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In Australia, the Department of Human Services (DHS), with its Centrelink branch, is in charge of payments to support families. One of those payments is the family tax benefit. It's actually part of the taxation system, but most families choose to have the benefits paid to them fortnightly, in advance. DHS general manager Hank Jongen explains that the first thing to know about the family tax benefit is that it's based on income.
"It is subject to an income test. And the amount of income that affects payments really depends of the nature of the family. How many children, the age of those children, etc."
The amount you receive will depend of the amount you earn.
In Australia, the Department of Human Services (DHS), with its Centrelink branch, is in charge of payments to support families. One of those payments is the family tax benefit.
The more in need you are the more help you'll receive. There are two types of family tax benefit, Part A and B.
"Family tax benefit part A is a payment that's aimed at helping specifically with the cost of raising children. In other words, it's payment per child and it's based on a family's income. Linked to that is family tax benefit B. It's primarily for single-parent families or two-parent families where one parent has a low income or is not in paid employment. In other words, that's the distinction between the two payments, and in many instances family will get both payments."
Hank Jongen says the easiest way to figure out your eligibility is to visit the DHS website at humanservices.gov.au. Once you're there you can lodge your application online.
Most families are eligible for a payment of Part A, but Part B is reserved for low income families.
"In order to receive family tax benefits, you do need to lodge an application. The good news is that that application can be lodged online. And in fact, if you're expecting a child, you can start the process a couple of weeks before the birth of the child."
All the mechanisms are also in place in hospitals to help new parents lodge a claim. Social workers can answer questions and help you get the documentation you need for your claim, like a birth certificate. Since family benefit payments are based on projected income, it's very important to keep your information up-to-date.
"At the end of each financial year, families need to either lodge their tax return or tell us that they don't need to do a tax return. And that's so we can reconcile, or in other words we can look at how much a family has been paid against what they're eligible for based on their taxable income and we can then adjust. If they've received too much, we adjust the debt, if they didn't get enough we can top it up."
On top of the fortnightly payments, some families receive a supplement at the end of the financial year. But the government recently restricted these supplements.
Starting from July 1, no new family will get the single income family supplement, which can be up to three hundred dollars. The families already receiving this supplement will keep it, as long as they remain eligible. They may lose the payments if they leave Australia for more than six weeks or have too high an income.
To keep up with those changes, Hank Jongen says that you have to read all the letters you get from the DHS and Centrelink.
"We write to people on a regular basis to let them know about any changes that might apply in relation to their payments. We often write towards the end of each financial year to remind people to update the income details that they've provided us with so that we can correctly assess their family tax benefit. From time to time we might also write to people to query the amount of income they have provided us with and to confirm whether or not that information is accurate."
If it all seems a bit complicated, especially in a language that's not your first, the DHS provide translation services in over two hundred languages.
"Letters that we send out do provide details of translation services. We offer a range of services to help people to understand what's in those letters."
The DHS provides translation services in over two hundred languages and also has multilingual staff all over the country that can help you in your language.
"I think it's fair to say that the staffs in our face-to-face services reflect the community that they operate in. For example in Western Sydney, we have a lot of staff with South East Asian background, Chinese and of course people with Arabic background, which means that we are geared to help people which face language difficulties."
To get more information on the family tax benefit, to lodge a claim and to keep up-to-date with the latest changes, visit the Department of Human Services' website.