New CTH Social Services Act Extends Some COVID-19 Measures
Tuesday 23 March 2021 @ 11.26 a.m. | Legal Research
The Social Services Legislation Amendment (Strengthening Income Support) Act 2021 (Cth) (‘the Act’) received assent on 22 March 2021. The purpose of the Act is to strengthen the national income support system through 5 major amendments to the Social Services Act 1991 (Cth) ('the Social Services Act'). In his Second Reading Speech, Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and Minister for Government Services, Mr Stuart Robert, stated:
"The pandemic caused a once-in-a-lifetime disruption to the labour market, and we have used our comprehensive welfare system to provide emergency support to Australians impacted by other crises, including through the coronavirus supplement and expanded access to JobSeeker payments and related payments."
Increasing working age payments
Schedule 1 Part 1 of the Act will increase the maximum basic rates of working age social security payments by $50 per fortnight. This increase will come into effect on 1 April 2021 which is intended to coincide with the cessation of the current social security COVID-19 supplements.
The following types of payments will be subject to the permanent $50 increase:
- JobSeeker payment
- Youth allowance and youth disability support pension
- Parenting payment
Recipients of partner allowance and widow allowance will receive the same increases to their rate of JobSeeker, before these payments cease on 1 January 2022.
Notably, not all social service payments are dictated by the Social Services Act. For instance, ABSTUDY living allowance payments are dictated by the ABSTUDY manual and special benefit payments are paid at a discretionary rate. The Explanatory Memorandum states that equivalent changes will be made with respect to both types of payment to implement the $50 increase.
These increases will flow through to the farm household allowance and various veterans’ student programs.
Qualification for youth allowance or JobSeeker payment - coronavirus
According to the Second Reading Speech, Schedule 1 Part 2 of the Act “extends to 30 June 2021 expanded access to the JobSeeker payment and youth allowance (other) for persons who find themselves having to self-isolate or care for someone who is self-isolating due to the pandemic.” Prior to the Act, this expanded access was due to cease operation on 1 April 2021.
Ordinary waiting periods
Schedule 1 Part 3 of the Act extends until 30 June 2021 the waiver of the ordinary waiting period for JobSeeker payment and youth allowance (other). Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, individuals claiming such payments were subject to a 1 week waiting period before their payments began. The Social Security Coronavirus Economic Response – 2020 Measures No. 16) Determination 2020 waived this waiting period, however, the Determination is set to cease effect on 31 March 2021. The Act extends this waiver by another 3 months.
Income free areas and taper rates
Schedule 1 Part 4 of the Act permanently increases the ordinary income-free area for the JobSeeker payment and youth allowance (other) to $150 per fortnight as of 1 April 2021.
When calculating the quantum of an individual’s social services payment, the recipient’s income which does not exceed the income-free area will be disregarded. On the other hand, if the recipient’s income exceeds the ordinary income-free area, the rate of payment is correspondingly lowered. The rate of payment is lowered according to taper rates. As stated in the Second Reading Speech, the purpose of the amendments to ordinary income-free areas and taper rates is to allow people to “keep more of what they earn as they reconnect with the labour market, and encourage recipients to take the first step into employment without impacting their payments.”
Schedule 1 Part 5 of Act will extend the portability period for certain age pensioners and recipients of the disability support pension (for severely disabled persons) unable to return to, or depart from, Australia within 26 weeks due to the impact of COVID-19 to 30 June 2021. As the Explanatory Memorandum notes, generally after 26 weeks overseas, the rate of and can be reduced. A person will also lose access to supplementary payments such as rent assistance. The Act will ensure that pension rates and relevant supplements are preserved when an individual cannot return to Australia because of the impact of COVID-19.
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Social Services Legislation Amendment (Strengthening Income Support) Act 2021 (Cth) available from TimeBase's LawOne Service