JobSeeker and COVID-19

This page provides information about JobSeeker Payment and the temporary social security arrangements in place because of COVID-19. It also includes some information about recent changes to other payments, and what to do if your claim for a payment is rejected.

There have been many changes to social security law since March 2020 when the Government introduced temporary changes to some Centrelink payments. A second round of changes are now in place, covering the period 25 September to 31 December 2020. A third round of changes has just been announced, and these will run from 1 January to 31 March 2021. The information provided below summarises current and pending arrangements.

Given the frequency of changes to social security payments in response to COVID-19, it is important to check for current information from time to time.

You can use the links below to jump to the information you need:

What is JobSeeker Payment?

How can I claim the new JobSeeker Payment?

When will I get my JobSeeker Payment?

How is JobSeeker Payment paid?

What is the Coronavirus Supplement?

What are Economic Support Payments?

What if my claim is rejected or I have a problem getting my payment?

How can I get help with all this?

Help spread the word!


Looking for information about other payments?

For information about other types of Centrelink payments related to COVID-19, including Crisis Payment, read this factsheet from our peak organisation, Economic Justice Australia: Factsheet: Covid-19 and Centrelink

For a step-by-step guide about how to claim a Centrelink payment during coronavirus (COVID-19), read this factsheet: Factsheet: Claiming Centrelink during Covid-19


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What is JobSeeker Payment?

JobSeeker Payment is a social security payment for people who are looking for work. It can also be paid if a person is sick or injured and can’t do their usual work or study for a short time. JobSeeker Payment was introduced in March 2020 to replace Newstart Allowance, Sickness Allowance and some other older payments.

Eligibility criteria

Under the temporary COVID-19 arrangements, you may be eligible for JobSeeker Payment if you are 22 years or older, meet the rules about Australian residence, and:

  • have lost employment as a permanent employee
  • have been stood down without pay as a permanent employee
  • have lost income as a sole trader, self-employed person, casual worker or contract worker, or
  • have lost income because you were required to care for someone who has been affected by COVID-19

These arrangements will be in place until 31 March 2021. It is unclear whether they will remain the same after that.

Coronavirus Supplement

Currently, if you receive JobSeeker Payment you will automatically receive the Coronavirus Supplement. On 25 September, the Coronavirus Supplement decreased from $550/fortnight to $250/fortnight. It will remain at $250/fortnight until 31 December 2020, when it will decrease again to $150/fortnight. It is unclear whether the Coronavirus Supplement will continue after 31 March 2021.

You will receive the full Coronavirus Supplement even if your JobSeeker Payment is paid at a reduced rate. For example, if you work and your income reduces your JobSeeker to $1/fortnight, you will still receive the full Coronavirus Supplement payment.

Coronavirus Supplement is also paid to people on Youth Allowance, Partner Allowance, Widow Allowance, Austudy, ABSTUDY Living Allowance, Parenting Payment, Farm Household Allowance and Special Benefit.

For more information see the Services Australia webpage.

Assets test

The assets test for JobSeeker Payment, Youth Allowance, Parenting Payment, Austudy and ABSTUDY was suspended until 24 September 2020, which meant you could get JobSeeker even if you or your partner had a lot of assets (the things you own, like your car and the money you have in the bank).

On 25 September 2020, the assets test was reintroduced. It is important to notify and/or update Centrelink about your assets because if you continue to receive payment and you are over the assets limit, it’s very likely you will end up with a debt. 

When applying the assets test, Centrelink considers many different types of assets, with different assets limits depending on whether or not you are a homeowner. Importantly, some assets are also 'exempt' from the assets test, and it possible to have the assets test disregarded if you’re in ‘severe financial hardship’ and also meet other criteria but it is not common. You can find specific information about the assets test on the Services Australia website here

Income test

Your income: Until 24 September, JobSeeker Payment and Youth Allowance (job seeker) had different income tests. Under the old income test you could earn $106/fortnight on JobSeeker or $143/fortnight on Youth Allowance (job seeker) before your payment was reduced using a sliding scale.

On 25 September, the income tests for both payments were increased and simplified. Both Job Seeker and Youth Allowance (job seeker) now reduces by 60 cents for every dollar you earn over $300/fortnight.

It’s important to note that there are no changes to the income test for those receiving JobSeeker or Youth Allowance as a principal carer or a student payment. That appears to be a consequence of the new income test being designed “to improve incentives for individuals to re-enter the workforce or take on additional work as the economy recovers”, despite the fact that many parents and students have or want part-time work.

Also, the benefits of the new income test will be offset by the $300/fortnight drop in the Coronavirus Supplement which started on 25 September, with another drop on 1 January 2021.

Your partner’s income: The income test used to assess your partner’s income temporarily changed for JobSeeker Payment (only) between April and 24 September 2020, allowing your partner to earn more before your payment was affected. The partner income test changed again on 25 September 2021. The threshold increased from $996/fortnight to $1165/fortnight, with your JobSeeker reducing by 27 cents for every $1 your partner earns over the threshold ($1165/fortnight).

For more information about the partner income test see the Services Australia website here.  

Waiting periods

A number of waiting periods that normally apply to JobSeeker Payment (and some other payments) were temporarily waived between April and 24 September 2020. The following waiting periods have been suspended until 31 March 2021:

  • The one-week Ordinary Waiting Period
  • The Seasonal Work Preclusion Period
  • The Newly Arrived Residents Waiting Period (NARWP)

The Liquid Assets Test Waiting Period was reintroduced on 25 September 2020 for JobSeeker Payment, Youth Allowance and Austudy. Importantly, it only applies to new claims made on or after that date.

'Liquid assets' describes funds that are 'readily available', including things like money in bank accounts, financial investments, shares, and term deposits. It can also include money your employer owes you as well as a range of other things.

If you are subject to a Liquid Assets Waiting Period you will have to wait a number of weeks before you can receive your Centrelink payment because it is assumed you have enough money to live on. For a single person with no dependents, a waiting period applies if you have more than $5,500 when you claim your payment. For a member of a couple or a single person with dependents, a waiting period applies if you have $11,000 or more when you claim. The more money you have, the longer you will have to wait (up to 13 weeks). You can find more information, including the assessment table, on the Services Australia page here.

It is possible to have the liquid assets waiting period waived if you’re experiencing severe financial hardship because of unavoidable or reasonable expenses but the process is not always straightforward. 

If you’re believe the Liquid Assets Waiting Period has been applied to your circumstances unfairly, and you live in NSW, please contact us by phone or through our website and we can provide free advice. (People in other states, see here.)

Other Waiting Periods

There are other waiting periods that continue to apply:

Mutual obligations

Mutual obligation requirements were suspended due to COVID-19 but they have now been reintroduced for all states and territories.

'Mutual obligations' describes things you must normally do to keep JobSeeker Payment, Youth Allowance (job seeker) and Parenting Payment (if your youngest child is over 6). Mutual obligations include things like looking for work, undertaking specific activities, going to appointments and Work for the Dole.

Your payment may be suspended or cancelled if you do not undertake job search activities including participating in employment service provider appointments, agreeing to a job plan, participating in agreed safe activities, looking for work, or taking up an offer of suitable work. Work for the Dole is also being re-introduced.

Mutual obligations are slightly more flexible/less onerous than before COVID through the inclusion of eligible courses of less than 12 months, and a reduced number of required job applications (8 per month). It is currently unclear how a person’s refusal to take up a job offer will be treated if it is based on concern about COVID infection risk or COVID restrictions. We are seeking further clarification. 

If you’re concerned about your particular situation, and you live in NSW, please contact us by phone or through our website and we can provide free advice. (People in other states, see here.)

 

How can I claim the new JobSeeker Payment?

For step by step instructions about how to claim Centrelink payments during the COVID-19 pandemic, read this factsheet: Factsheet: Claiming Centrelink during Coronavirus

 

When will I get my JobSeeker Payment?

Although it may take some time for Centrelink to process your JobSeeker Payment claim, payment should date back to the date your 'intention to claim' was lodged (online, over the phone, or in person), as long as you lodged your claim within 14 days of lodging your 'intention to claim'.

If you received or are receiving leave, notice and/or redundancy entitlements from your employer, it can affect the date that JobSeeker Payment can start. Still, you should register your intent to claim JobSeeker as soon as possible so that it will start as soon as your leave entitlements finish. You can register on this page. Once you are receiving JobSeeker Payment, you will automatically get the fortnightly Coronavirus Supplement.

JobSeeker Payment is paid fortnightly into your bank account. It is paid for the fortnight that has just passed. It is not paid in advance.

 

What is the Coronavirus Supplement?

Currently, if you receive JobSeeker Payment you will automatically receive the Coronavirus Supplement. On 25 September, the Coronavirus Supplement decreased from $550/fortnight to $250/fortnight. It will remain at $250/fortnight until 31 December 2020, when it will decrease again to $150/fortnight. It is unclear whether the Coronavirus Supplement will continue after 31 March 2021.

You will receive the full Coronavirus Supplement even if your JobSeeker Payment is paid at a reduced rate. For example, if you work and your income reduces your JobSeeker to $1/fortnight, you will still receive the full Coronavirus Supplement payment.

Coronavirus Supplement is also paid to people on Youth Allowance, Partner Allowance, Widow Allowance, Austudy, ABSTUDY Living Allowance, Parenting Payment, Farm Household Allowance and Special Benefit.

For more information see the Services Australia webpage.

 

What are Economic Support Payments?

Both Economic Support Payments ($750 each) have now been paid, with the last payment made in July 2020. 

 

What if my claim is rejected or I have a problem getting my payment?

If your claim is rejected, you have the right to appeal! Appeals are often successful.

Although it’s not necessary, it’s a good idea to get legal advice before you appeal to give you the best chance of success, so give Welfare Rights Centre a call for some free advice if you live in NSW:

Call us on: 02 9211 5300 (Sydney) or 1800 226 028 (toll-free from outside Sydney)

Beginning the process of an appeal is straightforward. The first step usually involves asking Centrelink to explain the decision, which will give you the chance to correct a misunderstanding or provide them with more information.

If you don’t agree with Centrelink’s explanation, you can tell Centrelink you want the decision reviewed. That will trigger a review of the decision by a Centrelink Authorised Review Officer.

You can appeal by:

  • Phoning or visiting Centrelink and telling them you want the decision reviewed. If you do so, you should make a note of the date for your own records

  • Completing a form called ‘Review of Decision’ here and returning it to Centrelink.

It is important to appeal within 13 weeks of receiving the original decision in writing because otherwise you may not receive back payment. If you are still unsuccessful, you can appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, which is independent of Centrelink.

For more information read this factsheet: Factsheet: Appealing a Centrelink Decision

 

How can I get help with all this?

Welfare Rights Centre can provide free legal advice and assistance to people in NSW. To get in touch with Welfare Rights Centre, call us on:

02 9211 5300 (Sydney)

1800 226 028 (toll-free from outside Sydney)

Our phone lines are open:

  • Monday: 9:30 am - 12:30 pm
  • Wednesday: 9:30 am - 12:30 pm

To read about our legal services on this page, click here.

If you live in another state, your local specialist community legal centre may be able to help. To find your nearest community legal centre, click here:

Help spread the word! 

If you know someone who has had a JobSeeker Payment claim or another social security claim rejected, our community legal specialists can help. Please share this page on social media:

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