Ask Abe: Centrelink Over-payment

Dear Abe,

I have just received a letter from Centrelink saying that I have been overpaid. I had been reporting my income according to my jobs’ pay fortnight, but they wanted it to be according to their pay fortnight. I didn’t try to hide money from them. I’ve declared everything, but they’re getting really angry because it makes a difference to my student income bank.

Fortnight Mismatch


Dear Mismatch,

As you need to report your gross earnings you should be able to just keep records of the amount of hours you have worked during your Centrelink fortnight and multiply that by your hourly rate. That will help you for future reportings.

However, for this situation you need to first establish whether or not you have been overpaid. Ask for a copy of your file (Freedom of Information Act). Your file will be huge so it will take weeks to compile. Calculate what you should have been reporting and how this would have affected your Student Income Bank and therefore your payments. Of course you can ask the SRC for help with this.

In the meantime Centrelink will probably start taking money out of your payments to pay off the debt. If this will cause you extreme financial hardship contact Centrelink and see how small a payment they will allow you to have. Also consider going to the Financial Assistance Centre of the University to be able to pay it off as a lump sum. If you can show the debt to be incorrect you will be able to get this money back.

If they ask you to attend an interview in their offices I would advise you to decline, but instead offer to answer any written questions that they have. Do not do this without talking to SRC Help.


Ask Abe: Austudy – maximum allowable time for completion

Dear Abe,
I hope you can help me with a problem I have with Centrelink. I am in my third year of my medicine course and I am on an Austudy payment. Even though I didn’t receive anything while doing my Science degree, they say that it counts towards the amount of time I’m allowed to study and my payments will run out in the middle of the year. Is this true? And if so, what can I do?

Doctor in Trouble


Dear Doctor in Trouble,

Centrelink should know better. The basic formula for the “maximum allowable time for completion” of your course is the normal length of your course plus the length of one subject. For example, for a Bachelor of Arts course that would be 3 years plus 1 semester. For a medical degree that would be 5 years plus arguably 1 semester (sometimes 1 year). In any case, the time that you took to do the Science degree does not count because it is part of THE way to gain entry into the Medical degree. That is, it is a graduate course. If it was not necessary then the time spent on that course would count. If this is confusing for you please contact SRC help to clarify your details.


So You Think You Can’t Be Scammed? Well, We’ve Heard That Before.

A scam is a trick to take your money directly or indirectly by getting your personal details. There are new, imaginative scams being hatched everyday. They even target low income earners like students and come in many forms including mail, e-mail, telephone and door-to-door.

Fake websites can easily be set up to look like the real thing. Giving your personal details to anyone should be handled with a large degree of caution. For example, how many websites have you supplied with your name, address
and date of birth in order to win a competition?

Some of the more recent scams have included lotteries, sweepstakes and competitions. Some are obviously fake, like the Nigerian millionaire dying scam, but some are very subtle, like the competition to win a new Nokia phone. Some scams involve government departments like the tax department asking you to confirm your tax file number so that you can claim your lost superannuation. Some involve people pretending to be from a large computer company offering to help you rid your computer of viruses.

Banks have very strict rules about how they identify you to speak to you. However, they do not seem to be so strict about contacting you and asking for your details. Ask who they are and find the number yourself. Do not give any details, no matter how incidental, until you are sure of who they are.

Mobile phone ring tone offers are another potential scam. Once you sign in, you may
not be able to sign out. This will lead to huge phone bills.

Health and medical scams may offer products or services that will cure your health problems or offer a simple treatment. Often these cures and treatments do not work.

Follow these golden rules to avoid being scammed:

Don’t respond to offers, deals or requests for your personal details. Stop. Take time
to independently check the request or offer.

Never send money or give credit card, account or other personal details to anyone who makes unsolicited offers or requests for your information.

Don’t rely on glowing testimonials: find solid evidence from independent sources (not those provided with the offer).

Never respond to out of the blue requests for your personal details.

Always type in the address of the website of a bank, business or authority you are interested in to ensure you are logging
into the genuine website.

Don’t open unsolicited emails.

Never click on a link provided in an unsolicited email as it will probably lead to a fake website designed to trick you into providing personal details.

Never use phone numbers provided with unsolicited requests or offers as it probably connects you to fakes who will try to trap you with lies.

Don’t reply to unsolicited text messages from numbers you don’t recognise.

Always look up phone numbers in an independent directory when you wish to check if a request or offer is genuine.

Don’t dial a 0055 or 1900 number unless you are sure you know how much you will
be charged. If you are scammed contact the NSW Fair Trading online through Lodge a complaint, call 13 32 20 or in person at one of our Fair Trading Centres. For more information, visit

ASK ABE: Special Consideration and DNF

Hi Abe,
I had an absolutely shocking time last semester and failed every subject I attempted. I have previously had an excellent record, but had a lot of family problems last semester. Is there any way that I can have last semester wiped off my record so my bad marks don’t spoil my record?



Dear DS,
If you had a serious illness or misadventure (your family problems may be described as this) that was out of your control, became worse after deadline for DNF (end of week 7) and seriously affected your ability to study, you can apply to have those fails or absent fails changed to DNF (Discontinue Not Fail) grades. You will need to be able to explain how your illness or misadventure affected your study. Naturally you will need documentation from a doctor or counsellor, a community leader or someone else who knows about the issues your family have been dealing with. Remember that this is not just a method to “clean up” your transcript, but rather for students who have not had a genuine opportunity to demonstrate their competency in the subject.

You may also consider talking to an SRC caseworker about having your HECS/fees refunded. The deadline for applying for a fee refund if you are a local students is 12 months, but it’s so easy to forget that you’d be better off dealing with that straight away too. Fee refunds for international students have only recently been changed by law. Talk to SRC HELP for more information.

Abe is the SRC’s welfare dog. This column offers students the opportunity to ask questions on anything. This can be as personal as a question on a Centrelink payment or as general as a question on the state of the world. Send your questions to Abe’s answers can provide you excellent insight.

Your Appeal and Assessment Rights

As a University of Sydney student you have many assessment rights. Policies entitle all students to full information about course goals and requirements and this information must be given to you before the end of the first week of a course. Information you are entitled to includes:

  • assessment criteria
  • attendance and class requirements
  • weighting – breakdown and calculation of assessment marks
  • explanation of policies regarding ‘legitimate co-operation, plagiarism and cheating’, special consideration and academic
    appeals procedures
  • early and clear statement of sanctions and penalties that may bring your mark down, and fair application of these penalties
    balanced and relevant assessment tasks
  • fair and consistent assessment with appropriate workloads and deadlines
  • written consultation before the halfway point of the unit if assessment requirements need to change
  • changes must not disadvantage students
  • adequate arrangements to cater for disabilities and other requirements
  • access to staff out of class time at reasonable hours
  • fair and relevant marking procedures
  • anonymous posting of results (or arguably de-identified at least)
  • timely return of assessments
  • helpful feedback
  • access to exams up to four months after the result
  • the right to appeal up to three months after an academic decision enough time for remedial learning when there is reassessment

Appeals – University Procedures

If you believe a mark or University decision is wrong and you want to appeal you must lodge an appeal within 15 working days.
The first step is to talk to the person who made the decision – often your lecturer or subject co-ordinator. See if you can go through the assessment and discuss your performance with them. Make sure you know how the mark was worked out – including any scaling or marks deducted or changed for reasons not directly related to that particular assessment. This may mean attending an exam review session or making an appointment with your lecturer. Your questions and concerns may be resolved at this stage, helping you understand how you can improve in the future. Alternatively, you may feel the matter is still unresolved and wish to continue with your appeal.

Make your appeal in writing and make sure it is easy for other people to understand

  • Listen to or read staff comments and reasons for a decision closely. Keep these in mind when you write your appeal letter.
  • Base an appeal on a process matter rather than an academic judgement.
  • Know your desired outcome
  • Familiarise yourself with the relevant policies
  • Know who you are appealing to Lecturer/Unit of study Coordinator; someone higher in the appeal chain within the Faculty; and then the University Student Appeals Body (Academic decisions only, and only where there has been a breach of process); You must be given reasons for each person’s decision.
  • If you cannot resolve appeals internally, you may be able to approach external bodies eg. NSW Ombudsman, the Anti-Discrimination Board etc.
  • Administrative decisions made outside of the Faculty have appeals to different people.
  • Speak to the SRC for advice.

Your Appeal Rights

According to University policy, appeals should be dealt with:

  • in a timely manner
  • with confidence
  • impartially and not disadvantage you in
  • the future
  • procedural fairness
  • free access to all documents concerning your appeal

For help drafting your appeal
talk to an SRC caseworker. | 9660 5222

Hello Abe,
Even though it’s still really early in the semester I still feel that I’m heaps behind. I’ve got more assignments due than I know how to deal with. I’m starting to feel really stressed and finding my studies are suffering even more – it’s a vicious cycle. Can you give me some ideas that will help me?

Dear Busy,
This is the time of the semester when many students start to feel the pressure of assignments being due. Deal with each of those aspects one step at a time. Talk to your tutor now to see if you can arrange an extension. Talk to someone at Counselling and Psychological Services (Level 5, Jane Foss Russell Building) or the University’s Health Service (Level 3, Wentworth Building).

The Learning Centre runs free courses for time management. This can help you get your uni work under control while still having a social life. Check out their website at: Go to Student Resources then Module 10. This is an online resource for you to work through in your own time. It’s all really commonsense stuff but makes a real difference when you follow it.

Look at the CAPS website. Workshops coming up soon are listed at: You can also make an appointment with a counsellor to get individualised advice or thoughts on specific strategies.

If you’ve done all of these things and still can’t cope with your workload you might like to talk to an SRC caseworker about the possibility of withdrawing from a subject. This may attract an academic penalty, but you can at least check out what your options are. If you are on a Centrelink payment tell your caseworker as this might alter how you reduce your workload.

A final word of caution, when students feel pressured they can sometimes be less vigilant about referencing and proper paraphrasing when they write essays. If you know that you are cutting corners it is best to get help before handing your essays in. Talk to a lecturer, the Learning Centre, counsellor or SRC caseworker and ask for help. This is better than putting in an essay you know is not up to your usual standard and then being found guilty of plagiarism.

Special Consideration

What if I am sick for an assessment or examination? Is there any way not to get a fail?

You can apply for a Special Consideration. Go to the website for your faculty and download the application form. See your doctor (or if yours is not available, any doctor) and get your Professional Practitioner’s Certificate (PPC) completed. This needs to be on the same day that you are sick and should not be backdated. If your doctor is not available you will need to see another doctor. If you are too sick to go to the doctor, find a doctor that will do a house call. There are a few available – you can find them through google. Your doctor should also give a brief description of the things that you are unable to do, eg, attend university, leave bed, sit up for longer than 10 minutes, etc. The doctor will also have to assess the severity of your condition. If you are not severely effected by your illness you might find it difficult to get special consideration.

If you have a valid PPC, and the doctor has assessed that you are severely affected or worse you should almost certainly be granted special consideration. Be aware that you do not have to provide more details about you condition if you would prefer to keep that confidential.

Remember that Special Consideration is for a temporary illness, misadventure or exacerbation of a long term illness. It is not for long term illnesses per se. That should be dealt with through the Disabilities Unit.

What if I am sick for the supplementary examination or every assessment in a subject? Is there any way not to get a fail?

YOU SHOULD NOT GET A FAIL – assuming you have documented why you could not attend/complete each assessment and successfully applied for Special Consideration, as outlined in the policy.

What is the policy?

If they reschedule your exam and assessments, but you are too sick (for example) to attend any again, and you apply for special consideration each time and your applications are approved each time, you should not receive a “fail”. Instead you should be awarded a DNF grade.

A DNF is a Discontinued, Not Fail. Compared to a Fail (or Absent Fail or Discontinued Fail), a DNF is good for your transcript and good for your Annual Average Mark and good for your Weighted Average Mark (WAM).

SO if you can’t do any of the assessments in a subject this semester, or in the future, and you have successfully applied for special consideration EACH TIME, then check that your mark is recorded as a DNF. You should also apply to have a refund or recrediting of your fees. Ask at the faculty office or the SRC for the appropriate forms.

Contact SRC Help
9660 5222 |

Managing Anxiety and your studies

Dear Abe,

Every semester I do really well in the first few weeks, then as the assignments start to come in, I get really stressed out to the point where I stop eating and have insomnia. I don’t have any friends to talk to about this, and my mum just thinks I’m being a sook. I really want to do well this semester so I can graduate and get a job. What advice would you have for me?

Dear Determined,

I’m sorry to hear that you have been so stressed for so long. It actually sounds like you suffer from anxiety. That’s not being a sook. That’s having a legitimate medical condition. I would urge you to see a doctor to talk about it. Sometimes doctors aren’t very good at helping people with illnesses like that, so if you need help finding a good doctor that bulk bills ask an SRC caseworker. You can also register with the disabilities unit. You might be able to get later deadlines for assignments and extra time in exams. Try to be realistic about what you can achieve in a semester. It is far better to enroll in 2 subjects and pass them, than to enroll in 4 subjects and fail 2 of them. I understand that there are restrictions on the number of subjects you need to do to receive a Centrelink payment or satisfy visa conditions, but you may be able to gain an exemption. If you are not sure where to start make an appointment with an SRC caseworker.


Abe is the SRC’s welfare dog. This column offers students the opportunity to ask questions on anything. This can be as personal as a question on a Centrelink payment or as general as a question on the state of the world. Send your questions to Abe’s answers can provide you excellent insight.

What is Plagiarism and what to do if you are accused of it.

Your marker needs to know where you got the words and ideas from in your work. Unless you clearly tell them (by using quotes and references) that it is someone else’s words or ideas they will assume it’s all yours. If the marker finds words from a source that you have not told them about then they will think you are cheating.

The University acknowledges two types of plagiarism.

Negligent Plagiarism not giving correct acknowledgement to copied work, due to accidentally forgetting to follow the correct referencing practices. This can arise from a student’s fear of paraphrasing or writing in their own words, and/or ignorance of this Policy and Procedure.
Dishonest Plagiarism means knowingly presenting another person’s Work as one’s own Work without Acknowledgement of the Source. It is also considered plagiarism if you copy a previous assignment of your own. Alleged Plagiarism will be deemed to be alleged Dishonest Plagiarism where:

a. substantial proportions of the Work have been copied from the Work of another person,
in a manner that clearly exceeds the boundaries of Legitimate Cooperation;

b. the Work contains a substantial body of copied material (including from the Internet) without Acknowledgement of the Source, and in a manner that cannot be explained as Negligent Plagiarism;

c. in the case of a student preparing Work for Assessment, there is evidence that the student engaged another person to produce or conduct research for the Work, including for payment
or other consideration; or

d. the student has previously received a Written Warning.

Penalties can range from having to resubmit the piece of work to a fail in the assessment for negligent plagiarism. For dishonest plagiarism you may be referred to the Registrar for a formal investigation. In extreme or repeat cases this can lead to suspension from University.
Most faculties will show you how to reference properly. Using the excuse of being rushed, or having too many things to do, or just forgetting because of the way you write your essays are simply not good enough. Make the effort to keep your quotes linked to their sources while you are drafting your essay.

What to do if you receive a plagiarism allegation?

1. Understand why the allegation has been made.

2. Learn from your mistakes. Seek help from someone in the faculty who can help you identify ways your referencing and paraphrasing can improve. You can also talk to the Learning Centre (

3. Bring an SRC caseworker to your meeting with the faculty. Be as honest as you can.

4. Decide if you want to appeal the finding and/or the penalty. You have 15 working days to appeal. Bear in mind that you could end up with a more severe penalty.

5. Come to SRC HELP with a draft appeal letter if you wish to appeal, and we can give
you advice.

6. If you have been referred to the Registrar for an investigation – either because it was considered so serious or because it was the second time – come to SRC HELP for advice and representation.

9660 5222 |

Ask Abe – How to Discontinue but NOT Fail

Dear Abe,

Is it true that I can change all of my subject choices before the end of March? The Faculty says that I could only do
that in week one. What is the real story?



Dear Changeable,

You cannot enroll in new classes after 14th March. In fact it’s probably not a good idea to enroll past week one mainly because you would have missed out on vital information in the first week of classes.

You can however ‘withdraw’ before the “HECS census date”. This will give you no academic penalty and no financial penalty if you are a local student or little financial penalty for International students.

If you drop a subject after the census date, but before the end of week 7 (17th April – remember, the 18th is a public holiday so the end of the week is Thursday not Friday) you will receive a Discontinue Not Fail (DNF). A DNF does not count as a fail on your transcript, however you are liable for fees.

There are occasions where you have extraordinary circumstances that mean you have to discontinue from studies at a later date. Come and see SRC HELP caseworkers for advice about late DNF applications and possible fee refund applications.



Abe is the SRC’s welfare dog. This column offers students the opportunity to ask questions on anything. This can be as personal as a question on a Centrelink payment or as general as a question on the state of the world. Send your questions to Abe’s answers can provide you excellent insight.