Youth Allowance’s Strict Eligibility Criteria Is Hurting Young People

People are demanding Centrelink reduces the age of independence to 18-years-old.

Youth Allowance

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Over 10,000 people have called on the House of Reps to lower Youth Allowance’s age of eligibility down to 18. Currently, only 22-year-olds students and apprentices are considered old enough to receive the Centrelink payment as an independent adult.

The youth-specific financial aid is assessed by income and assets, as well as determining if a recipient is ‘independent’, or ‘dependent’ on their family.

“Young Australians can drink, smoke and drive at the age of 18 but are not considered independent,” a petition this month read.

Anyone younger than 22 has their parent or guardian’s financial situation cross-referenced with their application, which can affect their eligibility even if they fit the bill on paper.

“We’ve got to say for most people who are under 22 years of age, they are dependent on their parents,” Financial Information Service Office Justin Bott summarised in an interview last year.

“Everybody at 22 and above is independent, so we don’t look at the parental income for anybody who’s 22 or older.”

So say you’re 19, living out of home while studying, working to make ends meet, and taking care of yourself in all financial regards — if Centrelink determines that your folks earn more than a certain amount, you’re still considered ‘dependent’ in the agency’s eyes.

If this is the case, they dock the amount you’re eligible for even if your caregivers don’t pay your bills, rent, or basic necessities. For every dollar over the threshold that parents meet, 20c is taken off from Youth Allowance.

The definition of independence is far too rigid and downright stupid…

This proves an issue for tertiary students, who can’t always balance their studies with work when penalty rates have been axed, and industries continue to be choked by on-and-off lockdowns.

“The definition of independence is far too rigid and downright stupid,” 22-year-old Lior Kalisse told Junkee. “For those of us in insecure work, the gig economy, being able to work continuously for 30 plus hours per week over 18 months is a fantasy.”

This was his reality after working part-time and studying full-time for nearly three years, at the time of applying for Youth Allowance two years ago.

Kalisse found himself unemployed after returning from a community summer camp, where he had volunteered. He told Junkee he was rejected for Youth Allowance because he hadn’t worked the required hours a week while at university, and was tested against his parents’ income.

“At the time, I had been fully independent from my parents for a while, and had managed to support myself despite not satisfying Centrelink’s arbitrary threshold of independence.”

“Those [whose parents] can’t support [them], their children’s applications for the payment still go through. Those who won’t is a trickier battle,” he said. “I’ve seen people be rejected even with parental acknowledgements of independence.”

Kalisse said working more hours was not an option in his wildest dreams: “the trap there, is to have worked full-time I would have had to study part-time,” he said.

“Once you study part-time, Centrelink no longer recognises your status as a student for the purposes of payments. Only a full course load is recognised.”

“There are circumstances where parental income means the student is not eligible to receive Youth Allowance,” the University of Sydney Student Representative Council’s casework team told Junkee.

“They are still deemed dependent, irrespective of whether their parents contribute financially, unless they fit one of the criteria,” they said.

These include “achieving independence through hours worked, relationships, or circumstances where a student can evidence that it is ‘unreasonable to live at home’”.

Alternatively, they could pick fruit or do farm work as General Manager of Services Australia Hank Jongen brazenly told Sunrise last month.

“I get there needs to be a line in the sand for the sake of administrative clarity but the boundaries as they exist are not reflective of the reality for thousands of young Australians,” Kalisse said.

“As it stands, the age of independence staying at 22 would represent a deliberate choice by the Government to leave young Australians in poverty.”