CTH House of Representatives Considers New COVID-19 Social Services Bill

Friday 6 November 2020 @ 3.36 p.m. | Legal Research

On 22 October, the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Coronavirus and Other Measures) Bill 2020 (Cth) (‘the Bill’) was introduced to the House of Representatives. According to the Minister of Government Services, Mr Stuart Robert, the Bill “delivers on a number of 2020-21 budget measures which will provide additional support to individuals and households impacted by the economic consequences of COVID-19”. The key amendments of the Bill affect economic support payments, financial independence criteria for youth allowance, paid parental leave and child support.

Economic Support Payments

Schedule 1 provides for two further Economic Support Payments for recipients of social security payments, recipients of veterans’ payments and concession cardholders. If the Bill is passed and assented, eligible recipients will receive $250 with each payment and the payments will be made progressively from 30 November 2020 to 1 March 2021. If a potential recipient is eligible for payments in multiple ways, the recipient will still only receive $250 with each payment. If both members of a couple are eligible, both will receive independent payments.

Youth Allowance

According to the Second Reading Speech, Schedule 2 is intended to “recognise that because of the economic impacts of COVID-19, many young people will have lost a job or been unable to attain employment, which would otherwise have contributed to them meeting the independence requirement to qualify for [Youth Allowance] payments”. The Minister noted that the Government’s concern that without income support, young people may be incentivised to delay tertiary study.

The Bill proposes to allow the six-month period between 25 March 2020 and 24 September 2020 to be automatically recognised as contributing to the criteria for workforce independence under the Youth Allowance Scheme. This will effectively operate by amending the definition of independence to include that an applicant will be considered to have worked 30 hours a week within the specified 6-month period, regardless of their actual working hours. For regional students, they will be considered to have worked either 15 hours a week or earned 75% of the National Training Wage Schedule weekly rate.

Furthermore, the Bill intends to establish temporary incentives for young people claiming student youth allowance to have access to new independence criteria provided they demonstrate participation in agricultural work. This follows the Federal Government’s concern of limited workforce availability in the agricultural sector in the approaching harvest season. Conditional on the Bill’s assent, a person who earns at least $15,000 through agricultural work between 3 November 2020 to 31 December 2021 would be considered as an independent for the purpose of student youth allowance. This will provide an alternate, shortened pathway for young people to demonstrate financial independence.

Paid Parental Leave

Similarly, the Bill acknowledges that people have failed to meet eligibility requirements for parental leave pay and dad and partner pay because of disruptions to their employment as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The current Paid Parental Leave Scheme allows individuals to qualify for payment provided they meet certain work test requirements for at least 10 months within their ‘work test period’. These requirements include working at least 330 hours in that 10 month period with no more than a 12 week-gap between any 2 consecutive working days. Currently, the ‘work test period’ covers the 13 months prior to the birth or adoption. The Bill acknowledges that the instability of employment during 2020 will make it difficult for some individuals to satisfy the requirements within this 13 month period. The Bill proposes to temporarily extend the paid parental leave work test period from 13 months to 20 months. The change will apply to births and adoptions that occur between 22 March 2020 and 31 March 2021.

Additionally, Schedule 5 of the Bill intends to implement a 2020-21 budget measure that addresses inconsistencies in payments that are available to families affected by stillbirth and infant death.

Child Support

Finally, under the current Child Support Scheme, average weekly earnings trend figures published by the Australian Statistician are used for child support payments. However, the Australian Bureau of Statistics has suspended the publication of these trend estimates due to the turbulent effects of COVID-19 on the labour market. Thus, the Bill proposes to provide an alternative means of assessing weekly earnings by allowing the Minister to determine average weekly earnings trend figures for the purposes of child support assessment.  

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Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Coronavirus and Other Measures) Bill 2020 (Cth) and explanatory materials available from TimeBase’s LawOne Service

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