Expert Opinion Panel
Jason Bryce – Business & Finance Specialist
‘Blame, Shame and Punishment’
The Big Six Centrelink 2018 changes every single mum needs to understand
Single mums face a crackdown on benefits in 2018 and thousands of struggling families will have to survive on less cash next year. And some mums will face the very real prospect of jail for some fairly common mistakes.
By Jason Bryce | 17 December 2017
Some mums will face the very real prospect…
…of jail for some fairly common mistakes
Malcolm Turnbull has targeted single parents for budget savings and many of the cutbacks come into force in 2018. In short, Parenting Payment and Newstart will be harder to get, Pensioner Education Supplement cuts will make study less viable and the risk of running up a debt to Centrelink is increasing.
1) Will you get ‘dobbed in’ this year?
“We are putting more effort into cracking down on welfare fraud than ever before,” said the Minister for Human Services Alan Tudge.
The vast majority of so-called ‘welfare cheats’ who get dobbed in (mostly by family and friends) are single mothers
In the last financial year, Centrelink received 108,000 ‘tip-offs’ about possible welfare cheats, up ten per cent on the previous year. From that information and subsequent investigations, the government generated $40 million in debts and prosecuted 118 people for serious fraud.
“Tip offs have become a very important source of information,” said Alan Tudge.
Dr Cassandra Goldie from ACOSS.
Not everyone is impressed by the tough new approach.
“The government is singling out single parents, the vast majority of whom are women, as being unreliable and untrustworthy,” said Dr Cassandra Goldie from the Australian Council for Social Services.
And Terese Edwards from the National Council of Single Mothers and their Children agrees
“The tempting idea of a government ‘welfare crackdown’ does have some community appeal but that is really starting to fade,” said Terese.
2) You need a referee to verify your relationship status
Centrelink Third Party Verification. Sometime after 1 January 2018, existing single mums on Parenting Payment will get a letter, probably in their MyGov inbox, but possibly also in their actual letterbox, asking them to find an independent person to verify their single relationship status. This is called ‘third party verification.’
That means you need to find someone who is not related to you to sign a government form declaring that you are really single and not part of a couple. That person faces up to 12 months jail if they make a false declaration.
This new rule will immediately apply to new claimants for Parenting Payment Single from 20 September 2018.
“You need to get an independent person to confirm your relationship status so start thinking about who you may ask now,” advises Centrelink CEO Hank Jongen.
Single mums will probably already be aware that the Parenting Payment application forms already ask for referees that Centrelink can contact, so this new rule seems to be doubling up.
“We have no sense or reason as to why the new ‘third party verification” is necessary,” said Terese Edwards.
The assumption that claimants cannot be trusted – conveys a toxic message about the character of women who are in receipt of income support
“It does cast assertions that claimants cannot be trusted, and this conveys a toxic message about the character of women who are in receipt of income support
“It’s foreseeable that a woman would need to keep the third party informed of their personal relationships and they will need to say, ‘I’ve started dating again, we have progressed to spending some evenings together and just want you to know that we are not breaking any DHS guidelines!'”
Dr Cassandra Goldie says this new rule is “unacceptable.”
“It’s intrusive, offensive and demeaning, it is a policy which says single parents uniquely can’t be trusted to tell the truth to government agencies,” said Cassandra. “What about business people claiming business expenses? What about property owners claiming tax deductions? Will they need to get a third party to vouch for their claims?”
3) Big cuts to Pensioner Education Supplement
The government is making it more difficult for single parents to improve their situation in life by cutting PES rates for part-time study
The government tried to axe the Pensioner Education Supplement completely but failed to get this passed through the senate. But they have succeeded to cutting PES rates for part time students. That means that some single mums who are enrolled in university or TAFE may have to live on a lot less money from 2018.
Terese Edwards from the NCSMC
Currently, the Pension Education Supplement is $62.40 per fortnight or $1,622.40 p/a plus you get an annual Education Entry Payment of $208 to help pay for books and enrolment costs.In 2018, the entry payment is being pared back to $156 and the PES is being cut by 55 per cent for mums with a study load between 51 and 75 per cent of a full-time student. Those mums will get just $998.40 per year in total.
“Single mothers often have a lower study load,” said Terese Edwards “because of the time demands of sole-parenting. This move is a retrograde one and we are wholly opposed to it.”
And new research indicates it could actually hurt the children of single mothers as well. This week the education minister Simon Birmingham labelled new results from Australia’s NAPLAN tests a “wake up call.”They show that students with educated parents are up to four years ahead of kids with parents with lower educational achievements. So cuts to PES, which support mums to get educated, are not going to assist kids do well at school either.
4) No Jab, No Pay rules extended to FTB Part A.From 1 July 2018
Family Tax Benefit Part A will be cut for families whose children who are not up to date with their needles
Family Tax Benefit Part A will be cut by up to $28 per fortnight for children who are not up to date with the immunisation schedule, making it financially beneficial to ignore the anti-vaxxer movement and get up to date with the jabs for your family budget.
5) Harder to apply for Centrelink payments
In 2018 a series of rule changes will make applying for payments harder and these changes may impact heavily on single mums leaving a relationship.
Take a few minutes to collect all your documents and tax info before bundling the kids in the car and running out the door…
Now you can start getting payments while Centrelink waits for you to provide information like your Tax File Number. That is going to change in 2018. In future, Centrelink won’t be paying out on any new applications before you have provided all the information they require and all their forms have been 100 per cent completed. So if you are rushing out of a bad relationship and hoping for help from Centrelink, take a few minutes to collect all your documents and tax info before bundling the kids in the car and running out the door.
6) Additional Newstart mutual obligation requirements
Newstart parents will be required to be away from their kids for longer
From 20 September 2018, single mums on Newstart who are aged between 30-49 years will face activity requirements of 50 hours per fortnight, up from 30 hours now. That means 25 hours of work-for-dole or other approved ‘work-like activity’ per week just to collect Newstart.
There is some good news for mums looking for work
From 1 July 2018, the government is providing an extra $263 million to Jobactive providers under the ParentsNext Program to help parents prepare for work.
But overall,these 2018 Centrelink changes mean won’t make life easier for single mothers who have had to endure a lot of cuts from both Labor and Liberal governments in the last few years.
Dr Cassandra Goldie has no doubts about the reasons why.
“This is about blame, shame and punishment,” said Cassandra, “And it has to stop.”
“Almost forty per cent of children in single parent households now live below the relative poverty line…Instead of designing more ways to undermine and demean single parents, the government should asking what can be done to support them to secure decent employment, and balancing their caring responsibilities.”
Business & Finance Journalist
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Jason is a business and finance journalist with 20 years experience, and is also a member of the SingleMum.com.au Expert Opinion Panel. He has a regular weekly column in the Sunday Mail (Brisbane) and writes regularly for the Business Daily section of the Herald Sun in Melbourne and many other newspapers and magazines.
Keep up to date with the latest Centrelink news and information at Jason’s Facebook page here
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