Labor-era asylum seekers 'lose income support, face homelessness'

The tax will rake in US$250 to US$300 million per year. Source: AAP

The Refugee Council says thousands are at risk of homelessness as cases are ‘assessed’, with states shouldering the cost.

Around 1,000 asylum seekers who came to Australia by boat have now lost income support payments and access to torture counselling after the latest round of Home Affairs “assessments”, according to the Refugee Council.

The government has been gradually examining the cases of ‘illegal maritime arrivals’, who came under the previous Labor government, since it announced it would cut welfare payments for thousands of them in the 2017 Budget.

The companies that provide the support service report several hundred more had their final payments last week, and final meetings with caseworkers this week, bringing the total to 1,000 now without services.

Home Affairs is asking service providers to carry out assessments to determine if the roughly 12,000 asylum seekers still on the payments are sufficiently “vulnerable” to keep them.

The payment is worth around 89 percent of Newstart. Asylum seekers are those with pending refugee claims, and are therefore not eligible for conventional Centrelink payments.

The department claims it is only suspending payments to those with the capacity to support themselves.

But from interviews with asylum seeker support groups, the Refugee Council says it has found extensive evidence of homelessness among those who have lost income support.

“It's undeniable. We know of people who are already couch-surfing, people staying in parks, living in each other’s cars. It is, unfortunately, very much happening,” the council’s deputy director of policy Rebecca Eckard told SBS News.

“I was speaking with some groups earlier and they were really surprised about the need for food, that people were struggling to get enough to eat.”

Ms Eckard said one family told caseworkers in their final meeting this week that they had lost their property as they could no longer afford the rent.

“They said they had lost their rental property and were homeless, and the caseworkers could not do anything because homelessness is not sufficient, in terms of the assessment, is not sufficient to get someone on the [Status Resolution Support Service].”

A Home Affairs document used for applying for the payments reveals the assessment criteria.

Homelessness is not a qualifying factor. Instead, “vulnerability” is based on the age of the asylum seekers, ongoing mental or physical health problems, whether they are a victim of torture and whether they have experienced a crisis outside their control.

They must prove they have those circumstances, but also that they are “unable to support themselves”.

The asylum seekers are mostly on Bridging Visa E visas, which give them the right to work but not access to subsidised English lessons.

The Refugee Council released a report on Thursday, predicting the cost of asylum seeker services would only be shifted on to the states at a cost of between $80 sand $120 million annually. 

The council also estimates four in every five of the remaining SRSS recipients would be at risk of homelessness if they lose their payments.

SBS News has contacted the Home Affairs department for more information and is expecting a response, but did not receive one by time of publication.

In a Senate Estimates hearing in May this year, officials from Home Affairs were questioned on the planned “assessments”. They confirmed the decision was taken by the minister, Peter Dutton.

”The new design confirms that SRSS, the acronym, is not a social welfare program and that tiered services would be provided to address specifically the particular barriers that impede an individual's ability to achieve resolution of their status,” Malisa Golightly, head of the department’s immigration division, told the committee.

“Those people who are able to work and support themselves and their family will be the ones that will be reviewed first, and those people who are able to support themselves will be expected to do so.”

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