Mutual Obligation Requirements and exemptions for principal carers

Principal carers are only required to meet part time Mutual Obligation Requirements flexibility for employment and exemptions.

Principal carers are only required to meet part time Mutual Obligation Requirements. There are also additional exemptions for certain family situations and more flexibility in meeting these requirements through work.

Principal carer

A principal carer is someone who is responsible for the day to day care, welfare and development of a child under 16 years of age. Only one person at a time can be a principal carer of a child and this is generally the person who provides the greater amount of day to day care, such as a parent or guardian. If you and your partner provide equal levels of care, either of you may nominate as the principal carer.

Mutual Obligation Requirements

Principal carers are required to meet part time Mutual Obligation Requirements. There is also more flexibility about your requirements to look for work.

Part time requirements mean you need to look for suitable paid part time work of at least 30 hours per fortnight or undertake other approved activities.

Part time requirements apply to you if you are a principal carer and receive Newstart Allowance, Youth Allowance, Special Benefit or Parenting Payment. You will need to be registered with an Employment Services Provider and meet with them to negotiate a Job Plan.

If you are under 22 years of age and have not completed Year 12 or an equivalent qualification, you will need to undertake study or training for at least 30 hours per fortnight to receive Youth Allowance as a job seeker.

Job Plan

You are required to enter a Job Plan if asked to do so. This will set out the activities to help you find a job or develop your skills so you can find a job. It also sets out the assistance you will be offered. The plan is a legal document negotiated with your Employment Services Provider or us. It starts from the date you sign it.

Reporting your Mutual Obligation Requirements and income

You will need to regularly report to us your income or earnings and the efforts you make to meet your Mutual Obligation Requirements. This will usually occur fortnightly. You can report your income:

  • using your Centrelink online account, through myGov
  • using our Express Plus mobile app
  • using phone self service

If you are unable to use our self service facilities or attend a service centre, you may be able to fax, post or have someone else deal with us on your behalf. Contact us to check if you can do so.

It is important to tell us when your circumstances change as your payment may be affected.

You will need to tell us if you have met the conditions of your Job Plan on a regular basis, and separately meet with your Employment Services Provider to discuss your activities.

Approved activities

You may be able to do approved activities instead of looking for work. Your Employment Services Provider will need to approve these activities first and, if approved, you may not have to search for jobs, attend job interviews or appointments with your provider. You can still choose to participate voluntarily with jobactive.

Below are some circumstances that are likely to be approved as meeting your Mutual Obligation Requirements. Check with us to see if the activity can be approved for your circumstances.

Already employed

You do not have to look for work if you have ongoing paid work or are self employed for at least 30 hours per fortnight. Your income from employment must be no less than the Federal Minimum Wage, or relevant Award Wage. For more details visit Minimum wages on the Fair Work Australia website.

If your work is not ongoing or your hours vary each fortnight, you might not be able to include this in your Job Plan as your regular approved activity. However, any paid hours you work can count towards meeting your requirements. You should include this when you report your requirements. You will need to be registered and participating with an Employment Services Provider.

The number of job search contacts you need each fortnight depends on the hours you have already worked. If you regularly work:

  • between 1 and 10 hours in a fortnight, there will be no change to your job search/employer contact requirements
  • between 11 and 29 hours in a fortnight, your job search requirements will be halved
  • 30 hours or more in a fortnight, you will not have to look for work in that period. If this work becomes permanent or ongoing, you should talk to us about including this as an approved activity in your Job Plan

No suitable work

If you receive Newstart Allowance, we recognise your responsibilities as a principal carer. You do not have to accept an offer of work if the work is not suitable.

You do not have to accept a position or continue to work if:

  • appropriate child care is not available during work hours
  • the work involves unreasonably difficult travel from home to work
  • the most cost effective travel will exceed 10% of your gross wage
  • the employment does not make you at least $50 per fortnight better off when you take into account additional costs as a result of working

Breaks in employment

Having breaks in paid employment, such as paid or unpaid leave and annual Christmas shutdowns, could still mean you are meeting your requirements for a period of time.

If you receive leave entitlements, you may be considered to be meeting your requirements when you take leave from work, as long as your income from employment does not reduce during the break and your income support payment does not go up. This applies to any period of time during the year that you receive leave entitlements.

If you do not receive leave entitlements and, as a result, your income support payment goes up when you have time off work, you may not need to undertake additional activities as long as you return to your usual level of employment within weeks. You must tell us the reasons for the break to ensure your payments are not affected.

Holiday period

If your work closes down over the Christmas period and you have guaranteed employment in the new year, you will not have to do additional activities for up to 8 weeks. You need to let us know the first fortnight this occurs. We may ask for evidence of your ongoing employment.

Regardless of your circumstances, you will not be expected to meet any requirements during the 2 weeks that include the Christmas public holidays.

Studying or training

You may meet your Mutual Obligation Requirements if you are studying or training for at least 30 hours per fortnight.

You will need to provide us with your enrolment details for confirmation of your study and you will only be able to use this activity to meet your requirements for the duration of your course. During breaks in study of more than 3 weeks, such as the long end of semester holidays, you may need to look for work or do another approved activity to meet your requirements. This could mean looking for suitable temporary, part time or casual work that allows you to recommence study after the break.

Voluntary work

If you are a principal carer aged 55 or over, you may be able to do voluntary work as an approved activity. You will need to do at least 30 hours of voluntary work per fortnight and be connected to your Employment Services Provider. You will also be expected to accept suitable paid work if it arises.

If you are under 55, you may also be able to do voluntary work if it will help you to find paid work. You should talk to your Employment Services Provider if you would like to volunteer.

Combining activities

You can meet your Mutual Obligation Requirements by combining work and study. Your combined paid work and study must total at least 30 hours per fortnight. In addition, you may combine paid work and voluntary work if you are a principal carer who is aged 55 years or over.

The activities must be approved by us and included in your Job Plan. If you are younger than 55 years, let your Employment Services Provider know that you would like to do voluntary work. Only they can approve voluntary work, or a combination of voluntary work and other activities, if it will assist you in finding paid work.

You will also need to provide proof of your enrolment and employment for approval.

Other approved activities and program

If you are interested in joining activities such as Work for the Dole, Green Corps or the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme, talk to us or your provider about what is available. We can also refer you to other suitable activities.

If you don’t advise us of a change in circumstances or you don’t undertake your agreed activities, your payment may be affected.

Exemptions from Mutual Obligation Requirements

We can give you a temporary exemption from your Mutual Obligation Requirements if you are facing difficult or unusual circumstances. This means you will not have to do regular activities, look for work or have a Job Plan.

Talk to us if you are having difficulty meeting your requirements. We can help you find alternatives or grant you an exemption. We can also refer you to other services that may help.

Below are some circumstances that may qualify for a temporary exemption. Talk to us if any apply to you, or if you are having difficulty meeting your requirements for any reason. To avoid your payment being affected you must tell us as soon as possible if your circumstances change or you are experiencing difficulties.

Foster carer

If you are a registered and active foster carer, you may be exempt from your Mutual Obligation Requirements for up to 12 months at a time.

If you are a registered and active emergency and respite foster carer, but not a principal carer, you may be exempt from your Mutual Obligation Requirements for the duration of any foster child placement plus up to 12 weeks after the child has left your care while you are awaiting the placement of a new foster child. You will need to provide us with verification from the relevant state or territory authority or foster care organisation.

Home schooling and distance education

If you supervise your dependent child’s home primary schooling or distance education, you may be exempt from your Mutual Obligation Requirements for up to 12 months at a time. In some circumstances, you may continue to receive this exemption if your child is still completing secondary school through home schooling or distance education.

You need to provide proof of your registration for home schooling or enrolment in distance education. If you do not need to register for home schooling or are formally exempt due to your state or territory rules, you will need to provide evidence of your child’s ongoing home education. This includes work books, examination results or lesson plans.

Large families

If you have 4 or more dependent children who are in primary school, you may be exempt from your Mutual Obligation Requirements for up to 12 months at a time. In some circumstances, you may continue to be exempt while your children are in secondary school.

If any of your children are older than 16 years of age and receive Youth Allowance, contact us as this may affect your eligibility.

Kinship care

You may be exempt from your Mutual Obligation Requirements for up to 12 months at a time if you are caring for a child as a family or community member, but not a parent, under a:

  • Family Law Parenting Order, or
  • formal state or territory Protection Case Plan or Care Plan

You may be exempt for up to 16 weeks at a time if you are looking after a child under an informal arrangement that has the support of state or territory authorities.

You will need to provide us with proof of your care arrangements. Examples include the original or certified copies of the Order or Plan, and evidence of your relationship to the child.

Caring for a child with disability or medical condition

If you are the principal carer of a child who has ongoing disability or a medical condition, you may be exempt from your Mutual Obligation Requirements for up to 12 months at a time.

If you cannot receive Carer Payment or Carer Allowance for your child, you will need to provide evidence of your child’s condition and a report from either the school, or your child’s treating health professional. A treating professional is the doctor or specialist who treats your child. The evidence needs to show that your child’s condition affects your ability to work.

This exemption may also apply during the school holidays if you are caring for your child during the day.

If your child has a short term illness or medical condition, such as the flu or chickenpox, you will not be eligible to receive this particular exemption. However, if you provide us with medical evidence, you may be exempt under different rules.

Experiencing domestic violence or stress as a result of a relationship breakdown

If you are experiencing or have experienced domestic violence within the past 26 weeks, you may be exempt from your Mutual Obligation Requirements for up to 16 weeks at a time. This is regardless of whether you remain in the relationship.

If you have recently gone through a relationship breakdown and are experiencing high stress or family difficulty, you may also be eligible to receive an exemption for up to 16 weeks at a time.

A social worker can let you know about additional assistance and support, and whether you are eligible for any exemptions.

Other special or family circumstances

Other circumstances that may impact your ability to meet your Mutual Obligation Requirements could also include:

  • if you are caring for an adult family member who is frail, aged or ill
  • if you are caring for a child who is older than 6 years of age, but has not yet started school
  • your own temporary illness, disability or medical condition
  • if you are experiencing a major personal crisis or disruption such as a fire, flood or car accident
  • the death of an immediate family member
  • approved cultural commitments, for example, Sorry Business for Indigenous Australians

School holidays

School holidays can be difficult when you are working or looking for work. While we cannot grant an exemption from your Mutual Obligation Requirements on the basis of a lack of child care for the school holidays, you do not have to accept job offers if:

  • you cannot find suitable child care that allows you to continue working
  • the cost of child care and other expenses from working would reduce your earnings to less than $50 a fortnight

A lack of suitable child care should not prevent you from looking for work and you may need to accept any suitable child care available to you. Please talk to us or your Employment Services Provider if child care or the school holidays are a problem for you.

Page last updated: 11 August 2016