Politics

Everything You Need To Know About Centrelink’s New Coronavirus Changes

How can you get help from the government during the pandemic?

centrelink

This week thousands of Australians were faced with a grim new reality — one that saw them standing in queues outside of Centrelink for hours.

For many people it was their first time dealing with the shitshow that is our welfare system, and so far it hasn’t gone well.

With an understaffed Centrelink, the MyGov website crashing, last week’s changes to Newstart and a new coronavirus stimulus package, right now it’s harder than ever to figure out how to make a claim.

It’s confusing, it’s frustrating, and it’s going to take a long time — so strap yourself in, here’s what you need to do.

Here’s What Payment To Apply For

First things first — don’t bother looking for Newstart. It doesn’t exist anymore.

On Friday the Newstart Allowance was replaced by the Jobseeker Payment as our main income support payment.

There are different rates, but a single person on the Jobseeker Payment is eligible for $565.70 a fortnight. Once the coronavirus supplement comes into force on April 27 that will be bumped up an extra $550 a fortnight.

As part of Newstart being replaced, a bunch of payments are also being phased out — including the Sickness Allowance, which is closed to new entrants and will end in September.

When the changes were passed in 2018 it was designed to “simplify” things and maintain “incentives” for people to support themselves as much as possible.

That change may have come at the worst possible time — it went ahead despite organisations lobbying the government for a delay — but we’re stuck with it.

That transition, coupled with the huge increase in demand, has put added pressure on the system.

How Do I Apply?

If you’ve never received Centrelink before, you’ll need to set up an account.

You’ll need three identity documents — like a birth certificate, passport, driver licence, student ID card or tenancy agreement for Centrelink to validate.

Normally this has to be done in person, but now people are being asked to do this over the phone — essentially, Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said Centrelink will now “take your word for it” and validate your identity without actually seeing you.

Once Centrelink staff validates you over the phone you can get your Customer Reference Number which lets you register online through MyGov.

People can also lodge an ‘Intent To Claim’ on Centrelink which means you will be backpaid to that date, even if you finish your application another tine.

Dealing With The Wonderful World Of MyGov

On Monday, so many people tried log on to the MyGov website to access the Centrelink portal that those in charge thought it was a cyber attack.

Apparently everyone except those running the show were surprised at the sheer volume of people put out of work by the new restrictions, so that’s great.

Since Monday’s debacle they’ve upgraded their servers, so hopefully you’ll now be able to log on and ‘link’ your MyGov account to your Centrelink account.

From here, everyone’s circumstances will be a little different.

If your hours have been reduced you’ll need a letter from your employer. If you’ve lost your job you’ll still need to fill out an employment separation certificate until April 27, when they’re waiving that requirement.

You’ll need other documents too depending on your individual situation, but Centrelink will outline that for you as you complete your claim.

Once you’ve submitted your required documents (you also have two weeks to send in any supplementary documents) you can book a phone appointment. Now is not the time to ignore calls from random numbers.

Will My Claim Be Approved?

Obviously, every situation is different.

Australian citizens and residents between 22 and 66 are eligible for Jobseeker, but it’s still unclear whether international students and temporary visa holders are.

There is an income test, but the government has waived the assets test — so you don’t need to drain your savings before becoming eligible.

They’re also waiving the normal waiting periods.

When Your Claim Is Approved

Usually once claims are approved people are given requirements they must fulfil in order to actually get paid.

These mutual obligations — which usually include applying for up to 20 jobs a month — have been suspended until March 31.

It’s less than what many have hoped for but has still brought relief, considering their initial plan.

Last week the government announced it would only suspend obligations for those who were forced to self-isolate, and everyone else would have their obligations relaxed to four job applications a month.

But yesterday the government announced they would cancel all requirements, “until capacity can be restored to the MyGov website”. After March 31 the government will consider extending this if congestion continues.

To get started jump on the MyGo website here. Good luck.