ACOSS advocacy for people at risk and the community sector

The Australian Council of Social Service is calling for support for the community sector to respond to the coronavirus crisis; and for people and communities who could be most impacted, including people on low incomes, asylum seekers, temporary migrants, people with disability and First Nations communities. We have welcomed a number of announcements by the Federal Government on income support and support for the community sector, after advocating for many of these measures. But there is much more that needs to be done to make sure nobody is left behind.

Keep reading for more information below on income support and community sector announcements by the Government, as well as what more needs to be done on:

  • income support
  • community sector support
  • health services
  • the National Disability Insurance Scheme
  • digital access
  • energy hardship.

The information below is up-to-date as of 23/4/2020. For more detailed information on all of our recommendations to the Federal Government in response to the coronavirus crisis, please read our letter to the Prime Minister

Federal Government announcements on income support:

We welcome the following income support measures, which have now passed Parliament:

  • A payment of $550 per fortnightly Supplement (beginning late April, currently locked in for six months) to both existing and new recipients of JobSeeker Payment, Youth Allowance jobseeker, Youth Allowance student, Abstudy, Austudy, Parenting Payment, Farm Household Allowance and Special Benefit.
  • A $750 one-off payment for (in late March – mid April) for social security recipients, including pensioners and concession card holders.
  • A second $750 one-off payment (in July) for all receiving social security payments who do not receive the 6-month supplement

We urge the Government to make these payments as quickly as possible, ahead of the expected timeframes. We have also welcomed the addition of 5,000 new staff for Centrelink. However, we believe this should be increased to 15,000 new staff to respond to telephone calls to ensure people can access information about their payments during this time.

We have also welcomed:

  • The JobKeeper payment – a wage subsidy of $750 per week paid for people in paid employment, which is funded by the Government and paid to people through their employers.
  • The suspension of Community Development Program requirements in remote communities
  • The suspension of Centrelink mutual obligations until 22 May 2020.
  • Suspension of mandatory ParentsNext requirements
  • A national moratorium on rental evictions.

We are calling for:

  • JobKeeper and JobSeeker to be made available to temporary visa holders (in addition to the existing inclusion of New Zealand citizens), including asylum seekers and international students.
  • Increased assistance for people on low incomes to ensure their needs are met, including people in private rental, people with disability and single parent families.
  • The suspension of mandatory cashless debit and income management. There are many instances where people cannot use cashless debit cards for online shopping (for example, Woolworths online), which presents a risk to people needing to isolate.
  • Cancellation and repayment all unlawful Robodebts
  • A pause on mutual obligation requirements relating to Disability Employment Services that place people at risk until the virus is contained and emergency restrictions are lifted.
  • A pause on mutual obligation requirements that place people at risk until the virus is contained, including in jobactive, and Transition to Work.
    Work for the Dole, and Youth Jobs Path employability training and internships should be suspended.
  • The removal of all requirements for people to provide documents or attend Centrelink offices in person.
  • For companies that provide essential services such as energy, water, finance, rental housing to commit to no disconnections, a pause on debt collection and to waive penalty and late fees including additional interest charges.
  • Support for and reform of employment services to reduce long-term unemployment and ensure groups of people are not left behind in the economic recovery.
  • A requirement that debt collections suspend debt collection for six months and that Government work to address risk of people being trapped in poverty through payday lending.
  • A requirement that general and life insurers guarantee coverage for people unable to afford premiums and a freeze on premium increases.

Federal Government announcements on support for the community sector

COSS Network JobKeeper Payment Resources for NFP’s and Charities Webinar

We have welcomed:

  • Funding for critical services in a range of areas, including mental health, family and domestic violence, emergency relief, no interest loans, financial counselling and food relief. However more will be needed to meet growing demand which cannot be funded by donations or met with volunteers.
  • The extension of the JobKeeper payment of $750 per week to employees at community services and charitable organisations that experience a reduction in turnover of 15 per cent, with the option to exclude government revenue from the JobKeeper turnover test.
  • The extension of business cash-flow support to community services and charitable sector. This will ensure that community services with turnover up to $50 million pa will receive up to $100,000 cash to help that they can continue to employ their workers, pay their bills and deliver essential services during this period.
  • The package to assist families with childcare costs but this will still leave services facing a 50% drop in revenue. While it may secure the viability of services that can combine this relief with access to the JobKeeper Payment, services who are not eligible will be at risk. To secure the viability of the sector all services should have access to the JobKeeper payments – this will also allow them to keep their thousands of educators in paid work.

We are calling for:

An urgent Community Sector Rescue Package that:

  • Creates a major Community Sector Continuity of Service Enabling Fund to ensure continuity of service delivery, secure jobs, prevent loss of jobs or income, guarantee paid special leave for all workers, and enable ramp up of services for people in need as well ensure that services can adapt remain viable to assist with the recovery from the pandemic. Many services have lost donations, volunteers, and other major sources of revenue and personnel
  • Extends all business related measures to community sector and not for profit organisations (beyond those measures extended to date)
  • Provide additional funding to housing and homelessness services, accommodation and residential services to secure suitable safe self-contained accommodation for people who are living in overcrowded housing, sleeping rough or residing in boarding houses or residential or group home services.
  • Extensions to all existing funding contracts, especially those ending on 30 June 2020, by at least two years to provide as much stability and risk reduction for existing services. This must include the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services, with that current agreement to expire on 30 June 2020.
  • Guarantee access to Personal Protected Equipment and other essential supplies including Food Supplies to ensure basic needs are met, as set out above.

A range of measures for the community sector related to government funding and reporting. For more information, please read our letter to the Prime Minister.

Health services

We are calling for the Federal Government to:

  • Immediately expand access to Medicare for all temporary migrants (including asylum seekers)
  • Further expand Medicare funded telehealth services so that all patients can access the general, specialist, mental and allied health services they need, including those provided by community health services.
  • Cover the subsidy of residential care residents who spend in excess of 52 days away from the facility.
  • Ensure all health information is clearly and appropriately communicated to culturally and linguistically diverse communities and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Information should also be made available in easy-to-understand English.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme

We are calling on the Federal Government to ensure continuity of support for people with disability and people accessing home care packages. This should include:

  • Provisions for replacement of support workers with no financial penalty.
  • Access to NDIS plan variations if new or additional supports are required.
  • Plans to manage support provision if the person with disability or older person contracts COVID-19.
  • Plans to manage support provision if support workers contract COVID-19.

Digital access

We are calling on the Federal Government to:

  • Offer targeted low-cost broadband, digital equipment for people with low incomes, including those with school-aged children.
  • Establish a free telephone service for people with low digital literacy to receive direct technical and skills support.
  • Provide support for community service providers facing difficulties transferring to or scaling up virtual services. Many providers have limited capacity and are having difficulties offering telehealth or other virtual services to vulnerable clients.

Work with the telecommunications industry to add to their positive initiatives so far by ensuring everyone can access to telehealth and important health and government information; addressing access in remote communities, assisting Telstra to make their WiFi enabled payphones free during this time, targeting the needs of homeless people; and placing a moratorium on disconnects, late fees and penalties and on debt collection referrals and collections, for all consumers.

Energy hardship

We are calling on the Federal Government to work with retailers and the social sector to develop a plan to put a moratorium on disconnections and debt collection, and deliver temporary,  energy hardship support to minimise the accumulation of energy debt, for anyone experiencing financial stress