the age of 18 years or the other parent in their case as a representative. However, if they insist, Services Australia may agree to treat the person as a representative.
- Types of authorised representatives
- Extent of a person's authority to act - ordinary authority
- Extent of a person's authority to act - power of attorney or legal authority
- Interpreters & telephone assistance services
Types of authorised representatives
Services Australia can communicate with 2 types of authorised representatives:
- authorised agents with power of attorney, or other legal authority to act on a person's behalf, and
- representatives with ordinary authority, including solicitors.
Possession of a power of attorney is sufficient authorisation if it confers on the recipient authority to do anything that he or she can lawfully do on behalf of a person as an attorney.
The representative must provide a written document to Services Australia conferring a general power of attorney to act on behalf of a person, or a power of attorney to act on behalf of a person for child support purposes. Services Australia will accept as a representative someone who is able to provide this documentation.
An administrator or financial manager may be appointed (by a court or a tribunal) if a person has a condition which renders them incapable of making decisions. An administrator or financial manager may be given full or limited powers and the extent of the power will be fully set out in the relevant order.
Where such an order covers child support matters of a parent, the decision of the administrator or the financial manager is taken to be the decision of the parent. In these cases, Services Australia will be dealing with the appointee only and not the parent.
Representatives with ordinary authority have been authorised by a person to act on their behalf. They could be the solicitor of the child support parent, their partner, friend, or any third party authorised by the parent to act on their behalf, including Members of Parliament and their electorate staff making representations on behalf of their constituent. An authorised representative does not need to be an individual but can be an organisation or a position within an organisation. For example, a parent who is in prison may authorise the social worker of the particular prison to be their representative. It should be noted that the Commonwealth Ombudsman does not act as a representative. The Ombudsman is authorised by legislation to investigate the administrative actions of Commonwealth agencies (6.3.3) including Services Australia.
Services Australia must be satisfied that a representative has authorisation from a person to represent them in child support matters. For example, tax agents can act on behalf of a parent in relation to their taxation affairs, but would not generally represent their clients in child support matters.
A representative can be authorised by the parent to talk to Services Australia on a single occasion by handing over the telephone, or they can give that authorisation to Services Australia in person. Services Australia will require written authorisation if the arrangement is to continue. Services Australia may also collect identity information for the representative, and assign an identification number, to verify the representative's identity.
The best proof that a representative has of their authority is for the representative to produce a letter of authorisation from the parent. A letter of authorisation would preferably:
- identify the parent and the representative
- be signed and dated by the parent and the representative
- specify the extent to which the representative represents the parent
- specify the period for which it is valid, and
- contain sufficient information to identify the representative (over the telephone or in person).
Alternatively, a Child Support representative authority form is available, permitting a representative to enquire or act on the parent's behalf when dealing with Services Australia.
The authorisation must be current. If no period is specified, Services Australia will decide whether it is current based on its wording and the circumstances, such as the nature of the relationship between the representative and the parent. In so doing, consideration will be given to whether the parent might reasonably expect Services Australia to give the representative particular information, depending on the nature of the enquiry and the nature of their relationship. For example, the name of the parent's employer or the parent's address would be particularly sensitive and irrelevant to satisfying any inquiry.
In some circumstances, the parent may not be able to sign an authority (e.g. if the parent has a physical or mental incapacity that means they are unable to deal with their own affairs) but the representative must still be able to satisfy Services Australia that they are responsible for the parent's affairs. A medical certificate or a statutory declaration signed by the representative may be appropriate.
Services Australia will accept that a Member of Parliament (or a member of their electorate staff) is authorised to act on behalf of their constituent if they can produce written authorisation. If they have no written authorisation, Services Australia will assume an authorisation exists if they can:
- satisfactorily prove their identity and position
- identify the constituent who has made the complaint, and
- quote information that Services Australia knows could only have come from their constituent.
Extent of a person's authority to act - ordinary authority
Services Australia will accept that a representative with ordinary authority can act for a person in matters that are limited to certain enquiries and actions. This generally involves providing or seeking information, lodging forms and making enquiries.
A representative with ordinary authority can perform actions including, but not limited to the following:
- provide or seek information regarding a change in percentage of care
- provide information in relation to an objection
- make enquiries regarding pending or missed payments
- make enquiries regarding penalties, the debt amount or recovery action
- provide information concerning relevant dependent children (see 2.9.5 for information on adding a relevant dependent child to a child support assessment)
- request account statements, notices of assessment or decision letters, and
- provide new contact information for the parent (if the parent has specified that the representative may do so).
A representative with ordinary authority can lodge forms signed by the person whom they represent, including for:
- change of assessment applications, and
- child support agreements.
A representative with ordinary authority can also enter into payment arrangements (limited to situations where Services Australia has not commenced and does not intend to commence enforcement action).
A representative with ordinary authority cannot make applications or elections under child support legislation on behalf of the parent.
A representative with ordinary authority cannot represent the parent in a change of assessment process. This includes where the change of assessment application is being reconsidered following an objection. However, in limited circumstances, a person with legal authority may represent a parent in a change of assessment process (see below and 2.6.5 for further information).
Extent of a person's authority to act - power of attorney or legal authority
Services Australia will accept that a person with a power of attorney or other legal authority can act for a person in more complex matters (in addition to being able to perform actions that a representative with ordinary authority can perform). These complex matters relate to processes which may alter the child support liability and obligations, or matters where a representative could make an application or election provided for under child support legislation on behalf of a payer or payee. They include, but are not limited to:
- elections to end or resume collection
- an application for a child support assessment
- an application that the fixed annual rate not apply
- an application to reduce a minimum assessment
- an application for non-agency payments to be credited
- debt negotiations when Services Australia is contemplating enforcement actions (e.g. litigation, making a departure prohibition order)
- elections that employer withholding not apply, and
- estimate of income elections.
In limited circumstances, a person with power of attorney or legal authority may also apply for a change of assessment in the name of the parent or represent the parent during the change of assessment process.
Interpreters & telephone assistance services
Services Australia may use interpreters and telephone assistance services to help communicate with parents and carers in the child support scheme. Such services do not involve representation, but enable Services Australia to better communicate with parents and carers. Services Australia must be satisfied that any interpreter or translator is only relaying the conversation between Services Australia and the person, and not interposing their own views or altering the information.
Where the National Relay Service (NRS) or Telephone Interpreter Service is used, translation only will occur. Where, for example, a parent wants a relative or friend to act as their translator, and it is clear that more than mere translation is occurring, Services Australia will treat that person as a representative and require specific authorisation from the parent.
The NRS is a service that allows people who are deaf, or have a speech, hearing or other communication impairment, to communicate with other people over the telephone. The NRS is bound by confidentiality and privacy principles.
A Services Australia staff member contacted by a parent using the NRS should initially note the name of the NRS operator and time of the call. The staff member should then proceed to establish proof of identity of the caller in the usual manner. Similarly, where a staff member needs to contact a parent who uses NRS, Services Australia will call the NRS, and ask for the call to be relayed to the parent. Proof of identity procedures should then be followed once the parent has accepted the communication mode.
The Telephone Interpreter Service (TIS) is another service that Services Australia and parents use to help communicate. Providing the parent has given the staff member consent to use the TIS to communicate and can satisfy the proof of identity requirements, Services Australia will deal with the parent through the TIS as though dealing with the parent directly.