JobSeeker Payments: Access and Requirements

Contents

  1. Latest Updates:
    – Suspension of Mutual Obligation in Regional Victoria due to COVID outbreak 8 June 2021 and to 15 June 2021 in Greater Melbourne.
    – Reductions in Income Support from 23 February 2020

    – Increased mutual obligations and compliance arrangements announced on 23 February 2021
    – Welcome changes should reduce the number of suspensions of unemployment payments
  2. Obtaining JobSeeker and other Centrelink payments
  3. Help with Centrelink and employment services issues
  4. Requirements (‘mutual obligations’) for people on JobSeeker and Youth Allowance (Other) payments
    – What are mutual obligations and what happens if they’re breached?
    – Suspensions and penalties
  5. Mutual obligations to be restored in remote CDP program

Latest Updates

Suspension of Mutual Obligation in Victoria due to COVID outbreak 8 June 2021 and to 15 June 2021 in Greater Melbourne.

Mutual obligation requirements for job seekers and participants in Regional Victoria are suspended from 8 June 2021 and to 15 June 2021 in Greater Melbourne inclusive.

During this period, no payment suspensions or financial penalties will apply for failure to meet mutual obligation requirements.

See the Department’s COVID updates for more information

Reductions in income support payments announced on 23 February  

The government announced a $25pw increase in Jobseeker Payment, which together with the abolition of the Coronavirus Supplement, amounts to a $50pw cut in payments.

More information is provided here: https://www.servicesaustralia.gov.au/individuals/news/how-changes-coronavirus-covid-19-support-may-impact-you

From 1 April 2021:

Applies to:
JobSeeker Payment
Youth Allowance
Parenting Payment
Austudy
ABSTUDY Living Allowance
Special Benefit
Widow Allowance
Partner Allowance
Farm Household Allowance.

  1. The $75 per week Coronavirus Supplement ends.
  2. The above income support payments will increase permanently by $25 per week:
    The combination of these changes means a net reduction of $50 per week from 1 April 2021.

    From 1 April 2021:
    Applies to: JobSeeker Payment
  1. Changes to the income test will become permanent

The income free area (amount you can earn before losing some of your income support) for single people without children will be $75 per week.

Since the Coronavirus Supplement is abolished at the same time, the more generous income test for couples for that payment no longer applies.

ACOSS VIEW: Our response to those announcements was that they were a ‘heartless betrayal of millions of people’: https://www.acoss.org.au/media-releases/?media_release=a-heartless-betrayal-of-millions-government-jobseeker-decision

Increased mutual obligations and compliance arrangements announced on 23 February 2021

The government also announced a tightening of activity requirements and compliance arrangements for unemployment payments.

For more information see: https://jobsearch.gov.au/covid-19-information

From 9 March 2021:

Applies to: jobactive and ParentsNext

  1. Attend Face to Face meetings and activities: https://www.dese.gov.au/covid-19/resources/job-seeker-participant-return-face-face-servicing
    – This will be compulsory where the provider sets them up, with some exemptions (e.g. temporary illness, or specific health conditions that make attendance or travel risky for the person

    – Some meetings, such as first interviews with providers, will be held face to face by default
    – Others (such as regular provider appointments) are at the provider’s discretion 
    – Ask your provider to meet by phone or online if you have problems getting to face to face meetings – e.g. high transport costs

From early April 2021:

Applies to: jobactive and Disability Employment Services, Online Employment Services, New Employment Services Trial

  1. Default monthly job search requirement increases from 8 to 15 in early April as advised by DESE:
    – Job Plans will be amended to take this into account

    – Lesser requirements apply to people with a partial work capacity and principal carer parents (required to seek part time employment)
    – Lesser requirements should apply (but at provider’s discretion) in areas where unemployment is high.
    – Other factors, such as participation in approved training, should be taken into account in developing Job Plans
    – The standard exemptions apply (e.g. temporary illness)
    Job seekers can call the Customer Service Line on 1800 805 260 to discuss job search levels they believe are not appropriate.
  1. More auditing of ‘quality’ of job searches
    – A higher proportion of job searches will be audited by the Employment Department for ‘quality’. Job search efforts not regarded as ‘genuine’ will be rejected  (e.g. applying for the same job multiple times or for jobs well above the person’s qualifications).

    – ‘Quality’ means applications for a diversity of jobs using different approaches (eg online, newspapers, cold-calling etc) .
    – Where already-reported job searches are rejected, this could trigger a payment suspension until more or ’better quality’ applications are made, unless there is a ‘reasonable excuse’.
    – As with other requirements, people will have two working days to fix these ‘quality’ issues (e.g. by making more applications) before payments are suspended.
    – Demerit points apply when job search is assessed as unsatisfactory; this might include applications that have clearly been completed with dummy or fake content and or which are clearly in fields outside of a job seeker’s capability.
    – The reengagement activity when your payment has been put on hold for incomplete or poor quality job search is to contact your provider to discuss the reason why you were unable to complete the job searches
    – You can contest any rejection of a job search as ‘poor quality’ with the provider of the Customer Service line
    – Incomplete job searches accrue to the next reporting period
    – DESE have a video about the variety of jobsearch strategies they expect here and further resources are available for job seekers on this page: How to use the jobactive website
    – Remember You can call the Customer Service Line on 1800 805 260 to discuss any rejection of a job search by the provider which you think is unreasonable.

From early July 2021:

Applies to: jobactive and Disability Employment Services, Online Employment Services, New Employment Services Trial

  1. Default monthly job search requirement increases from 15 to 20:
    – Job Plans will be amended to take this into account

    – Other conditions as above

From 2021 (date unspecified at this stage):

Applies to: jobactive and Disability Employment Services, Online Employment Services, New Employment Services Trial

  1. Employer dob-in line:
    – A dedicated phone line commenced on 6 April for employers to report unemployed people who refuse a job offer, or are believed to be making applications that are not ‘genuine’
    –  Information about the hotline has been published on the JobSearch website and includes information on the definition of suitable work and about how job seeker privacy will be protected

      – We recommend you familiarize yourself with the definition of suitable work especially in relation to rates of pay, commuting distance and relocation.
    – After verifying employer details, and that the person receives an unemployment payment, the information given will be passed on to their employment service provider
    – The standard procedure then applies; e.g. the employment services provider assesses the report and if they believe a requirement has been breached may interview the unemployed person to hear their view, and assess whether there is a ‘reasonable excuse’. Payment may be suspended if a job application is assessed as not ‘genuine’
      – A similar process is followed with the Contact Centre for digital job seekers in Online or Digital Services
    – Where the person is found to have rejected a suitable job offer, their payment could be cancelled and a four week non-payment period imposed if they re-apply. That decision must be made by Centrelink (who must interview the person and assess the job was suitable and they had a ‘reasonable excuse’)
    – Further information about the work refusal investigation process is in this DESE guideline
    – Additional information about the hotline process was provided at recent Senate Estimates
    – Non-payment penalties been rare in recent years, as few people reject suitable jobs.

From 2021 (date unspecified at this stage):

Applies to: jobactive and Disability Employment Services, Online Employment Services, New Employment Services Trial

  1. New compulsory activity requirement after 6 months’ unemployment:
    – People unemployed for six months will be required to undertake an activity for 25 hours a week for 2 months.

    – As with Annual Activity Requirements (after one year’s unemployment), this will include a range of options, such as: part time employment (if available), vocational or employability skills training, career transition assistance (for older people), Youth Path internships or work experience, or (as the default if another activity is not chosen) Work for the Dole.
    – However, this compulsory activity does not continue for as long as the Annual Activity requirement for people unemployed long-term (which normally runs for 6 months)
    – People in online services may be connected with an employment service provider to organise this activity.

What the government’s announcement on Jobseeker payments means:

In ACOSSs view these compliance changes display a lack of trust in unemployed people, and undermine the stated intent of the reforms of employment services announced in 2019: that they are about moving beyond the ‘tick-a-box’ compliance approach towards one based on trust, agency, and personalised support for people.

As well as cutting unemployment payments by $7 a day  from March to just $44 a day, the government is adding to people’s stress by imposing requirements they may not be able to meet, and adding to their costs (e.g. travel to provider appointments in regional areas, more job applications).

Rigid activity requirements and enforcement, and the shaming of unemployed people, provoke social division and make it harder for unemployed people and employment services to establish respectful working relations (for example, the dob-in line announcement is already fuelling ‘dole bludger’ tropes, and auditing of the quality of job searches sends a message to providers to take a tough approach).

It’s too early in the jobs recovery to increase job search requirements:
– It’s still tough for people to find employment in most parts of the country
– The latest ABS data shows there were 8 people unemployed or searching for more paid hours for every job available.
– Just 7% of all employers reported to the Skills Commission that they were having difficulty recruiting due to a lack of applicants.

Claims that employers can’t find workers are mainly confined to sectors that have relied heavily on temporary migrants (eg fruit-picking) and often under-pay workers.

Sending people to apply for too many jobs will flood employers with applications, and in any event it’s more effective for people to make a smaller number of well-targeted applications.

The ‘quality’ of applications is largely a subjective judgement, so it’s likely that those assessments will be inconsistent, with some providers taking an over-zealous approach.

The increased compliance activity will crowd out positive help for people find employment, when consultant caseloads are already too high (typically over 140) and many people already report that they receive minimal assistance.  

What should happen now:

Unemployment payments should be permanently increased by at least $25 a day to pension levels ($65 a day), and there is no need to ‘trade this off’ for tougher activity requirements.

Instead, job search requirements should reflect the state of the local labour market and people’s ability to meet them.

Employment services should be about support to secure a job, including a flexible jobs and training guarantee for people unemployed long-term, not ticking boxes by forcing people into ‘activity for activity’s sake’.

Work for the Dole should be abolished and replaced by genuine help to secure employment such as wage subsidies, vocational training, and local partnerships between providers, employers and community services to connect people to the help they need.    

Welcome changes should reduce the number of suspensions of unemployment payments

ACOSS has argued for some time that the large number of payment suspensions for people on Jobseeker, Youth Allowance and Parenting Payments were causing needless anxiety and hardship.

In the first year of the Targeted Compliance System (2018-19), there were over 2 million payment suspensions for breaches of requirements such as attending a meeting with an employment service or not reporting their job applications on time. In many cases, people were not aware of the meetings, or had a good reason for not meeting the requirements.

In most cases, payments were quickly restored when the person made contact with their employment service provider to rectify the problem, and the next payment wasn’t delayed.

However in many cases payments were delayed and people suffered financial hardship.

Even where payments weren’t delayed we heard from people that text messages about payment suspensions caused them distress.

We have argued for a change to the compliance system so that people are given at least few days grace (after not attending a meeting) before the next payment is suspended. This gives people, and their employment service providers, time to make contact and fix the problem (for example to agree to reschedule the meeting or to send in their job search details).  

We are pleased to report that this change will be implemented from Monday 7 December and will apply to all participants in jobactive, ParentsNext and Disability Employment Services.

The new system will work in this way:

  1. If a person misses a meeting with their provider (and hasn’t phoned in advance to try and reschedule it), or doesn’t report their job searches or other activities on time (using the jobseeker app or by contacting their provider), they will get a message to say it appears they have missed a requirement, and that they need to contact their provider or the Digital Services Contact Centre or their payment will be put on hold in two business days.
  2. If, within two business days, the person makes contact and either provides a ‘valid reason’ or re-engages (e.g. agrees to reschedule a missed appointment), they will be able to avoid a payment suspension.
  3. If a person doesn’t make contact, or if they don’t have a valid reason and can’t meet a re-engagement requirement before the two days, their next payment will be automatically suspended once the two business days have passed.
    They will be notified that their payment has been put on hold. Then things proceed as they do now, and the payment remains on hold until they meet a re-engagement requirement.
  4. Whether or not the payment is suspended, they may accrue a ‘demerit point’ if they didn’t have a ‘valid reason’ for meeting the requirement in the first place. This could lead to reductions in future payments if they accrue additional demerit points.

We hope that this change will at least halve the number of payment suspensions and reduce anxiety for people who are unemployed and living on income support. In the many cases where people weren’t aware of a requirement, or didn’t understand it, it gives them an opportunity to fix the problem without the risk of missing their next payment.

There are other serious problems with the Targeted Compliance System (see below) but this welcome change should make a difference.


Obtaining JobSeeker and other Centrelink payments

If you already receive an income support payment, such as the JobSeeker Payment (Newstart) or Youth Allowance, you do not need to do anything to access the new payments announced in response to COVID-19. They will come through automatically.

If you lose employment, you can apply for income support online through MyGov. MyGov may have delays. Please try again later if you cannot get through.
We know many people do not have online access. The phone number for accessing the JobSeeker Payment is 132 850.

Before applying in person at a Centrelink office, consider the COVID-19 health restrictions in your state/territory.

For legal help with Centrelink payments, visit Economic Justice Australia’s webpage


Help with Centrelink and employment services issues

There are organisations that can advise and support you if you’re having problems with your income support payment or employment service. Unfortunately, ACOSS is unable to provide advice and support in individual cases.

If you’re facing financial hardship or mental health issues, there are services that can help.

Legal advice for people with Centrelink (Services Australia) problems including Jobseeker Payment or Youth Allowance penalties

Department of Education Skills and Employment (DESE) jobseeker help and complaints line:
1800 805 260 (free call from land lines)

Department of Education Skills and Employment (DESE) contact centre for people receiving online employment services: 1800 314 677 (free call from land lines)

Support for people with mental health issues: Lifeline (13 11 14), Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800), Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service (1800 512 348) or www.coronavirus.beyondblue.org.au

Australian Unemployed Workers Union: https://unemployedworkersunion.com/ 

Online community service directory: ask Izzy


Requirements (‘mutual obligations’) for people on Jobseeker and Youth Allowance (Other) payments

Since late last year, mutual obligations (activity requirements) for unemployed people have been progressively restored, along with payment suspensions and other penalties where requirements are breached.

We know many people are struggling to find employment and that recently-reintroduced requirements people have to meet to are unfamiliar to many.

We encourage people to take control of your job search, training and other preparation for paid employment. Follow the rules but try and make the system work for you instead of the other way round.

There are still choices you can make, including whether to register with an employment services provider if an online service doesn’t work for you, to choose a provider, and to propose training you think will skill you up and help you find employment.

You can complain, or ask to change provider, by contacting the Employment Services National Customer Service Line (NCSL), and advise the provider or call centre if you’re unable to meet new requirements like applying for eight jobs a month.

What are mutual obligations and what happens if they’re breached?

People receiving an activity tested income support payment, such as JobSeeker Payment, are generally referred to the Department of Education Skills and Employment (DESE) Online Employment Services (OES) or an employment services provider – usually either a jobactive or Disability Employment Services provider. Some parents on Parenting Payment need to register with a Parents Next provider.

They must meet activity or ‘mutual obligation’ requirements to continue to receive payments. These are listed in their Job or Participation Plan negotiated and agreed with the provider, or agreed online if in the OES.

Before COVID19, these included meeting regularly with the provider, applying for up to 20 jobs a month, and undertaking other activities (e.g. training, Work for the Dole) included in the Plan. People who didn’t meet these requirements could have their next payment suspended until they reengaged (e.g. attend a rescheduled provider appointment). People who didn’t meet these requirements could have their next payment suspended until they have reengaged (e.g. attend a rescheduled provider appointment) and could also have ‘demerit points’ awarded against them which could lead to loss of payments for up to 4 weeks under the ‘Targeted Compliance Framework’.

Suspensions and penalties:

Under the Targeted Compliance System, if you do not meet the above requirements (e.g. miss a provider appointment or activity, or don’t report your job searches on time) then:

  • your next payment may be suspended until you ‘re-engage’ (commit to meet the requirement). Payment is generally then restored, and whether you experience a delay in payment depends how quickly this is done by Centrelink, following advice from the provider.
  • You may also have a demerit point applied, if you did not have ‘reasonable excuse’ for not meeting the requirement. If you have too many demerit points, this can eventually lead to financial penalties including suspension of payments for up to four weeks by Centrelink.
  • If you have a ‘valid reason’ for not meeting a requirement (agreed by your provider) you will no longer need to meet a re-engagement requirement to lift the hold on your payment.
  • Centrelink must interview you and give you an opportunity to explain the reasons for not meeting the requirement before financial penalties are applied. You can then seek a review of any adverse decision by Centrelink to uphold a breach, and appeal to a tribunal.
  • Important: People who were already receiving payments before the pandemic will have any previous demerit points (before 28 September) removed (clean slated).

If you reject a ‘suitable’ job offer, Centrelink/Services Australia may cancel your payment and impose a four week waiting period if you re-apply:

ACOSS view We recommend that people do their best to meet the requirements and as far as possible take control of your job search, training and other preparation for paid employment. Follow the rules but try and make the system work for you instead of the other way round.

  1. We must not return to the harsh pre-COVID compliance system
    Key aspects of the activity requirements and compliance system are harsh. Before the pandemic there was far too much emphasis on compliance and enforcement and far too little help for people who found themselves unemployed.
    Australia’s compliance system for people who are unemployed is one of the toughest among the wealthy nations yet the government spends less than half the average amount on employment assistance – so for example the average employment consultant has to assist around 140 people on their caseload at any one time.This means that interviews with employment services are mainly about compliance rather than job referrals, training, wage subsidies, or other things that would actually help people land a job.The government’s Expert Panel on Employment Services came to similar conclusions and proposed changes to give unemployed people more control over their job search and improve services for those who need the most help – people who are unemployed long-term or at risk of it.
  2. The employment services system is not fit for purpose and must be reformedThe present employment services system is not fit for purpose, especially in a situation where the number of people on unemployment payments has doubled to 1.6 million, (600,000 of whom are unemployed long-term) and there are 19 unemployed and under-employed for every job vacancy (as of July 2020).Our proposals to improve employment assistance and prevent a surge of long-term unemployment are here. They include a jobs and training guarantee for people unemployed long-term and local partnerships of employment service providers, vocational training providers, employers, unions, and community services to adjust employment services and training to local conditions and needs.
  3. People should not be required to participate in Work for the Dole.
    We welcome confirmation that participation in face-to-face activities like Work for the Dole will be on an ‘opt-in’ basis. This should be made clear to people.
    Work for the Dole should remain voluntary, and the program should be wound down and replaced by properly-paid work experience in regular jobs for people unemployed long-term.
  4. All activities and requirements must be COVID-safe.
    We welcome the government’s commitment to ensure that activity requirements – including job referrals and any face-to-face contact with employment service providers – is COVID-safe. To give effect to this, it’s vital that messaging around people’s ability to ‘opt in’ and ‘opt out’ is clear.
    When the government and service providers make people undertake activities to receive income support, they have a duty of care, especially in the midst of a pandemic. Putting this into practice is complicated by the diversity of COVID-related requirements among States and Territories and different workplaces, and in the susceptibility of different people to infection (for example, people with respiratory illness and those caring for older family members).– The government should work with us, representative organisations, service providers and experts to clarify and communicate the meaning of such terms as ‘suitable work’ and COVID-safe practices in the midst of the pandemic.
    – Services on the ground must be equipped to exercise a reasonable duty of care, and to inform people about State and Territory COVID-related occupational health and safety requirements and to take these properly into account in decision-making (including on activity requirements and penalties).
    – The understandable anxiety of many people that they may catch the virus if exposed to regular close contact with the public should be acknowledged and taken into account.
  5. Flexibility around education and training
    We welcome the commitment to provide more flexibility around job search requirements while people are enrolled in education and training. In the past, people have had to abandon or interrupt training when casual employment opportunities came up. This is counterproductive at a time when many people will need to upskill to adjust to a rapidly-changing labour market.
    – At the least, job search requirements should be eased – in a consistent and predictable way – when people undertake education or training similar to that which is normally approved to meet ‘annual activity requirements’.

Mutual obligations to be restored in remote CDP program

From Monday 19 October 2020, the remote Community Development Program will resume full servicing arrangements. Details are at this link: https://www.niaa.gov.au/covid-19/cdp

This includes mutual obligation requirements, however we understand that payment suspensions will continue to be paused for another month from 19 October.

Participants in the CDP program will be required to:

  • attend appointments and activities with their CDP provider to meet their activity requirements
  • update their job plan
  • contact their CDP provider if unwell or required to self-isolate and NOT attend face-to-face appointments or activities.

We are urgently seeking further detail on compliance and penalty arrangements. However, the official website states that:

“Between 19 October 2020 and 19 November 2020, CDP providers will apply a considered approach to compliance action.’’

  • Participants will still be able to seek a temporary exemption from mutual obligation requirements from Service Australia (Centrelink), including for cultural and health reasons.

ACOSS Comment The Community Development Program (CDP) is the ‘work for the dole’ program in remote areas. Most CDP participants come from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
CDP participants with activity requirements are expected to complete up to 20 hours per week of work-like activities in return for income support payments.
The sudden restoration of activity requirements in CDP with just 10 days’ notice is of deep concern to ACOSS, given that before COVID19 financial penalties were applied much more frequently to people in this program than in mainstream employment programs such as jobactive.
ACOSS supports the call from the Fair Work Strong Communities Alliance to replace CDP with a ‘Fair Work Strong Communities’ program that provides paid work, training and employment preparation, and ensures that people in remote communities retain the same entitlements to income support as in the rest of the country.