Major changes to Centrelink payments announced

People living in NSW and the ACT will no longer automatically receive COVID-19 Disaster Payments, Services Australia has announced.

As promised, the federal agency ceased making automatic payments as both jurisdictions reached the 70 per cent vaccination target.

Recipients are now required to apply each week to claim the $750 payments.

“These COVID disaster payments, these business support payments have been emergency payments and we can’t continue them forever,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said in late September.

“Nor can we continue lockdowns forever. If you look abroad, the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States – countries are starting to live with COVID.”

Up until Friday, there were around 1.7 million people from NSW, the ACT and Victoria claiming the payments, but the federal government assures recipients the rug won’t be completely pulled from under them.

“People whose income is still affected may still be eligible for the COVID-19 Disaster Payment,” said government services minister Linda Reynolds.

“Claiming online, through myGov, remains the quickest and easiest way to claim – more than 90 per cent of claims are made online and some claims are processed within hours.”

Read: How are Centrelink’s COVID support payments assessed?

According to a Yahoo Finance report, those living in Greater Sydney and NSW received their last automatic payment last week and will now be required to make manual claims.

Inner-Sydney residents received their final automatic payment on 7 October and can manually claim from 14 October, with those receiving top-up payments able to claim from 18 October.

The last eligible period for automatic payments for ACT recipients was 1-7 October, for people in Greater Sydney and NSW 3-9 October and for people in Sydney 7-11 October.

Those receiving the top-up payments will have their last relevant period from 5-11 October.

People living in lockdown regions defined as COVID-19 hotspots can claim $450 if they have lost between eight and 20 hours of work a week. Those who have lost more than 20 hours can claim $750.

Read: Disaster payments to be scaled back as vaccination rates rise

However, payments will reduce further once 80 per cent of the people living in those jurisdictions are fully vaccinated as per the government target.

NSW should hit this target around 20 October, while the ACT is expected to hit it around 19 October. Victoria should hit 70 per cent fully vaccinated around 24 October, and 80 per cent around 6 November.

The first week after the targets are hit, the payment will be reduced to a flat rate of $450 for those who’ve lost more than eight hours of work and COVID-19 top-up payments will be halved from $200 to $100.

In the second week, this will fall to $320, with the payments phased out entirely the ensuing week.

The Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) says ending the payments entirely could force tens of thousands into poverty.

Read: COVID driving more older Australians into poverty

“Cutting off disaster support will see many of the 1.7 million people currently receiving disaster payments in NSW, ACT and Victoria end up on the grossly inadequate JobSeeker payment of $45 a day, which is less than half the $750 per week Covid Disaster Payment,” said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

“It will leave others with no income at all, including people on temporary visas who are ineligible for JobSeeker and other income support.

“Snap decisions like this hurt people on lowest incomes. People won’t be able to pay their rent, afford food and cover the cost of other essentials. The mental health consequences are serious.”

Do you think the payments should end completely, or should they be available on a needs basis? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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