The federal government has expanded eligibility access to social security payments in response to the economic fallout from COVID-19.
Any person, whether a sole trader, casual, full-time or contract worker will become immediately eligible for payments should that meet the relevant income tests.
This includes an additional $550 per fortnight Coronavirus supplement payment.
The Coronavirus supplement payment is paid in full regardless of income or asset levels. An individual, who is a citizen or permanent resident, just needs to qualify for a payment to receive the full $550.
In response to the economic downturn caused by COVID-19, the federal government has made amendments to current social security rules for the six-month period 27 April 2020 to 27 October 2020.
Essentially, sole traders and self-employed persons now become immediately eligible to receive benefit payments should their income go below certain thresholds for any particular fortnight. Waiting periods, liquid asset tests and mutual obligation requirements (ie looking for a new job) have been substantially relaxed or removed.
Individuals who are casual workers or self-employed are generally required to apply to Services Australia (also known as Centrelink) for a JobSeeker payment if over 22 years of age or a Youth Allowance payment if under 22.
Individuals registering are required to meet residency tests.
New applicants will be able to verify their identity via a phone call with a relevant support officer. Generally, the identity and application will be linked to an individual’s MyGov account.
On the initial application, an individual will need to make declarations. This will assist the department with ensuring your eligibility is legitimate, and the correct entitlements are being received. The declarations required are:
- The individual has been made redundant, or had their hours reduced as a result of the economic downturn due to Coronavirus.
- The individual is not receiving employer entitlements (annual/sick leave) or income protection insurance. If they are, you may need to specify an end date so there is no overlap.
- Sole traders and self-employed need to declare that their business has been suspended or had turnover reduced significantly.
- People who are paying rent can declare the amount of rent they pay, which determines their eligibility for rent assistance.
Unlike usual applications for benefit payments, individuals will not be required to provide an employment separation certificate for each employer over the past 12 months. Also, individuals will not be required to provide proof of rental arrangements or make verifications of their relationship status.
Individuals seeking to claim JobSeeker allowance will not be required to attend an employment meeting prior to receiving payments.
Payments and eligibility criteria
Under the new rules, if an individual is eligible to receive any amount of JobSeeker or Youth Allowance, they will receive the entire Coronavirus supplement payment of $550 per fortnight.
Usually, eligibility for JobSeeker or Youth Allowance is based on both an asset test and income test. However, for the purposes of receiving benefits from the economic downturn because of COVID-19, asset tests have been removed. This also includes waiving the Liquid asset test waiting period and Seasonal work preclusion period.
Also, the ordinary waiting period of one week has been waived.
The income cut off points for eligibility for JobSeeker are the following amounts. Please note – the income cut off point is the amount per fortnight.
Income cut off point
Single with no children
Single and principal carer of a dependent child
Single with a dependent child, but not principal carer
Partnered, and partner receives a pension
Partnered, and partner does not receive a pension
Important note for partnered individuals: The partnered payment of $510.80 (see below) is reduced where the claimant’s partner earns more than $993.50.
There has been recent intervention by announcement that an individual will receive JobSeeker and Coronavirus Supplement if their partner earns less than $3,068 per fortnight ($79,768 annually). This amount is up from $1,844.83 per fortnight.
It is assumed that the reduction in JobSeeker payment will continue to commence for partner’s income above $993.50 per fortnight. For amounts above this amount, the reduction should change from 60 cents per dollar over this amount down to 24 cents per dollar.
For sole traders and self-employed individuals, “income” is defined in the Social Security Act to be the amounts received before tax or any other deductions. However, as waiting periods do not apply for the six-month period, a self-employed individual only needs to be under the income cut off point once to be eligible for a payment.
Mutual obligation requirements
Generally, individuals receiving JobSeeker are required to meet mutual obligation requirements, commonly known as the “Activity test”. For example, applying for a number of jobs each fortnight to get the benefit payment.
An exemption from mutual obligation requirements apply for individuals over the next six months where the individual:
- has caring responsibilities, or
- is required to self-isolate
without the need to supply medical evidence.
Individuals may undertake training or volunteer work within their community to meet their mutual obligation requirements.
Sole traders automatically meet mutual obligation requirements by continuing to develop and sustain their business.
Maximum fortnightly payments for JobSeeker
Maximum fortnightly payment
Single, no children
Single, with dependent children
However, as noted above, an individual is required to only qualify for the payment to receive the full Coronavirus supplement payment of $550. Also, qualifying for the payment also allows individuals access to other benefits such as Energy Supplement or Rent Assistance.