Welfare Rights Review

Social security changes in the pipeline

There are a number of new and existing social security bills before parliament which, if passed, would impact significantly on some of the most vulnerable social security recipients.

A new 4 week waiting period for people under 25.

To be known as an “income support waiting period” (ISWP), this waiting period will apply to young people aged under 25 on unemployment payments. NWRN provided a detailed written submission to the parliamentary inquiry into this measure, contained in The Social Services Legislation Amendment (Youth Employment and Other Measures) Bill 2015 which can be accessed here. NWRN opposes this measure.

The waiting period will apply to people who are “job ready” (Stream A), unless an exemption applies. A person will be exempt if they have already served an ISWP in the previous 6 months. Other exemptions apply for certain parents, people in State care in the previous 12 months, certain people exempted from the activity test for 15 days or more and people in a class to be determined by the Minister. For special benefit recipients, there is also a general special circumstances exemption and carer exemption. (This measure replaces the 6 month waiting period proposed in a separate bill last year).

Extension of one week ordinary waiting period

The ordinary waiting period (OWP) will be extended to Youth Allowance and Parenting Payment. The OWP will have new requirements that further limit exemptions (requiring not only severe financial hardship but also a personal financial crisis and capping the amount of unavoidable or reasonable expenditure which may be taken into account). The OWP will be served after other waiting periods. NWRN provided a detailed written submission to the parliamentary inquiry into this measure, contained in The Social Services Legislation Amendment (Youth Employment and Other Measures) Bill 2015 which can be accessed here.

Increased eligibility age for newstart allowance and sickness allowance
The eligibility age for Newstart Allowance and Sickness Allowance will be increased from 22 to 24 from 1 July 2016. NWRN provided a detailed written submission to the parliamentary inquiry into this measure, contained in The Social Services Legislation Amendment (Youth Employment and Other Measures) Bill 2015 which can be accessed here.

Abolition of low income supplement

This would be abolished from 1 July 2017.

Income free areas to be frozen

The income free areas would be frozen for three years for:

  • all working age payments and parenting payment single from 1 July 2015; and
  • student payments from 1 January 2016.

NWRN provided a detailed written submission to the parliamentary inquiry into this measure, contained in The Social Services Legislation Amendment (Youth Employment and Other Measures) Bill 2015 which can be accessed here.

Disability support pension for persons in psychiatric confinement

The Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 proposes to remove access to social security payments (ie. Disability support pension) for people who are in psychiatric confinement having been charged with a serious offence, except during a period of reintegration back into the community.

For more information, see the National Welfare Rights Network submission to the Inquiry into the bill here

Income management

The Social Services Legislation Amendment (No 2) Bill 2015 proposes to continue the income management scheme for a further two years at a cost of $146.7 million. It also proses that the Voluntary Income Management Incentive payment, of $250 for every six months on the scheme will be phased out, along with the $500 Matched Savings Payments scheme. It also amends the definition of vulnerable welfare payment recipient so that vulnerability will be determined based on whether a person falls within a class of people to be determined by the minister management, rather than on a case-by-case basis or the assessment of a Centrelink social worker. These measures were proposed to commence 1 July 2015 however the bill has not passed in the Senate. NWRN provided a written submission to the Senate Inquiry into this bill which can be found here.

Interest charges for student payments

The Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Student Measures Bill 2014) is also still before the Senate. This bill introduces interest charges for certain student debts and abolishes the student start-up scholarship and replaces them with loans.

2014 Budget Measures

The following bills, containing 2014 Budget Measures, (originally contained in omnibus bills, now reintroduced as separate bills), remain stalled in the Senate:

  1. Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (2014 Budget Measures No. 4) Bill 2014; and
  2. Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (2014 Budget Measures No. 5) Bill 2014

The measures in the bills include an increase in the age pension age to 70 and a range of changes to family assistance payments. The government has linked its future child care reform package to the passage of these FTB changes. Detailed NWRN submissions on the measures contained in these bills can be found here. The Government has indicated that it will not pursue the measures relating to pension indexation.