Settlement Guide

Settlement Guide: Unemployment support in Australia explained

Source: Getty Images

The Australian unemployment rate continues at 5.7 per cent for the ninth consecutive month, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ February 2017 data. There is support available for those who are looking for work.

Jobseekers can access the Australian government’s social security system when faced with financial hardship. Newstart Allowance, the main unemployment benefit caters for people of working age. President of the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union Owen Bennett explains.

To receive Newstsrat you have to prove that you are looking for full time work and you have to attend appointments with your job agency and fulfil other mutual obligation requirements.

Jobseekers are placed into one of four assistance streams based on their ability to find work. For example, stream 1 jobseekers are considered ‘work ready’ whilst those in stream 4 are deemed to have severe barriers to employment. A single person with no children on Newstart can receive up to $528.70 per fortnight. An unemployed couple, on the other hand, receives $477.40 each per fortnight. These rates are revised annually on 20 March and 20 September.

“Once you have submitted your claim for Newstart, the waiting period can be anywhere between 2 weeks to 2 months. It really depends on Centrelink.”

You can earn up to $104 before tax each fortnight and still receive Newstart. Your payment is reduced by 50 cents per dollar if you earn between $104 to $254 per fortnight. The reduction rate is $75 plus 60 cents for each dollar over $254. 

“You can be working and also be on Newstart. There’s a lot of people who are underemployed and working one shift a week who are also receiving Newstart but they’re getting what you call a ‘partial payment’. If you earn a certain amount a week, then money gets taken out so you’ll get a reduced rate of Newstart but you’re still entitled to getting a Newstart payment.”

Australian residents who’ve lived in the country for at least two-years are eligible to receive Newstart.

Those arriving as part of a refugee or humanitarian program may be exempt from the 104 week waiting period. Recipients need to meet the income and assets tests as well as the Mutual Obligation Requirements.

“Work for the Dole is one of those Mutual Obligation Requirements that you’re required to attend. You can also satisfy the Mutual Obligation Requirements through other means such as voluntary work, or part time study or literacy and numeracy courses so Work for the Dole is just one of the many different ways you can satisfy your Mutual Obligation Requirements of receiving Newstart.”

Recipients are expected to participate in an approved activity or Work for the Dole programme for six months of the year to claim their payments under the Mutual Obligation Requirements.

Work for the Dole is designed to upskill jobseekers, provide work experiences and enable them to contribute to the community.

Job seekers must also negotiate and follow a Job Plan with their employment services provider.  

“It’s meant to be a negotiation between you and your job agent just to make it very clear what you’re required to do. You’re meant to sign that job plan. It’s meant to be signed and agreed upon by the second appointment. So how it works is when you have your first appointment with your job agency that would be the first time you negotiate your job plan and they would say this is what we propose to be your job plan. Then as an unemployed worker, someone on Newstart, you then look over that job plan and you decide whether you think this is acceptable or not.”

Owen Bennett recommends job seekers do their homework to know their rights before finalising the Mutual Obligation Requirements or Job Plan.

“As an unemployed person you have the right to take that job plan home, you have the right to look it over it. And then it’s at your second appointment you’re required to agree to it and on that job plan, you can make notes on that job plan, crossing things out and putting what you think is fair on the job plan, and that’s part of the negotiation.”

Failing to meet the Mutual Obligation Requirements or not turn up to appointments with your employment services provider may lead to serious consequences.

“There is suspension of your Newstart - that's the lowest level of penalty which means your Newstart will be suspended. Once you reengage with your job agency. Then you get full back pay. You’re back on the payment again. There are other penalties which are much more serious penalties which are called financial penalties. That's when you lose money. You get money deducted from your Newstart. A financial penalty usually starts as a suspension penalty and then it will get escalated into a financial penalty if the unemployed person doesn't provide a reasonable excuse for whatever compliance issue it was.”

Other types of unemployment benefit include Youth Allowance for full-time jobseekers between age 16 to 21 and the Disability Support Pension for people between 16 years of age to pension age who are unable to work due to a physical, intellectual or psychiatric condition.

For more information on income support, visit the Department of Human Services website.  If you need language support, you can ring the department’s Multilingual Phone Service on 131 202 between 8am to 5pm during the week to speak with a bilingual service officer.