The Guides to Social Policy Law is a collection of publications designed to assist decision makers administering social policy law. The information contained in this publication is intended only as a guide to relevant legislation/policy. The information is accurate as at the date listed at the bottom of the page, but may be subject to change. To discuss individual circumstances please contact Services Australia.

1.3.1 Beneficial administration of the Act

What is beneficial legislation?

When interpreting the SSAct it is necessary to consider the fact that it is 'beneficial' legislation. This characterisation arises from the fact that many provisions in the Act provides benefits to people. The relevance of the characterisation is that it is a principle of statutory interpretation that if there is an ambiguity in a piece of legislation which is beneficial in character, then the ambiguity should be resolved in a way that is most favourable to the people the Act is intended to benefit.

Explanation: In the case of the SSAct, the persons intended to benefit are the recipients of social security payments.

When is a beneficial approach applied?

There must be ambiguity on the face of the legislation before a beneficial approach can be applied. In deciding on a particular interpretation, it is important to consider whether that interpretation will be beneficial in most cases, because a consistent approach needs to be adopted in all cases. It is not correct to apply different interpretations to individual cases, depending on which particular interpretation is most beneficial to each individual recipient.

When should a beneficial approach not be applied?

A beneficial approach should not be taken when there is no ambiguity in the legislation. In these cases, the legislation should be applied as written regardless of whether the recipient (or claimant) benefits from that application of legislation.

The nature and purpose of the provision should be considered when determining whether it is a beneficial provision or not. Not all provisions of the Act are beneficial in nature. For example, the Act contains provisions regarding the means testing of social security payments which are designed to limit access to benefits to certain individuals. Other provisions in the Act relate to the recovery of debts arising under the Act. Such provisions are not beneficial in nature as they do not confer benefits on people.

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