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NSW bushfires put Newstart recipients’ income at risk

Will Newstart recipients be forced to attend their mutual obligations? Source: Getty
Will Newstart recipients be forced to attend their mutual obligations? Source: Getty

Newstart recipients affected by the bushfire activity in NSW and Queensland have been left wondering whether they’ll be exempted from ‘mutual obligation’ requirements - that is, the requirements that their income support payments depend on.

“Will people affected by bushfire activity in NSW & QLD be exempted from mutual obligation requirements? Does Centrelink have a position on this in legislation?” The Australian Unemployment Union tweeted late last night.

In order to receive welfare payments, recipients must abide by mutual obligations, which include attending appointments with job providers to prove they are still actively seeking work.

In the past, Centrelink has suspended payments for failure to meet mutual obligations, despite recipients informing Centrelink they couldn’t attend appointments.

Earlier this year, victims of the Townsville floods were in fact quarantined from Centrelink’s welfare debt compliance activities in the aftermath of the disaster.

But, The Guardian later revealed welfare recipients in flood-affected areas were still issued robo-debts.

A lawyer from the Townsville Community Legal Service said he’d seen an increase in clients getting advice on robodebts in the weeks following the floods.

“You’ve got people who might have lost their homes or lost their belongings or lost their jobs as a result of the floods, they’re still dealing with all of that. They’re also dealing with the robo-debt issue as well,” he said.

Government assistance is available for Newstart recipients

While there’s no firm comment on whether Newstart recipients will be exempt from their mutual obligations at this stage, Centrelink will be providing emergency funds to those in affected areas.

Assistance is available to anyone who can show they have experienced a loss of income, or have been adversely affected as a direct result of the NSW bushfires in August, September, October and November 2019.

There are two forms of emergency assistance available to Australians: Disaster Recovery Allowance and Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment.

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