Government looks to reduce payment suspensions for welfare recipients
4 November 2020 at 5:26 pm
Advocates say the move will lessen recipient anxiety and could halve the number of suspensions
People on income support who accidentally breach their welfare requirements will be given extra time to fix the issue before having their payment suspended, after the federal government agreed to make changes to the compliance system.
This decision has been welcomed by welfare groups, who were concerned by the large number of payment suspensions being handed out to people on Jobseeker, Youth Allowance and Parenting Payments.
In 2018-19, the government’s Targeted Compliance Framework saw more than 2 million payment suspensions given for breaches such as failing to attend a job provider meeting or not reporting job applications quickly enough.
The Australian Council of Social Service said many of these breaches occurred because people were not aware of their requirements or had a good reason for not meeting them.
While payments were often quickly restored after the person contacted their employment service provider to explain what happened, ACOSS said there were still many cases of payments being delayed or recipients feeling distressed.
But this is set to change from 7 December, when recipients will be given two business days to rectify the issue – such as by rescheduling a missed meeting – before payments are suspended.
ACOSS principal advisor Dr Peter Davidson told Pro Bono News that he believed this change could halve the number of payment suspensions and reduce anxiety for people on welfare.
“[We have] argued for some time that people should be given at least a few days’ grace after not attending a meeting or meeting a job search requirement before their next payment is suspended,” Davidson said.
“This gives people time to make contact and fix the problem without the immediate threat of a delay in their payments hanging over their head.
‘’Serious problems with the compliance system remain, including the automation of suspensions, but this is a positive first step that’s likely to reduce the number of suspensions by half and ease anxiety for many people.”
The Australian Unemployed Workers Union (AUWU) has also been campaigning on this issue and is pleased by the change.
AUWU spokesperson Kristin O’Connell told Pro Bono News while this might seem minor, it would make a big difference to the wellbeing of welfare recipients.
“People who have woken up in the morning without their payment experience extreme distress, and these two extra days will mean literally hundreds of thousands of people will have the ability to resolve the problem before that happens,” O’Connell said.
“It will give people a lot of relief and breathing room if they, for example, have an emergency and [can’t] go to an appointment or make a simple mistake like getting the date wrong.”
O’Connell said the AUWU would like to see privatised job agencies and the entire Targeted Compliance Framework abolished.
She said this should be replaced with an optional public sector employment services provider that responds to the needs of jobseekers.
“We know that lots of people on income support want help with things like updating their resume, doing job searches, and having training and support to help them be better equipped to find work,” she said.
“And so we would like to see the government provide that kind of support through a publicly-run employment services system that is optional.”