Recent Changes to Centrelink Payments in Response to COVID-19

There have been many changes to social security law since the COVID pandemic began. The information provided below summarises current and pending arrangements.

You can also find the Department of Social Services' summary of pending changes here, although be aware the proposed increase to the rate of JobSeeker and other working age payments is not confirmed.

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

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

What is JobSeeker Payment?

The Battle to Raise the Rate?

JobSeeker Eligibility Criteria?

What is the Coronavirus Supplement?

Qualifying for Youth Allowance (Independent)?

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 read this factsheet: Factsheet: Claiming Centrelink during Covid-19


woman with glasses and tattoos looking at papers with a calculator

 

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. Although the introduction of JobSeeker coincided with the beginning of COVID, it is not related. 

JobSeeker Payment was designed to combine a large number of payments: Newstart Allowance, Sickness Allowance, Wife Pension, Widow B Pension and Bereavement Allowance. Widow Allowance and Partner Allowance will also be subsumed under JobSeeker Payment by 1 January 2022.

The Battle to Raise the Rate 

After a long campaign by community organisations to raise the rate of JobSeeker and other payments such as Youth Allowance, Austudy, ABSTUDY and Parenting Payment, the Government decided to increase these payments by $50/fortnight. That increase commenced on 1 April 2021. The increase coincided with the end of the Coronavirus Supplement.

JobSeeker Eligibility Criteria

Under ongoing COVID arrangements a person who is 22 years or over may be eligible for JobSeeker Payment if they meet the residence eligibility criteria and they:
•    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 
•    have lost income due to being required to care for someone who is affected by COVID-19

Income test – JobSeeker Payment, Youth Allowance (other) and Parenting Payment (Partnered)

The income test for JobSeeker Payment, Youth Allowance (other) and Parenting Payment (Partnered) can vary according to whether you are single or a member of a couple, the primary carer of a child, or have a partner who receives a pension.

Under COVID arrangements, the income test was made more generous, with an income free area of $300/fortnight. From 1 April 2021, the income free area was decreased to $150/fortnight, with payment reducing by 60 cents for every dollar you earn over $300/fortnight. 

It’s important to note that there have been no changes to the old income test for those receiving JobSeeker or Youth Allowance as a principal carer or as a student throughout this period. That appears to be a consequence of these income tests 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.

For JobSeeker Payment, there has also been a change to the partner income test taper rate, which reverted to 60 cents for every dollar above the partner income free area. That is a significant change from the 27 cents for every dollar reduction since 25 September 2020.

 

Waiting periods

One-week Ordinary Waiting Period

The One-week Ordinary Waiting Period has been waived until 30 June 2021. This means that if you claim JobSeeker Payment before 1 July 2021, you will not serve the standard one-week waiting period.

Newly Arrived Residents Waiting Period (NARWP)

The Newly Arrived Residents Waiting Period (waived in response to COVID) was reintroduced on 1 April 2021. 

This waiting period means that many people who have moved to Australia permanently and become an Australian resident have to wait 4 years before they can receive a Centrelink payment including JobSeeker Payment, Youth Allowance, Austudy, Parenting Payment and Special Benefit.

People who received a Centrelink payment while the NARWP was suspended will be able to count that period towards the completion of the NARWP (that means - they won’t need to add that time on to what’s left of their NARWP).

There are exemptions to the NARWP, so it does not apply to people who are:
•    on a temporary humanitarian visa
•    refugees or family members of a refuge
•    Australian citizens

There is another important exemption. If you are subject to the NARWP but there has been a substantial change in your circumstances, you may be eligible for Special Benefit!  Please contact us for advice.

Seasonal Work Preclusion Period

The Seasonal Work Preclusion Period was reintroduced on 1 April 2021. The time you have to wait for a Centrelink payment will depend on how long you were working and how much you earned. 

The Seasonal Work Preclusion Period applies to JobSeeker Payment, Austudy, Carer Payment, Disability Support (except if you're permanently blind), Parenting Payment, Special Benefit (if you’re a nominated visa holder), Youth Allowance and Farm Household Allowance.

You can find out more here.

* At the same time, the Government has made changes increasing access to Independent rate Youth Allowance based on seasonal work (see Qualifying for Youth Allowance Independent, below). 

Other Waiting Periods

There are other waiting periods that continue to apply:

 

Mutual obligations

Mutual obligation requirements for JobSeeker Payment recipients have been gradually increased under the special COVID-19 arrangements, with some variations for areas affected by isolated COVID outbreaks.

Changes include, from:
•    early March 2021 - compulsory face-to-face service delivery was re-introduced for job seekers and other participants (unless it is unsafe)
•    1 April 2021 - the minimum job search requirement for people on JobActive, DES and Online Employment Services increased from 8 to 15 jobs/month
•    1 July 2021 - the minimum job search requirement for people on JobActive, DES and Online Employment Services will return to the pre-COVID-19 requirement of 20 job searches/month
•    October 2021 - people who have been unemployed for six months will be required to participate in an activity, such as a short training course or Work for the Dole, as well as their job search activities
•    October 2021 – people using the Online Employment Service will be required to complete their Career Profile before receiving income support, and must also review their profile every six months as part of their Job Plan requirement

The Government has also announced a plan to strengthen auditing processes to identify people who submit non-genuine or deliberately poor-quality job applications as part of their job search requirements, and they intend to set up a reporting line for potential employers to report people who are not genuinely looking for work or turn down work.

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.)

 

What is the Coronavirus Supplement?

The Coronavirus Supplement was introduced in April 2020 as an additional payment for people on JobSeeker Payment, Youth Allowance, Partner Allowance, Widow Allowance, Austudy, ABSTUDY Living Allowance, Parenting Payment, Farm Household Allowance or Special Benefit.

The Coronavirus Supplement is no longer available as it ended on 31 March 2021.

 

Qualifying for Youth Allowance (Independent)

Youth Allowance is only payable to people aged under 22 in certain circumstances where they are considered ‘Independent’. One way to qualify as Independent is to work after finishing school. In response to the COVID-19 shutdowns, Centrelink will count the period from 25 March to 24 September 2020 as time spent working, even if you weren’t. That’s 6 months towards the required 18 month or 14 month independence qualifying period (depending on where you live).⠀

Secondly, you can qualify for Youth Allowance or ABSTUDY if you earn $15,000 or more through approved agricultural work between 30 November 2020 and 31 December 2021. This change means you may be considered ‘independent’ faster.⠀

Find out more here
 

What are Economic Support Payments?

In 2020 and 2021, a number of Economic Support Payments were paid to people on Age Pension, Carer Allowance, Carer Payment, Disability Support Pension and Family Tax Benefit. They were also paid to people who have a Commonwealth Seniors Health Card or a Pensioner Concession Card.

Two Economic Support Payments of $750 were paid in April and July 2020. 

Two further Economic Support Payments of $250 were paid to eligible people in December 2020 and March 2021 (except those receiving the payments as a lump sum with their Family Tax Benefit). 

 

 
What other temporary measures stopped on 1 April 2021?

•    Waiver of the requirement to provide verification of relationship status when claiming payment 
•    Temporarily increased grace periods for Mobility Allowance
 

How soon can I be paid?

It is vital that you claim as soon as possible as you cannot be paid prior to the date you claim JobSeeker Payment. 

If you received or are receiving leave, notice and/or redundancy entitlements from your employer, it can affect the date that your Centrelink can start. Still, you should claim payment as soon as possible so that it will start as soon as your leave entitlements finish.  
 

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
  • Thursday: 1:30pm - 4:30pm

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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