Annual Report 2016-17

Services to the community - Social Security

The department provided social security assistance through various payments and programs to assist families, people with disability, carers, older Australians, job seekers and students. In 2016–17 the department delivered $114.4 billion in payments to recipients.

Improvements in website readability, ICT systems, targeted communications, and enhancements to staff training have led to fewer ineligible claims for payments such as ABSTUDY, Newstart Allowance, Youth Allowance (Students) and Disability Support Pension received in 2016–17.

Claims processed

A higher number of claims were finalised in 2016–17, with a smaller number of ineligible claims received for payments such as ABSTUDY, Newstart Allowance, Youth Allowance (Students) and Disability Support Pension. The reduction in ineligible claims can be attributed to improvements in website readability, ICT systems, targeted communications, and enhancements to staff training. This has resulted in a better recipient experience.

Table: Total number of social security claims, both granted and rejected, finalised by payment type (rounded to nearest 1,000)
Payment type Claims finalised 2015–16 Claims finalised 2016–17
ABSTUDY 36,000 33,000
Age Pension 156,000 174,000
Assistance for Isolated Children (AIC) Student 5,000 5,000
Bereavement Allowance 1,000 1,000
Carer Payment and Carer Allowance 235,000 219,000
Child Care Benefit 365,000 355,000
Crisis Payment 77,000 87,000
Dad and Partner Pay 100,000 102,000
Disability Support Pension 106,000 97,000
Double Orphan Pension 300 400
Family Tax Benefit 603,000 575,000
Low Income Card 279,000 361,000
Mobility Allowance 12,000 10,000
Newstart Allowance 696,000 662,000
Paid Parental Leave 310,000 308,000
Parenting Payment 199,000 189,000
Pensioner Education Supplement (inc ABSTUDY PES) 53,000 43,000
Seniors Health Card 40,000 133,000
Sickness Allowance 36,000 32,000
Special Benefit 9,000 11,000
Stillborn Baby Payment 2,000 1,000
Widow Allowance 4,000 3,000
Youth Allowance (inc Austudy) 493,000 430,000


Family Tax Benefit (FTB) - assists families with the day-to-day cost of raising children. FTB has two parts—FTB Part A which is a child payment and FTB Part B which is a family payment. Both payments are income tested and the amount paid is based on a family’s individual circumstances.

Child Care - Child Care Benefit assists with child care fees. Child Care Rebate assists with out of pocket expenses for child care. Jobs, Education and Training Child Care Fee Assistance supports eligible parents to enter or re-enter the workforce.

The department is working closely with the Department of Education and Training to implement the new Child Care Subsidy and Additional Child Care Subsidy and develop a new integrated Child Care ICT system as announced in the 2015–16 Budget. The subsidies will deliver on the Government’s commitment to support families by making child care simpler, more affordable, accessible and flexible and support workforce participation. The new subsidies will replace the existing suite of child care payments from 2 July 2018.

Paid Parental Leave Scheme - comprises two income tested and work tested payments for eligible parents to take time off work to care for a new baby or recently adopted child. The two payments are Parental Leave Pay (PLP) and Dad and Partner Pay (DAP).

Consistent Treatment of Parental Leave Payments - consistent treatment of parental leave payments was implemented on 1 October 2016. Under this measure PLP and DAP payments for a child born or adopted on or after 1 October 2016 are counted as income to assess whether recipients are eligible to receive an income support payment. Hence, government-provided parental leave payments are treated the same as employer-provided parental leave payments to assess eligibility for income support. This change does not apply to recipients if their child was born or adopted before 1 October 2016 even if they claim PLP or DAP after 1 October 2016.

Parenting Payment - is an income support payment for parents or guardians to help with the cost of raising children. Parenting Payment recipients must be single and care for at least one child aged under eight years, or be partnered and care for at least one child aged under six years. Parenting Payment recipients need to meet income and assets tests (for both them and their partner), residency requirements, and participation requirements as required.

Newborn Upfront Payment and Newborn Supplement - these payments provide an increase to a person’s rate of FTB Part A for up to 13 weeks to assist with the upfront costs of a newborn child, a child aged under one year who becomes entrusted to a person’s care, or a child placed for adoption. Families cannot receive PLP as well as Newborn Upfront Payment and Newborn Supplement for the same child.

Stillborn Baby Payment - assists families with the extra costs associated with a stillborn child. Families cannot receive PLP and Stillborn Baby Payment for the same child.

Schoolkids Bonus - was previously paid in January and July each year. Eligible families received up to $430 per year for each primary school child and up to $856 per year for each secondary school child. Schoolkids Bonus has ceased, with the last instalment paid in July 2016.

Parentsnext Project - providers work with parents to help them identify their education and employment goals, develop pathways to achieve their goals, and link them to activities and services in the local community. ParentsNext is delivered in ten local government areas in New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria, Western Australia and Tasmania. The department refers eligible people in these areas to a ParentsNext project provider.

Grandparent Adviser Program - recognises the unique challenges faced by grandparent and non-parent carers who have ongoing caring responsibility for children. The department’s Grandparent Advisers understand these challenges and provide tailored information about payments and services available through the Australian Government, state and territory governments and community service providers, attending community forums and working with care organisations in each state and territory.

In 2016-17, 18,238 calls were successfully answered through the Grandparent Adviser Freecall phone service.

School Enrolment and Attendance Measure-operates in the Northern Territory and is designed to improve educational outcomes for children by linking school enrolment and attendance to income support payments.

The department works closely with the Northern Territory Department of Education and provides intensive social work support to parents to identify and overcome barriers preventing their children regularly attending school.

People with Disability and Carers

Disability Support Pension (DSP) - provides financial support for people with a physical, intellectual or psychiatric condition that stops them from working.

Processing DSP claims - from May 2017, new claimants for DSP benefited from the pilot of an improved assessment process. The changes were designed to make claiming clearer, simpler and faster for claimants, and to provide clearer advice on the nature of medical evidence requirements for treating doctors. The pilot found that the changes improved the assessment process by:

  • providing clearer information to claimants and their treating doctors about the evidence required to be eligible for DSP
  • conducting earlier expert assessments of medical evidence to fast-track claims for people who are clearly unable to work
  • using those earlier assessments to identify those clearly not eligible for DSP so they don’t need to attend multiple assessments only to find that they are not eligible
  • adjusting the process for referring claimants to Job Capacity Assessments so only those who require a comprehensive medical assessment need to attend. This serves to improve the timeframes for these assessments and reduce requests to claimants for additional medical evidence to support their claim assessment.

The department will implement the improved assessment process in 2017-18.

Sickness Allowance - provides a short-term payment for people who are employed or self-employed, or in some cases are full-time students, who are temporarily unable to do their usual work or study due to a medical condition.

Mobility Allowance - helps people with a disability, illness or injury who are unable to use public transport without substantial assistance to participate in approved activities by helping with transport costs.

Rent Assistance - is an additional payment to help people receiving an income support payment to pay their rent, generally in the private rental market. Private rent can also include amounts paid for site fees, mooring fees, board and lodgings, some retirement village fees and fees paid to occupy a non-Australian Government funded bed in an aged care facility such as a hostel or nursing home.

Carer Payment - is an income support payment paid to carers who, because of the demands of their caring role, are unable to support themselves through substantial paid employment. To be eligible for Carer Payment, a carer must be providing constant care for an adult or child with a disability or a medical condition, or an adult who is frail aged.

Carer Allowance - is an income supplement for people who provide additional daily care and attention for an adult or child with a disability or a medical condition, or an adult who is frail aged.

National Disability Strategy - the Australian Government’s National Disability Strategy 2010–2020 is a ten year national plan for improving the lives of people with disability, their families and carers. The strategy sets out a commitment by all levels of government, industry and the community for a national approach to policy and program development. It also represents a shared vision for an inclusive society that enables people with a disability to fulfil their potential as equal citizens.

Education and employment opportunities are the main pathways to long-term economic security and wellbeing. To support these pathways priority areas include, learning, skills and economic security.

The department engages with people with disability to develop and evaluate new online services. The department also engages with staff with disability, including through the Workplace Accessibility Plan 2016–19.

The department ensures managers and staff have access to information, training and support to promote awareness and acceptance of the rights of people with disability.

During the year social workers continued to provide confidential counselling and support to people with disability experiencing family or domestic violence through interventions, crisis support, short-term counselling, and referrals to local specialist support services in their community.

The department delivers a range of payments and services to people with disability. For more information see People with disability.

Older Australians

Age Pension—is a regular payment and also offers access to a range of concessions for eligible older Australians. The department made Age Pension payments to approximately 2.5 million pensioners in 2016–17. The minimum age to qualify for Age Pension was 65 years. From 1 July 2017, the minimum age increased to 65.5 for people born on or after 1 July 1952. In 2016–17:

  • 62 per cent of age pensioners received the full-rate pension and 38 per cent received a part-rate pension based on their income and assets
  • women made up 55 per cent and men 45 per cent of the Age Pension population
  • the department paid $44.4 billion in Age Pension payments.

Transfer to Age Pension - to make it easier for eligible people to transfer from some income support payments to Age Pension, the online transfer reuses existing information to pre-populate fields. This means people only need to provide the information not already known to the department.

Rebalance Assets Test - on 1 January 2017 the government made changes to the pension assets test. The assets test free area—the amount of assets above which allowances are not paid or pension is reduced—was increased and changes were also made to the taper rate.

The department contacted pensioners who may be affected by this change in October 2016, informing them of the 1 January 2017 changes. It also set up a dedicated webpage for people to obtain more information. The webpage included an online assets test estimator for recipients to determine the effect on their payments. This page was viewed more than 600,000 times.

In December 2016 the department notified pensioners whose payment would be reduced or cancelled from 1 January 2017. Recipients who had their payment cancelled were also informed of their new concession card entitlements.

Information was provided to the Pharmacy Guild confirming access to Commonwealth concession entitlements for recipients affected by the measure. This ensured continued access to Commonwealth concessions for recipients whose concession entitlements changed on 1 January 2017 but were awaiting the arrival of their new Low Income Health Care Card (or Commonwealth Seniors Health Card for those over Age Pension age).

Real Estate Valuations - to qualify for a pension, benefit or allowance the department takes into account the value of a person’s assets. The individual circumstances of a recipient and their real estate (excluding the family home and up to two hectares on one title) are analysed to determine the appropriate valuation action.

When needed, the department arranges for a professional valuation or estimate verification of assets. To maintain the current value, an annual indexation percentage is applied to eligible assets.

Helping the community in Cootamundra

Cootamundra is a small town in New South Wales within the Riverina and is famous for being the birthplace of Sir Donald Bradman. Back in February 2017, a decision was made to close the Cootamundra abattoir, giving one week’s notice to 150 fulltime and 70 casual employees.

David is from the region and is a Financial Information Service Officer with the department. He knew this result would be a big blow, as a significant proportion of the population had direct links to the abattoir.

'Many families had multiple people working at the abattoir and several families had two generations as staff. This significantly impacted the community’. Delivering timely information and support was important and he was one of the first on site to provide assistance.

'Within two working days, Community Engagement Officer Ana, Social Worker Deborah, Service Officer Chris, and I were on site to deliver information on government payments and support. The affected workers were advised how to claim using self-service and were given the opportunity to connect with various groups and organisations. It felt good knowing we were helping people by making an extremely challenging experience a little bit easier,' David said.

Job seekers and students

Newstart Allowance - financial help for people looking for work. Recipients must be aged 22 years or over but under Age Pension age and looking for suitable paid work. Newstart Allowance recipients need to meet income and assets tests and residency requirements, and be able to meet mutual obligation requirements.

Youth Allowance - is an income support payment for students and Australian Apprentices generally aged 16 to 24 years, or job seekers generally aged 16 to 21 years. Youth Allowance recipients need to meet income and assets tests and residency requirements.

There have been enhancements made to the claim questions and improved messaging has been incorporated to provide claimants with a greater awareness of their eligibility. In addition, the introduction of pre submission requirements, whereby claimants must provide supporting documentation prior to submitting a claim (exception rules apply to vulnerable customers), has seen a reduction in the number of claims being received. In the past these claims would have been processed and rejected for failing to supply documents or information.

Austudy - financial help for full-time students and Australian Apprentices aged 25 years or over. In 2016–17 the department finalised approximately 64,000 new Austudy claims.

ABSTUDY - provides a means-tested allowance and other supplementary benefits to eligible Indigenous students. In 2016–17 the department administered $30.5 million in ABSTUDY travel and finalised approximately 33,000 ABSTUDY claims.

In 2016–17 the department implemented a trial that replaced the requirement for an ABSTUDY paper-based signed declaration form with an over the phone verbal declaration. This enabled students/parents to complete their claim over the phone in full. Around 80 per cent of ABSTUDY claims occur over the phone through the staff assisted service. The verbal declaration claims trial showed that, in December 2016 and January 2017, claims finalised with a verbal declaration were processed nearly 50 per cent faster than the corresponding period in 2015–16. For the duration of the trial, verbal declaration claims were also finalised more than 40 per cent faster than non-verbal declaration claims.

The trial was supported by a targeted communication campaign for families to submit their ABSTUDY claims early to ensure their support is in place for the beginning of the year. Following the campaign, a larger percentage of claims were lodged in December, allowing more time for travel arrangements and increasing chances of students arriving at school on time. Due to the success of the trial the department will continue to implement a verbal declaration process together with a targeted communication campaign to encourage early claiming of ABSTUDY.

Pensioner Education Supplement - is available as extra assistance towards ongoing study costs for recipients of some department and DVA income support payments. The supplement is available to full-time students and in certain circumstances to students approved to undertake part-time study of at least 25 per cent of a full study load. In 2016–17 the department finalised approximately 43,000 Pensioner Education Supplement claims.

Job Commitment Bonus - ceased on 1 January 2017. The bonus was a payment to encourage long-term unemployed young Australians to find and keep work. The payment was targeted at job seekers aged 18 to 30 years who were unemployed for 12 months or more and were receiving Newstart Allowance or Youth Allowance. There were two Job Commitment Bonus payments—the first was $2,500 for 12 months of continuous gainful work; the second was $4,000 for a further 12 months of continuous gainful work. In 2016–17 the department provided 3,462 payments of the first $2,500 Job Commitment Bonus and 1,219 payments of the second $4,000 Job Commitment Bonus.

Internship Program - The Jobs PaTH Internship Program was implemented on 1 April 2017. Under the measure young job seekers receiving income support and accessing employment services from a provider for six months or more can gain real work experience within businesses. Job seekers receive a $200 per fortnight Incentive Payment on top of their regular income support payment while participating in the internship. In 2016–17, 644 job seekers participated in the program and the department paid 783 Incentive Payments. A person can be paid up to seven payments.

Special Benefit - helps people in severe financial hardship who are not able to support themselves and their dependants and are not eligible for another payment.

Meeting mutual obligation requirements for job seekers

In return for receiving income support, job seekers generally have mutual obligation requirements such as looking for work and participating in activities that will improve their employment prospects.

The intention of mutual obligation requirements is to assist the job seeker to enter into paid work and reduce their reliance on income support, and encourage job seekers to contribute to the community that supports them while they are unemployed.

Job seekers receiving Newstart Allowance, Youth Allowance, Parenting Payment Single or Special Benefit (paid under Newstart Allowance conditions) must satisfy mutual obligation requirements to remain eligible for payment.

The job seeker compliance model applies to job seekers receiving participation payments who have compulsory mutual obligation requirements.

The model aims to ensure job seekers attend appointments and participate in activities designed to help them get back into work. An employment services provider may use a non-attendance report to trigger a payment suspension when a job seeker, for example, fails to attend a compulsory appointment. Payment generally remains suspended until the job seeker contacts the provider and attends a rescheduled appointment. This is to prompt the job seeker to quickly re-engage with their employment services provider. A provider may also report an incident of non-compliance to the department for investigation of a compliance failure.

When a job seeker does not have a reasonable excuse for not meeting their mutual obligation requirements, a financial penalty may apply.

No financial penalties are applied unless the department has first spoken with the job seeker.

Table: Recipients with mutual obligation requirements by payment type
  2014–15(a) 2015–16(b) 2016–17(c)
Newstart Allowance 748,719 732,100 733,088
Youth Allowance 112,620 98,100 101,045
Special Benefit(d) 758 1,030 2,687
Parenting Payment Single 51,647 50,406 49,535
Total 913,744 881,636 886,355
  1. Source: Department of Social Services on 6 July 2015.
  2. Source: Department of Social Services on 6 July 2016.
  3. Source: Department of Social Services on 6 July 2017.
  4. The majority of Special Benefit recipients are not activity tested.

Employment Services Assessments

Employment Services Assessments (ESAts) identify the most appropriate type of employment services for people with medical conditions and other barriers to employment. ESAts are also used to identify assistance that may help a job seeker prepare for, find and maintain work, taking into account any reduction in work capacity that may exist.

Job Capacity Assessments

Job Capacity Assessments (JCAs) help the department determine the effect of medical conditions and disabilities on a person’s ability to work and identify whether they would benefit from employment assistance. A JCA is used as part of determining medical eligibility for DSP. People may be referred for a JCA if they are:

  • claiming DSP
  • undergoing a review of medical eligibility for DSP
  • seeking indefinite portability of their DSP.


The department employs 664 qualified health and allied health professionals in multi-disciplinary teams in locations across Australia to undertake ESAts and JCAs. The health and allied health professionals employed by the department include:

  • exercise physiologists
  • medical advisers
  • occupational therapists
  • physiotherapists
  • psychologists
  • registered nurses
  • rehabilitation counsellors
  • social workers
  • speech pathologists.

The following table shows the number of medical and non-medical ESAts and JCAs that the department completed each year.

Table: Type of assessments completed
  2014–15 2015–16 2016–17
ESAt non-medical 24,375 13,596 17,367
ESAt medical 182,923 159,250 152,340
Job Capacity Assessment 95,028 97,698 88,717
Total 302,326 270,544 258,424

Health Professional Advisory Unit

The Health Professional Advisory Unit is a multi-disciplinary unit comprised of eight medical advisers and 12 health and allied health professionals across a virtual network. The unit strengthens DSP decision making by providing expert advice to departmental assessors and decision makers, and builds relationships between the department and treating health practitioners. The unit is closely involved in providing expert advice on matters before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and to external government-contracted doctors. In 2016–17 the unit received 1,620 referrals.

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Page last updated: 1 April 2019