Carers Australia recognises the additional finance strain the ongoing pandemic places on many unpaid carers. COVID-19 has impacted carers’ income, financial support and the costs associated with looking after the person they care for. The below information aims to provide some clarification about the financial supports available to carers.
Income Support Payments
The Government has provided two lump sum payments of $750 to recipients of income support pension payments (the Carer Payment, Disability Support Pension and Aged Pension), and those who are in receipt of the Carer Allowance or have a Pensioner Concession Card, Commonwealth Seniors Health Card or Veteran Gold Card. These payments are on top of the normal payments, including the annual Carer Supplement of $600 for each eligible person being cared for.
On 22 March, the Government also announced the introduction of the fortnightly Coronavirus Supplement, which was added to the normal payments of people in receipt of the JobSeeker Payment (Newstart), the Parenting Payment, Youth Allowance for job seekers, Youth Allowance for students, Austudy, ABSTUDY, Farm Household Allowance and Special Benefit. The Supplement has been set at $550 per fortnight between 31 March until 25 September. However, from 25 September to 31 December it will be reduced to $250 per fortnight.
In addition, people on JobSeeker and the Youth Allowance for jobseekers can earn $300 without it affecting their payments. If you earn above $300 per fortnight, your payment reduces by 60 cents for each dollar over this amount.
You should also be aware that a one-off Crisis Payment, which is equal to one week’s JobSeeker Payment or Youth Allowance for job seekers, is available for current recipients who are isolated at home due to COVID-19 and are in severe hardship.
Why aren’t carers eligible for the Coronavirus Supplement?
Unfortunately, carers have not been included on the Coronavirus Supplement as the Federal Government believes the current Carer Payment adequately supports carers.
Carers Australia advocated for the Government to extend the Coronavirus Supplement to those on the Carer Payment. You can read our Position Paper here and our media release here. We have also called for an additional support payment to be offered to carers beyond the two $750 payments.
Carers Australia is aware that many carers on the Carer Payment are considering applying for one of the other payments they may be eligible for, which attracts the Coronavirus Supplement.
We would urge caution in doing this. Many of these payments do not attract the same allowances attached to the Carer Payment. Going back onto the Carer Payment after the supplement expires may prove complex and time consuming.
You should also be aware that people on a Disability Support Pension (DSP) who switch to another payment may be particularly at risk of not meeting the eligibility requirements at a later date. The eligibility requirements for the Disability Support Pension have changed in recent years and those who have been on the DSP for some time may find that they are no longer eligible.
Jobseeker Mutual Obligation Requirements
Mutual Obligation Requirements are all the job seeking activities someone is required to perform in order to keep receiving the JobSeeker Payment (Newstart), Youth Allowance (other), Parenting Payment Single (when their youngest child turns six) and Special Benefit (Nominated Visa Holders).
Following the suspension of mutual obligation requirements due to COVID-19, the Government has announced that from 4th August people on JobSeeker will have to re-engage with Jobactive and undertake four job searches a month. Penalties will apply to anyone who refuses to take a job. A higher rate of job searches will be required after September. People in Victoria have had their mutual obligations suspended while Victoria is in a state of disaster.
For more information on what you can do to get a personal exemption from meeting the mutual obligation requirements beyond the general exemption, if you or the person you are caring for are impacted by the various social isolation requirements, click here.
Moving onto JobSeeker Payment
If you are considering moving onto the JobSeeker payment, you should contact Centrelink to find out what your waiting times will be and how long it will take Centrelink to process your application.
As part of the Coronavirus measures, the Government has waived the previous standard waiting time of four weeks from loss of employment. The Government also waived what is known as the Liquid Assets Waiting Period (LAWP), but is restoring it from 25 September 2020. Liquid assets are any funds readily available to you or your partner, including money your employer owes you. The LAWP applies if you have funds equal to or more than:
- $5,500 for a single person with no dependents
- $11,000 for people with partners, or who are single with dependents.
Waiting periods can vary from one week to 13 weeks depending how many liquid assets you have.
JobKeeper Payment Changes
The JobKeeper Payment will be extended to 28 March 2021, however, current rates will be reduced. Currently people on JobKeeeper receive $1,500 per fortnight. However, from 28 September 2020 to 3 January 2021:
- People working more than 20 hours a week will receive $1,200 per fortnight; and
- people working less than 20 hours a week will receive $750.
From 4 January 2021 to 28 March:
- People working more than 20 hours a week will receive $1,000 per fortnight
- People working less than 20 hours per week will receive $650 per fortnight
Carers on both Carer Payment and JobKeeper Payment
For a single person on Carer Payment, the income limit is $2,062.60 per fortnight, and for a couple combined it is $3,155.20 per fortnight. If a person exceeds the income limit for a period of 12 weeks their payment can be cancelled.
The single income limit ($2,062.60) is currently higher than the JobKeeper Payment ($1,500) and will be higher still when the JobKeeper payment reduces on 28 September and again on 4 January. So, if this was the only income a person on the Carer Payment was receiving, they would not lose their payment due to the additional JobKeeper funding. Only carers who have other income in addition to the JobKeeper Payment, which puts them over the income limit, will have their Carer Payment cancelled if this situation continues for 12 weeks.
Carer Payment recipients who are concerned about the impact JobKeeper will have on them should contact Services Australia to discuss their individual circumstances on 13 27 17. Alternatively a factsheet on the topic can be found here.
Recent changes to the Government’s Coronavirus financial assistance policies do not seem to have changed the capacity of affected individuals to access up to $10,000 of their superannuation in 2019-20 and a further $10,000 in 2020-21. Individuals will not need to pay tax on amounts released and the money they withdraw will not affect Centrelink or Veterans’ Affairs payments. To apply for early release, the Australian Tax Office website states you must meet one or more of the following:
- you’re unemployed
- you’re eligible for JobSeeker Payment, Youth Allowance for job seekers, Parenting Payment single or partnered, Special Benefit or Farm Household Allowance
- you became redundant on or after 1 January 2020
- your working hours reduced by 20% or more on or after 1 January 2020
- you’re a sole trader and you had to suspend your business, or your turnover has reduced by 20% or more.
Early release is not available to people on the Carer Payment, Disability Support Pension and the Aged Pension.
Carers Australia recommends that you speak to your Superannuation Fund or a financial advisor if you need further information regarding the impact of these drawdowns on your superannuation.
The Australian Energy Regulator has instructed that all energy companies and networks must:
- Offer all households who indicate they may be in financial stress a payment plan or hardship arrangement
- Not disconnect customers who may be in financial stress, without their agreement before 31 July 2020
- Defer referral of any customer to a debt collection agency for recovery actions or credit default listing until at least 31 July 2020.
They have created a full information page about support for households which can be found here.