What’s Happening When? December 2014

adminSocial security rights review

A number of changes to social security and family assistance law have occurred.  The first four items listed have been legislated and/or implemented.

1. Cancellation of welfare payments on national security grounds

The Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Act 2014 includes a measure giving the Attorney-General discretion to bar a person from receiving social security and family assistance payments indefinitely.  The Attorney-General may exercise this discretion if a person’s passport has been cancelled or refused, or their visa cancelled, on national security grounds.

2. Some social security budget measures pass

The Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (2014 Budget Measures No. 6) Act 2014 enacts a range of spending measures, originally contained in two budget bills, including:

  • rename the Clean Energy Supplement as the Energy Supplement and cease indexation;
  • pause indexation of the asset value limits for allowances, student payments and parenting payment single for 2 years from 1 July 2015;
  • pause indexation of the asset test free area for pensions for 3 years from 1 July 2017;
  • review Disability Support Pension recipients under 35 under the current impairment tables and apply program of support requirements;
  • limit overseas portability of student payments;
  • limit overseas portability of the Disability Support Pension in most cases to 28 days in a 12 month period;
  • include untaxed superannuation income in the income test for the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card, and increase overseas portability of the card from 6 to 19 weeks (from 1 January 2015);
  • remove relocation assistance for students relocating within and between major cities (from 1 January 2015); and
  • limit the family tax benefit large family supplement to families with 4 or more children; remove the higher income free area based on the second and subsequent child; reduce the primary income earner income limit for family tax benefit part B from $150,000 to $100,000.

3.  International social security agreement between Australia and India

Australia and India have entered into an agreement in relation to social security.  Among other things, this will provide for former Australian residents living in India to claim the Australian age

4. Changes to job seeker compliance rules

The Social Security Legislation Amendment (Strengthening the Job Seeker Compliance Framework) Bill 2014 amends the current compliance framework by extending suspension of payments for failure to attend an appointment without a reasonable excuse until the person attends a rescheduled appointment, removing appeal rights in relation to suspension decisions, giving Centrelink a discretion to withhold a person’s full payment during a suspension period and creating a new penalty for non-attendance at appointments.

The government has withdrawn two further proposals:

– an increase in the number of job applications expected from job seekers to 40 per month; and

– a transfer of certain decisions in relation to compliance penalties from Centrelink officers to employment services providers (although providers now make new appointments after a job seeker misses an appointment).

Proposed changes including bills before Parliament

The following bills were before the Parliament at the time of writing and it is unknown whether they will pass:

Budget measures related to social security

The changes to social security law proposed by the government in the May budget were originally contained in two main bills, the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (2014 Budget Measures No. 1) Bill 2014 and Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (2014 Budget Measures No. 2) Bill 2014.  As a result of opposition in the Senate, the government reintroduced these measures split between four bills: the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Seniors Supplement Cessation) Bill 2014, the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (2014 Budget Measures No. 4) Bill 2014, Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (2014 Budget Measures No. 5) Bill 2014 and Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (2014 Budget Measures No. 6) Bill 2014.  The main measures in the original bills are unchanged in substance.  The Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (2014 Budget Measures No. 6) Bill 2014 has now passed the Parliament (see above), but not the other three bills.  The measures in these bills include: abolition of the seniors supplement, freezing of income free areas, changes to indexation arrangements, an increase in the age pension age to 70 and a six month waiting period for job seekers under 30.

Interest charges for certain student payment debts and introduction of student loans

The Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Student Measures) Bill 2014 amends social security law to allow for interest charges to be applied to certain debts incurred by recipients of student payments.  Interest charges may be applied where the debtor does not have, or is not keeping to, an acceptable repayment arrangements.  Although there is an existing legislative framework for applying interest charges, it has not ever been used.

The bill would also abolish the existing student startup scholarships, automatically paid to recipients of student payments to help with the up-front costs of study, and replace them with a loan.  There are no grandfathering provisions for existing students.  Students in higher education and receiving student payments are eligible to apply twice yearly for loans of $1025 to assist with the costs of study.  Repayment is contingent on income and on the same basis as repayment of loans under the Higher Education Loan Program.

Summary provided by the Welfare Rights Centre, Sydney