Mutual obligations requirements are back for Victorians

Lockdown restrictions are lifting in Victoria, and as of 4 November 2021 mutual obligation requirements are back. The requirements were temporarily waived during the most recent COVID-19 lockdown but they are now being phased back in and it’s important to understand how this impacts you.

If you’re a Centrelink recipient who normally has mutual obligation requirements, your requirements will recommence for your next reporting period.

This means you will need to engage with your employment services provider again and attend your required appointments/comply with your activities to avoid a penalty. 

To find out more about your mutual obligations you can contact your employment services provider or, if you if you don’t have an employment services provider, call your regular Centrelink payment line.

If you’re already signed up for online employment services you can also check your MyGov JobActive Account dashboard.

If you’re unable to attend an appointment, meet a job search/application target, or comply with an activity requirement, it’s really important that you let your employment service provider know before the requirement is due.

Your mutual obligation requirements should be suitable for you and fit your personal circumstances. If you think your mutual obligations plan is not suitable for you, you should speak to your employment services provider as soon as possible.  

Transitioning to another Centrelink benefit after COVID-19 Disaster Payment ceases

The Federal Government has announced that COVID-19 Disaster Payments will cease once certain vaccination thresholds have been met. Once this happens, you will no longer be able to access the COVID-19 Disaster Payment for income support.

If you are still unable to return to work or don’t have adequate income from work you may be considering applying for another form of income support from Centrelink, such as JobSeeker Payment, Youth Allowance or Parenting Payment.

The Federal Government has waived the normal waiting period for these payments for people who have been receiving the COVID-19 Disaster Payment within the 13 weeks prior to applying for JobSeeker Payment, Youth Allowance and Parenting Payment.

This will enable people transitioning off the COVID-19 Disaster Payment to gain access to other social security support (if eligible) without having to serve a waiting period.

If you need to apply for further income support payments after the COVID-19 Disaster Payment ends, it is very important you apply within 13 weeks of receiving your final COVID-19 Disaster Payment in order to avoid a wait period.

If you want longer than 13 weeks, you may have to serve the wait period before you can receive any payments.

You can find out more about income support payments such as JobSeeker payment, here.

New Escaping Violence Payment

A new financial support payment has become available for people over the age of 18 who need to leave, or have recently left, a violent partner. It is called the Escaping Violence Payment (EVP) and is part of a trial program called the Escaping Violence Payment Program.

This is not a Centrelink benefit/payment; it is a payment issued by Uniting Care. For people who are eligible, the EVP provides financial assistance and other confidential support services, as needed. You can find out more about the on the Uniting Care website, but some important details include:

  • Any payment received through this program is not taxable or reportable to Centrelink
  • Evidence of violence will be required, and this can include a support letter from an appropriate worker, such as a doctor or a family violence social worker or a court order/other official court or police document
  • Family violence can take many forms and includes, for example, physical, verbal, sexual, emotional, financial abuse, control or coercion.
  • Recipients can receive up to $1,500 in financial assistance as well as other necessary paid goods and services including the costs of removalists, payment of bond or basic items to set up a new home.
  • Centrelink’s crisis payment for extreme circumstances is a separate payment.

In Victoria, eligibility will be determined by Uniting Care and people can apply or find out if they are eligible by submitting an enquiry form on the Uniting Care website.

SSRV Staff Profile: Pamela Taylor-Barnett

I am one of the Community Lawyers at Social Security Rights Victoria and my work spans two projects. I work on the Worker Helpline and the remainder of my week is spent working with clients who have experienced family violence.

Both projects involve collaborating with other workers, meaning clients are supported from many directions and have the best possible outcomes.

Over the last 12 years, I have worked in other integrated justice roles in community legal centres around Melbourne. Since 2012, I have also worked as an academic, including five years as an evaluator for a large regional integrated justice project.

The SSRV family violence project looks at the intersection between social security and family violence. Victim survivors of family violence are vulnerable and susceptible to economic abuse and coercive behaviours which can present as social security problems, sometimes long after the relationship has ended.

The family violence project at SSRV provides victim survivors with access to legal assistance to address the consequences of this economic abuse. It is a serious injustice that Australia’s financial ‘safety net’ often fail the most vulnerable, including people who are not safe at home.

My qualifications include Bachelor of Commerce with Honours in Literature (yes, a strange combination!), a Bachelor of Laws, a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice, and a Master of Laws. I have taught in Practical Legal Training at two universities and led the design of work integrated learning and practice management courses. I have published work and presented at several international law conferences.

I complement my professional life with volunteer work which I am equally passionate about. My best friend is a ‘fetch’ enthusiast with four legs, who is almost always by my side.

Changes to COVID-19 Disaster Payments

The Federal Government has announced that COVID-19 Disaster Payments will cease once certain vaccination thresholds have been met. Here’s an outline of the vaccination milestones to watch out for, what will change, and what recipients of the payment need to do.

When Victoria reaches 70 per cent fully vaccinated  

Once a State or Territory reaches 70 per cent fully vaccinated, individuals who are 16 years or older, the automatic renewal of the COVID-19 Disaster Payment will cease for people who have been receiving the payment.  When this happens, individuals will need to reapply each week to confirm their eligibility for the COVID-19 Disaster Payment. 

When Victoria reaches 80 per cent fully vaccinated 

Once a state or territory reaches 80 per cent full vaccinated (individuals who are 16 years or older), the COVID-19 Disaster Payment will be reduced over a two-week period and then cease.

Individuals will need to reapply each week to confirm their eligibility for the COVID-19 Disaster Payment during these final two weeks. For more information about this reduction and cessation process, click here.

In the first week after a state or territory reaches 80 per cent fully vaccinated, COVID-19 Disaster Payment will be reduced to:

  • $450 for individuals who can show they have lost more than eight hours of work and are not getting an eligible Centrelink or Department of Veterans’ Affairs payment; or  
  • $100 for individuals who can show they have lost more than eight hours of work and are getting an eligible Centrelink or Department of Veterans’ Affairs payment.  

In the second week after a state or territory reaches 80 per cent fully vaccinated, COVID-19 Disaster Payment will: 

  • be reduced to $320 for individuals who have lost more than eight hours of work and are not getting an eligible Centrelink or Department of Veterans’ Affairs payment; or 
  • end for individuals who are getting an eligible Centrelink or Department of Veterans’ Affairs payment.

After this two-week period, the COVID-19 Disaster Payment will cease permanently.  

If you are still unable to return to work/earn a sufficient income due to COVID-19 Pandemic related changes to your employment, you will need to apply for JobSeeker.  At this stage, we do not know if there will be another form of Pandemic related income support available for those whose employment and income are impacted by public health orders. To find out more about the JobSeeker payment and how to apply, click here.

Mental Health and the DSP

This week is Mental Health Week, a time when we reflect on our clients’ experience with mental health and the social security system.

Here’s what we know:

  • Many of our clients report difficulties with their mental health.
  • Many report that interacting with Centrelink exacerbates or contributes to their difficulties with mental health.
  • Mental health related conditions are the reason why the majority of people are receiving the DSP.
  • Having a mental health condition considered for the DSP is challenging as there are special requirements for this category of disability.

Mental health and the DSP

So what are those special DSP requirements for people with mental health conditions? For the DSP, mental health conditions need to be diagnosed by a psychiatrist, or a doctor with evidence from a clinical psychologist.

In practice, without a report from a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist it is incredibly difficult to get the DSP.

Our clients tell us this creates difficulties. Some, particularly those reliant on JobSeeker, don’t have the means to pay for the consultations. Others find themselves stuck on waiting lists. And still others don’t realise this is a requirement, and their lack of supporting evidence hampers their DSP application.

SSRV are advocating for change in this space and we’ll continue to do so, as ultimately the changes that will benefit people living with mental health difficulties must be systemic.

In the meantime, we have resources available that can help make this process smoother. Our DSP Help enables DSP applicants and those supporting them to better understand how the DSP works and what is being assessed, and provides resources to help gather appropriate medical evidence to support a claim.

We also now have resources aimed directly at health professionals including information and sample letters. Our hope is we can make it simpler and easier to provide evidence in support of a DSP application, and to make that evidence as relevant as possible. For those with no experience with the DSP this is a great starting point as the criteria can definitely be overwhelming. For others, we hope this will save you time by focussing in on exactly what Centrelink are assessing.

If you’d like to find out more about this or about the DSP Help Project generally, please call us on 03 9481 0299 and ask to speak to the DSP Help Lawyer. If you or your client/patient needs assistance with the DSP, please get in touch with our legal assistance services.

Financial assistance from the Commonwealth Government during COVID–19

If you have lost work due to COVID-19 Pandemic lockdowns or other public health measures (such as the need to self-isolate) you may be entitled to Commonwealth Government financial assistance through Services Australia.  

Currently, there are three different types of pandemic related income support payments available: 

COVID–19 Disaster Payment  

The COVID-19 Disaster Payment (Disaster Payment) is non-taxable payment available for individuals who have lost work or income as a result of a COVID-19 lockdown. It is available to people who currently receive a social security benefit/pension and to people who don’t already receive a social security benefit/pension.   

Eligibility criteria:  

In order to be eligible for the COVID-19 Disaster Payment, individuals must:  

  • be aged at least 17 years old;  
  • be an Australian citizen, permanent resident or a holder of a visa with work rights;  
  • reside or work in, or have visited, an area subject to a public health order, such as a lockdown, and which has been determined by the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer to be a COVID-19 hotspot (or in another area outside of the hotspot where the state or territory government has agreed to fund the payment);  
  • be unable to work and have lost income because of the lockdown;  
  • not be receiving a state based Pandemic related income support payment, Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment or a state small business payment for the same lockdown period; and  
  • have insufficient leave entitlements.  
    Payment Rate:   

The COVID-19 Disaster Payment has three different payment rates, depending on how many hours an eligible recipient was unable to work due to the lockdown and whether the person is already in receipt of a social security benefit/pension:   

  • $200 per week for those in receipt of an income support payment who lost eight or more hours of work per week or a full day of their usual hours per week (what the person was scheduled to work including shifts of less than eight hours)  
  • $450 for those who lost between eight and less than 20 hours of work per week or a full day of their usual work hours per week and who do not currently receive a social security benefit/pension  
  • $750 for those who lost 20 hours or more of work and who do not currently receive a social security benefit/pension.   

Lodging a claim for COVID-19 Disaster Payment   

Eligible individuals can apply for the COVID-19 Disaster Payment by:  

  1. Signing into MyGov
  1. Selecting ‘Apply for Support from the Government, support for coronavirus’   
  1. Under ‘Affected by Coronavirus (COVID-19)’ select ‘Get started’  
  1. Select ‘Apply for COVID-19 Disaster Payment’  
  1. Answer the eligibility and claim questions  
  1. Submit claim.  

If you can’t apply online, or you the holder of a temporary visa with work rights, you can call 180 22 66, Monday to Friday 8 am to 5 pm, to apply.   

You can find out more about the Disaster Payment here.

Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment  

A taxable payment for individuals who are required to self-isolate, quarantine or care for someone as a result of the COVID-19 Pandemic.   

Payment Rate:  

The payment provides $1,500 for each 14-day period a person is required self-isolate, quarantine or care for a person with COVID-19.    

Eligibility criteria:  
In order to be eligible for the Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment, individuals must:  

  • be aged at least 17 years old;  
  • be an Australian citizen, permanent resident or a temporary visa holder with the right to work;  
  • be unable to attend work due to:  
  • being advised by a health officer that they or a child in their care, is required to self-isolate or quarantine at home because they have tested positive for COVID-19 or are a close contact of a person who has tested positive; or  
  • caring for someone that has tested positive for COVID-19;   
  • have expected to work during the period of self-isolation or quarantine, or while caring for someone with COVID-19;  
  • not be receiving an income support payment or JobKeeper Payment;  
  • not have received or applied for an equivalent state support payment for the same period; and  
  • have insufficient appropriate paid leave entitlements or will exhaust those entitlements during the 14-day period of the payment.  

Lodging a claim for Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment   

Eligible individuals can apply for Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment by either:  

  • calling Services Australia on 180 22 66; or   

You can find out more about the Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment here:

Crisis Payment for National Health Emergency (COVID-19)  

The Crisis Payment for National Health Emergency (COVID-19) (NHE Crisis Payment) is a one-off payment for individuals affected by COVID-19 who are already in receipt of a social security benefit or pension.  

Payment Rate:   

The payment rate is equivalent to a week’s pay at the maximum basic rate of an individual’s income support payment or ABSTUDY Living Allowance. It doesn’t include other allowances or supplements.  

Eligible individuals are entitled to receive a maximum of two Crisis Payments for National Health Emergency in a 6-month period. However, eligible individuals are only entitled to receive one payment per quarantine or self-isolation.  

Eligibility criteria:  

Individuals may be eligible for this payment if;   

Individuals must also either be:  

  • required to be in quarantine or self-isolation in Australia; or  
  • caring for someone required to be in quarantine or self-isolation in Australia.  

Individuals who are subject to state or territory lockdown rules are not regarded as being in quarantine or self-isolation if they are able to leave their home for a permitted purpose such as attending work, essential shopping or exercising.  

Individuals or the person they care for must be in quarantine or self-isolation because of advice or a requirement made by:  

  • the Australian Government  
  • a state or territory government  
  • a health professional.  

Individuals or the person they are caring for could be in quarantine or self-isolation for reasons such as:  

  • being diagnosed with COVID-19  
  • being in close contact with a diagnosed case of COVID-19  
  • having arrived in Australia after midnight on 15 March 2020  
  • feeling unwell with COVID-19 symptoms including fever, coughing, shortness of breath, sore throat and fatigue  
  • waiting for COVID-19 test results.  

Individuals receiving the Disaster Relief Payment are ineligible to receive the Crisis Payment for National Health Emergency (NHE) (COVID-19)  

Lodging a claim for Crisis Payment for National Health Emergency (NHE) (COVID-19)  

Eligible individuals can apply for the Crisis Payment for National Health Emergency (NHE) (COVID-19) by:  

  1. Signing into MyGov
  1. From the menu select ‘Payments and Claims’, then ‘Claims’ then ‘Make a claim’  
  1. Select ‘Crisis Payments’  
  1. Select ‘Apply for Crisis Payment for National Health Emergency’  
  1. Answer all the questions  
  1. Submit claim.  

You can find out more about the NHE Crisis Payment here.

Refused a Pandemic related payment?  

If you have been refused one of these payments, you may have the right to have that decision reviewed. We recommend you seek legal advice about your review rights and options as soon as possible. It is important to obtain advice, or contact Centrelink to obtain information about your options, as soon as you receive your refusal decision as there might be important deadlines to apply for review.   

If you live in Victoria and would like advice, or have other social security/Centrelink questions, you can call Social Security Rights Victoria, Monday to Thursday between 9:00am and 5:00pm (closed 1.00-2.00pm)  on 0419 793 652 to obtain information or book an appointment with a lawyer (subject to guidelines).  

If you live in another state, find your closest social security legal service here.

SSRV Staff Profile: Emily Singh

I am the Principal Lawyer here at Social Security Rights Victoria. I started working at SSRV in October 2020 and moved into the Principal Lawyer role in July 2021.  

I am passionate about providing access to justice for all members of the Australian community and believe community legal services play an integral role in holding government to account.  Access to adequate social security is a human right and I believe Australia’s social security system is broken.  

I also believe that through working collaboratively with my clients, colleagues and other members of the community sector we can create great and much needed change!  

I hope to help SSRV to continue to streamline its delivery of legal services to ensure we provide high quality, transparent, trauma informed and culturally informed assistance to members of the Victorian community in a sustainable and accessible way.  

I hope to help lead the organisation with courage and compassion every day and in all parts of my work.    

I grew up in Melbourne and studied law at Victoria University. Since being admitted I have practiced exclusively in administrative law in the community legal sector and intend on practicing in the community legal sector/social justice my entire career.  

Prior to working at SSRV, I practiced in refugee law and also spent a short period working for a not-for-profit foundation in London. I have previously worked in a project management role/coordinator role at a community legal centre.

I am also a mum to a bouncing, curly haired three-year-old and he, and all those in my life, will tell you I am a chatterbox. I look forward to working with and getting to know many of you.  

SSRV at the DSP Inquiry

Earlier this year, the Senate Community Affairs References Committee began a broad inquiry into the purpose, intent and adequacy of the Disability Support Pension (DSP). This is one of several policy activities happening in the DSP space right now – but in our opinion it’s the single most important in terms of making the DSP a more accessible and fairer payment. 

The DSP is a key part of the work SSRV does, with close to half of all matters we deal with relating back to it in some way. Most of this is people seeking assistance with access and eligibility. With this in mind, there was no question we were going to contribute our knowledge and expertise to the inquiry in any way we’re able. 

SSRV is pleased to announce that our initial submission has now been accepted and published. That means we’re now able to share the submission in full. You can read it here (SSRV’s original and supplementary submissions are No. 90).

Through this submission SSRV hopes to highlight the problems with the DSP eligibility criteria – including the little understood Program of Support requirement – as well as the problems with the administration of the DSP. We also hope to amplify the voices and stories of those directly affected: people living with disability. 

Economic Justice Australia (EJA), one of SSRV’s peak bodies, was invited to give evidence at a hearing for this Inquiry, and extended that invitation to SSRV as a member centre representative with significant experience in providing advice, assistance and innovative services in relation to the DSP.  

On Monday 6 September 2021 Dermott Williams, Community Lawyer DSP Help Project, gave evidence alongside EJA’s Linda Forbes.

If you wish to speak to us about this Inquiry, please call us on 03 9481 0299 and ask for the DSP Help Lawyer. Mention that you are calling about the Senate Inquiry. 

If you are currently having difficulty with the DSP, help is available. You may wish to visit our DSP Help website or call SSRV. 

Centrelink is chasing welfare recipients over $32m in COVID overpayments

Social Security Rights Victoria Principal Lawyer, Emily Singh has been interviewed by the ABC about Centrelink raising debts against people receiving income support payments during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the report explains, many of the alleged overpayments happened when people were given overlapping income support by the two separate departments.

You can contact Social Security Rights Victoria and other welfare rights centres across Australia for assistance to understand the debts and options for dealing with them.

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