Annual Report 2016-17

Services for people needing other support

Through a range of programs and services the department responded to people experiencing extreme circumstances such as family and domestic violence, trauma and homelessness.

Priority areas included help for those at risk of suicide and young people experiencing difficult times. In particular the department’s social workers and Community Engagement Officers supported vulnerable people, many of them with complex needs.

The department also targeted assistance to farmers, migrants and refugees, Indigenous Australians, and people affected by emergencies and disasters.

Measures that encourage people to better manage their money included Income Management, the Cashless Debit Card, Centrepay and the Financial Information Service.

Superannuation programs

Small Business Superannuation Clearing House

The ATO Small Business Superannuation Clearing House is a free government service to assist small businesses with 19 or fewer employees or an annual aggregated turnover of below $10 million to meet their superannuation guarantee obligations and to reduce red tape. Under the superannuation guarantee requirements small businesses must make superannuation payments at least four times a year.

The department managed the clearing house on behalf of the ATO until December 2016 when service delivery for the clearing house was transferred to the ATO.

Early Release of Superannuation Benefits

The Early Release of Superannuation Benefits program allows eligible people to draw on their superannuation benefits on compassionate grounds in times of need. Releases are limited to assistance in meeting costs for an applicant or their dependant for various reasons such as medical expenses, home and vehicle modifications for people with severe disability, funeral expenses, palliative care and mortgage arrears. Early release can also be approved by superannuation funds on severe financial hardship grounds.

The department’s role is to assess applications for early release on compassionate grounds and provide approval letters when release conditions are satisfied. The department’s role for severe financial hardship is to confirm that a person has received a qualifying income support payment for the required period.

Table: Early Release of Superannuation Benefits on compassionate grounds
  2014-15 2015-16 2016-17
Applications received 19,367 29,379 37,105
Applications approved in full or in part 14,261 15,161 21,258
Amount approved for release $183,772,297 $204,954,883 $290,037,520
Average amount released per approval $12,886 $13,519 $13,644

Vulnerable people

Family and domestic violence

The department supports staff and recipients affected by family and domestic violence by providing information, referrals and support services. For recipients, the department uses a risk identification and referral model to ensure a consistent approach to identifying and supporting recipients, based on their individual circumstances.

For staff affected by family and domestic violence, the department has a phone support service and a range of training available to raise awareness and assist staff and managers in supporting affected colleagues.

Commonwealth Redress Scheme

The department will commence delivery of the Commonwealth Redress Scheme for survivors of sexual abuse in two stages:

  • Stage 1: March 2018-establishing an information line to help survivors apply for redress and make referrals where required
  • Stage 2: July 2018-applications will be accepted and processed, including gathering information, making payments and referrals.

The scheme will provide survivors with redress in the form of:

  • a monetary payment
  • the opportunity to receive support through trauma-informed and culturally appropriate counselling to assist them in the redress process, and to address the effects of their experience
  • the chance to tell their personal story about their experience in a forum with a senior representative of the responsible institution, and to receive direct personal acknowledgement and response.

The establishment of the scheme is an acknowledgement by the government that child sexual abuse suffered by children in Commonwealth institutional settings was wrong and should not have happened. Placing the survivor’s needs at the core of the scheme and seeking to avoid further harming or re-traumatising the survivor through the delivery of the redress are key principles that the department is following to design the service delivery and ICT system for the scheme. Users of the scheme, including survivors, staff and third parties, will be involved in the design and testing of the ICT system and processes prior to the commencement of the scheme.

Community Engagement Officers

Community Engagement Officers (CEOs) provide targeted assistance to vulnerable people, including those experiencing homelessness. These officers work to ensure that vulnerable people maintain access to payments and associated services, as well as increasing their ability to self-manage their business with the department and other organisations.

CEOs offer information, assistance and outreach to third party organisations that support people with complex needs. This is to help them better understand the department’s services and recipient entitlements and obligations. Organisations can include rehabilitation centres, psychiatric hospitals, post-prison release accommodation, hostels, boarding houses, refuges, drop in centres and organised meeting places.

In 2016-17 a network of 98 CEOs continued to operate throughout Australia.

Life-changing results for homeless people

Barbara, Northern Territory Community Engagement Officer, plays a vital role every day in supporting homeless people with the issues they face.

'I work with very vulnerable people to make positive differences, which to us may be relatively small, but can be life-changing for the people we help,' Barbara said.

Barbara first met Ellen (not her real name) while she was living in a tent by the mangroves with her dog. Ellen was disconnected from society, homeless, depressed and in debt.

Two years later, Ellen’s life has changed dramatically. With Barbara's ongoing support and encouragement Ellen and her dog now live in a Northern Territory housing unit. She has applied for a Disability Support Pension, is making plans to pay off her debts, and has seen a psychologist.

'She regularly comes along to our outreach session to touch base and let us know she’s okay,’ Barbara said.

Barbara has strong connections with other government agencies and community organisations. In Ellen’s case Barbara worked with NT Housing, St Vincent de Paul, utility suppliers and others to achieve such a great outcome for Ellen.

Youth Protocol

The Youth Protocol aims to protect young people from homelessness, abuse and violence. It clarifies the roles and responsibilities of the Australian Government and state and territory child protection agencies who support at risk young people aged between 12 and 17 years who are seeking income support.

Services for prisoners

Prison services are provided nationally to prisons and youth justice centres. Program protocol agreements with state and territory correctional authorities support strategies that help reintegrate prisoners into the community, including:

  • preventing social welfare payment debts
  • ensuring Child Support assessments for adults in prison are accurate
  • completing Employment Services Assessments and Job Capacity Assessments
  • providing Medicare services
  • providing income support on release
  • assisting Indigenous people with study expenses.

The department has a strong and cooperative relationship with state and territory corrective services. During 2016-17 the department’s Prison Liaison Officers participated in Prison Open Days to inform people about payments and services which support reintegration.

Social work services

Social work services may be offered through our service centres and smart centres when a person has more complex needs and requires more support. Social workers provide a high quality professional service and can help people to navigate a life crisis and to stabilise and reconnect with the support they need. Priority is given to people who are at risk of suicide or self-harm, young people without adequate support, and people affected by family and domestic violence. Social workers also work with staff and the community to support individuals and families with multiple and complex issues.

At 30 June 2017 the department had 750 social workers located in service centres, smart centres, rural and remote servicing teams and compliance teams. Social workers responded to 322,273 referrals for support in 2016-17.

Suicide and self-harm

Social workers provide support and intervention to people at risk of suicide or self‑harm. This includes ensuring the person is safe, making referrals for further assistance, and supporting service officers engaging with people who are at risk. In 2016-17 social workers responded to 6,341 referrals for people at risk of suicide, and 49,872 referrals for people experiencing mental health issues.

In 2016-17 all departmental social workers undertook suicide risk assessment and intervention training, which supported increased identification and assistance for individuals at risk.

Young people without adequate support

Social workers provide targeted intervention and support for vulnerable and unsupported young people aged under 25 years. Specifically, social workers assisted unsupported young people to obtain employment, re-engage in schooling or tertiary studies, re-build family relationships and engage with community mental health supports and accommodation services. It is facilitated by ensuring young people are connected with services in their community that will assist in addressing their basic needs, such as accommodation.

In 2016-17 social workers worked with 5,045 young people.

Support for people affected by family and domestic violence

Social workers provide private and confidential interviews for counselling and support for people affected by family and domestic violence. They help people consider their options and determine their eligibility for any payments and services where family and domestic violence is a factor. During 2016-17 social workers continued to train and support departmental staff assisting individuals experiencing family and domestic violence. This ensures staff effectively identify at risk individuals and refer on as required.

In 2016-17 social workers received 65,976 referrals for people experiencing family and domestic violence.

Specialist social work programs

Carer specialist assessments

During the claiming process the service officer may identify the need to refer a case to a social worker specialising in the assessment of carers. The social worker then investigates any additional evidence relating to the assessment and provides support, information and referrals as required.

When the carer is under 18 years old or older than 80 years, a social worker is included in the process to assess whether the carer provides the care receiver with the constant care required. In addition, social workers assess the carer’s capacity to provide the practical and emotional support to meet the care receiver’s needs. Social workers also make recommendations for consideration in granting the payment or allowance.

Social work service and job seeker compliance model

Social workers undertake Comprehensive Compliance Assessments for the most vulnerable recipients within the job seeker compliance model. The assessment and information from social workers guides decision making about serious failures and the opportunities recipients may have to fully participate in their job seeking obligations.

Social work services during emergency recovery

In 2016-17 social workers assisted people affected by Tropical Cyclone Debbie. They provided support in recovery centres, service centres, in the community and via phone services. Social workers also supported people claiming the Australian Victim of Terrorism Overseas Payment.

Rural services

Farm Household Allowance

The department delivers the Farm Household Allowance (FHA) payment. Since the program started in 2014, over 7,000 claims have been finalised. FHA is a time limited payment of up to three years. The first cohort of FHA recipients commenced exiting the program on 29 June 2017.

FHA recipients are required to complete a Farm Financial Assessment and enter into a Financial Improvement Agreement to improve their capacity for financial self‑reliance.

In 2016-17 the department provided support to the Australian Government response to the dairy industry downturn. The response included:

  • extending the role of the Dairy Industry Liaison Officer until 30 June 2017
  • attending dairy roundtable meetings which were held across regional Victoria in December 2016 to hear the views of dairy farmers regarding the delivery of assistance measures.

Based on feedback the government received, the department piloted several changes to the FHA application process to streamline the time to process applications.

On 18 May 2017, following the success of the department’s pilot program in reducing application processing times, the Minister announced changes to the FHA claim process that were being rolled out nationally.

These changes included:

  • significantly increasing outbound contact with farmers at the beginning of the claim process
  • delaying the Farm Financial Assessment until after a claim is granted
  • ensuring that, where possible, farmers also speak to the same specialist staff member throughout the claim process to ensure continuity of support until their application is finalised.

Reaping the benefits of turmeric farming

Three years ago Heyden and Eleanor were vegetable farmers in Nymboida, a small country town near Grafton in New South Wales. They were struggling to make a living in the worst drought in recorded history.

Heyden said: 'We had only 24mm of rain over 17 months, lost our entire mature ready-to-harvest crops, and completely ran out of irrigation water. With very little money we were faced with some hard decisions.'

Both Heyden and Eleanor applied for the FHA, which is paid for up to three years to assist farmers in financial hardship to stay on the farm and plan for the future.

With advice from consultants and ongoing support from Farm Household Case Officer Cathy, Heyden made the transition from growing mixed vegetables to become the largest organic turmeric producer in Australia. He now sells the turmeric online, and is planning to expand his market in Australia and eventually export to Asia.

Heyden has no doubt his turnaround is due in large part to the FHA program.

'It's been brilliant,' said Heyden. 'The allowance gave us the opportunity to pour everything back into the farm, and helped put food on our table.

Cathy's support was also unbelievable. It was so good to have someone to talk to about the support we could get, and Cathy was a big help.'

Indigenous people

Indigenous Servicing Strategy

The Indigenous Servicing Strategy 2016-17 provides strategic direction to all departmental staff delivering services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It identifies priority areas and ways to measure progress, and it supports Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in receiving the right service for their circumstances.

The strategy identifies a series of goals covering priority areas of service delivery, health, child support, ABSTUDY, voluntary Indigenous identification, and Centrelink debt and compliance. Each goal has measures and suggested strategies to support the department in achieving improvements in these areas.

Indigenous Servicing Specialists

Indigenous Service Officers (ISOs) help address strategic and operational issues relating to service delivery to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities. By delivering messages about the department’s services, ISOs aim to increase the level of understanding, awareness and access to payments and services. ISOs also offer intensive support to assist vulnerable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities to engage with the department. At 30 June 2017 there were 70 ISOs.

Remote servicing model

The department’s remote servicing model responds to the unique challenges facing people residing in remote regions.

The model includes:

  • service centres
  • remote service centres
  • remote servicing teams
  • Agents
  • Access Points
  • online options
  • place-based services supported by an integrated remote smart centre which delivers phone and claims processing services.

The department engages directly with people living in remote Indigenous communities to shape services that are culturally appropriate, effective and empowering.

The department has partnerships with many organisations, including other Australian Government departments and agencies, and state, territory and local governments to deliver services in remote areas.

Remote servicing teams

Remote servicing teams provide departmental services to remote Indigenous communities through regular visits. Through community engagement activities, remote servicing staff are also able to proactively engage recipients who might not otherwise come forward and assist them to access and manage income support and their obligations.

The department recruits local Indigenous staff to work in remote servicing teams wherever possible. As well as improving community employment levels, staff from remote communities are more likely to speak Indigenous languages and understand local customs, traditions and relationships. Indigenous staff can also act as role models for young Indigenous people in remote communities in relation to workforce participation.

Interpreting services

There are over 120 Indigenous languages still spoken in Australia. These languages have a vital cultural role in linking Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to their history, spirituality and rites, through story and song.

The department supports the continuation of the Indigenous languages by offering Indigenous people with limited or no English free access to Indigenous interpreters through the Aboriginal Interpreter Service (AIS) in the Northern Territory and the Kimberley Interpreter Service (KIS) in Western Australia. The department is the largest government user of both services with 10,542 hours of interpreting services used in 2016-17.

Indigenous interpreters are located in high-demand service centres and frequently assist departmental staff working in remote and extremely remote Indigenous communities. The department also provides a Community Language Allowance to 30 bilingual staff from northern Australia and northern Queensland who can speak with Indigenous Australians in their own language.

An Indigenous Language Officer also works in the Wadeye community in the Northern Territory. Wadeye is Australia’s biggest Indigenous town on the western edge of the Daly River Reserve. It is 400 kilometres from Darwin, and for six months of the year is only accessible by air and sea. Wadeye’s location means access to formal interpreting services is limited, so an Indigenous Language Officer provides a valuable resource to the town in connecting local people to the department’s services.

National Indigenous Coalition

The National Indigenous Coalition (NIC) is the department’s peak advisory forum providing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voice on effective delivery of payments and services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The NIC is consulted to ensure the department’s strategies support and secure outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, communities and staff.

During the year the department held two NIC face-to-face conferences, in November 2016, and in May 2017, and participated in nine teleconferences.

Providing spatial services for government and the community

The Australian Government Indigenous Locations (AGIL) dataset is the government’s authoritative source of data on Indigenous locations. The department manages AGIL which contains locational data for over 3,800 community names in approximately 1,600 Indigenous locations. Government departments/agencies, private industry and community groups across Australia use AGIL regularly.

AGIL is also included in a National Map maintained by National ICT Australia.

The AGIL dataset is available at no cost to the general public at data.gov.au In 2016-17 the AGIL dataset was viewed 653 times, and downloaded 103 times.

Money management

Financial Information Service

The Financial Information Service (FIS) is a free, independent and confidential service that helps people in various circumstances to make better informed decisions about their finances. FIS can explain the risk of certain financial product categories, the roles of financial professionals, the benefit of reducing debt and how people can increase overall retirement income.

With this information, people are better able to:

  • increase confidence with financial matters like investment, salary sacrifice and superannuation
  • understand their own financial affairs and options
  • understand financial planners and how to use their advice
  • use credit sensibly
  • save and plan for the future through investing
  • plan for their retirement
  • understand what happens when family move into aged care.

FIS is available by phone, appointment and through seminars.

In 2016-17 FIS officers:

  • answered more than 61,900 phone calls
  • conducted more than 58,000 interviews
  • delivered 5,470 hours of outreach services
  • held 3,074 seminars for more than 92,500 participants
  • created informative videos and podcasts, available on our website and on YouTube.

Centrepay

Centrepay is a voluntary bill paying service which assists recipients of Centrelink payments to manage their expenses, so they can have regular deductions made directly from their welfare payments to relevant businesses.

Centrepay is free for recipients, while businesses are charged a fee to recover Centrepay operating costs. At 30 June 2017:

  • 659,882 recipients were using Centrepay
  • 12,829 businesses received a Centrepay deduction.

In 2016-17, 26 million deductions were made to the value of $2.5 billion.

During the year improvements to Centrepay included:

  • giving recipients access to Centrepay through the Express Plus mobile app
  • expanding the range of online access to businesses using Centrepay to provide more efficient ways for them to transact with the department
  • continuing to implement and refine the assurance framework
  • finalising the transition period and cancellation of Centrepay deductions for funeral insurance and unregulated consumer leases for household goods (those not regulated under the National Consumer Credit Protection Act 2009).

As part of the transition to the new Centrepay policy a 12-month grandfathering period was set up for businesses and recipients using Centrepay for funeral insurance or unregulated consumer leases for household goods. The grandfathering period was planned to end on 30 June 2016, but on 24 May 2016 the Aboriginal Community Benefit Fund Pty Ltd and related companies (ACBF) applied to the Federal Court of Australia to challenge the department’s decision to exclude funeral insurance from Centrepay.

On 30 June 2016, a single judge of the Federal Court of Australia ordered that the department’s decision to exclude funeral insurance and terminate the Centrepay approval of the ACBF be quashed. The department subsequently appealed the decision in the Full Court of the Federal Court of Australia which upheld the department’s appeal on 11 November 2016. Therefore, following a three-month transition period in which the department worked with affected businesses and recipients, all deductions for unregulated consumer leases for household goods and funeral insurance ceased on 17 February 2017.

Rent Deduction Scheme

Through the Rent Deduction Scheme recipients can have their public housing payments deducted from their income support payment and sent directly to their state or territory housing authority. The scheme is an easy, free way for recipients to pay for their government housing.

At 30 June 2017, 343,552 recipients were using the scheme.

In 2016-17, 9.41 million rent deductions were made.

Income Management

Income Management helps people in specified locations receiving income support to manage their money to meet essential household needs and expenses for themselves and their families.

Under Income Management a percentage of a person’s income support, and 100 per cent of lump sum payments, are allocated to pay for priority items such as food, housing, clothing, utilities, education and medical care. The remaining percentage of a recipient’s payment is paid to them in the usual way to be used at their discretion. While Income Management does not change the amount of payment a person receives, it affects the way that a person receives the payment.

Money that is income managed cannot be spent on alcohol, tobacco, pornography or gambling.

There was a dip in the number of overall Income Management participants at the start of 2016-17. This was predominantly due to changes in the Vulnerable Welfare Payment Recipient Youth Measure becoming a one off measure for a maximum of 12 months. The reduction in overall numbers reduced the spend by BasicsCard for the financial year.

Table: Income management measures by location
Income Management locations Voluntary Child Protection Vulnerable Welfare Payment Recipient Supporting People at Risk Disengaged Youth Long-term Welfare Payment Recipient Income measure
Western Australia              
Perth          
Peel region          
Kimberley(a)          
Ngaanyatjarra Lands        
Laverton        
Northern Territory  
New South Wales              
Bankstown        
Queensland              
Rockhampton        
Logan        
Livingstone        
Cape York(b)            
Victoria              
Greater Shepparton        
South Australia              
Greater Adelaide          
Playford        
Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara lands        
  1. The Cashless Debit Card was implemented in Kununurra and Wyndham and surrounding regions from 26 April 2016, therefore Income Management is no longer available in these locations.
  2. Cape York specific Income Management applies in the communities of Aurukun, Coen, Doomadgee, Hope Vale and Mossman Gorge as part of a broader program of welfare reform for the area.

Accessing managed income

The department works with people on Income Management to identify how their income support can be used to pay organisations for items they and their family need.

Organisations can be paid in a variety of ways:

  • using the BasicsCard-a reusable, personal identification number protected card that can be used via EFTPOS at approved stores and businesses
  • making a direct deposit into a nominated bank account via scheduled transfer or BPAY
  • having a contractual arrangement through which the department will make a payment to a nominated bank account and send the organisation a deduction report to reconcile payment
  • using a credit card over the phone for urgent and immediate requests for expenses like food and travel.

There are also self-service options available to help recipients access their Income Management money and be more self-sufficient. These include the Express Plus Centrelink mobile app and online services. People can use these services to complete transactions such as transferring funds between their Income Management and BasicsCard account and checking their BasicsCard balance.

At 30 June 2017, 15,492 stores and businesses accepted the BasicsCard.

The department investigates public complaints and conducts random sample reviews to ensure stores and businesses are complying with the terms and conditions.

In 2016-17:

  • 96 per cent of income managed recipients used a BasicsCard
  • $208.4 million was spent using the BasicsCard.

Data on income management

The total amount of income support payments income managed in 2016-17 was $273.2 million.

Table: Income Management recipients
Measure Recipients at 30 June 2015(a) Recipients at 30 June 2016(a) Recipients at 30 June 2017(a)
Cape York Income Management 128 160 166
Child Protection Income Management 337 339 205
Disengaged Youth 4,450 4,096 4,280
Long-term Welfare Payment Recipient 12,387 12,856 14,487
Supporting People at Risk 213 223 275
Voluntary Income Management 5,828 5,146 4,400
Vulnerable Welfare Payment Recipient 3,053 2,100 1,689
  1. These numbers are point in time at the dates specified and do not represent recipient movements between measures and on and off Income Management.

Cashless Debit Card

The Cashless Debit Card aims to break the cycle of welfare dependency by providing greater financial stability while reducing the social harm resulting from alcohol, drugs and gambling. People who live in the current Cashless Debit Card locations have up to 80 per cent of their income support payments paid to a cashless debit card. The card operates like a normal debit card except it cannot be used to buy alcohol, to gamble or withdraw cash.

The Cashless Debit Card commenced as a 12 month trial in Ceduna, South Australia, on 15 March 2016, and in the Kununurra and Wyndham region in Western Australia on 26 April 2016.

Following on from the positive independent evaluation of the trials, and in consultation with community leaders, the Australian Government agreed to extend the Cashless Debit Card in the current locations for a further year.

As part of the 2017-18 Budget, the Australian Government announced the Cashless Debit Card will be also expanded to two new locations.

On 1 September 2017, the Australian Government announced the Cashless Debit Card would be rolled out to the Goldfields Region in Western Australia from early 2018. The card will be rolled out in the local government areas of Kalgoorlie-Boulder, Laverton, Leonara, Coolgardie and Menzies.

The department’s service delivery role is focused on placing participants on and off the measure based on their eligibility. The card provider (Indue Ltd) provides cards and all associated banking and support services to participants.

At 30 June 2017, 2,135 people were participating in the measure.

Ancillary services and support

Tasmanian transport schemes

The department administers the following Tasmanian transport support schemes:

  • Tasmanian Freight Equalisation Scheme-assists in alleviating the sea freight cost disadvantage incurred by shippers of eligible non-bulk goods moved by sea between mainland Australia and Tasmania as there is no option of transporting goods by road or rail.
  • Bass Strait Passenger Vehicle Equalisation Scheme-assists in alleviating the cost of sea travel across Bass Strait between Tasmania and mainland Australia with a rebate for passengers accompanying an eligible vehicle.

In 2016-17, 13,556 claims for assistance were received by the department with $191.3 million in payments processed through the two schemes.

Services on Norfolk Island

The Norfolk Island Reform project delivered a comprehensive package of change including major governance reforms which introduced Australian health and social security systems to Norfolk Island from 1 July 2016.

The success of the department’s service offer for early claims and ongoing services was critical to ensuring Norfolk Island residents transitioned to the new arrangements and understood their rights and obligations.

The department was an integral member of the multi-agency taskforce convened to coordinate work across relevant Australian Government and state departments.

The Taskforce delivered relevant legislative amendments, established the Australian Government Information Centre, designed health and state-based services, addressed infrastructure limitations and consulted with Norfolk Island Administration and the broader community to ensure transitional arrangements for existing Norfolk Island payments and services. Collaboration during this transition was a critical factor in the success of the reforms which saw Norfolk Island residents access payments and services.

Portability of payments

Portability is the continuation of Australian social security payments during a person’s absence from Australia. The department assists people to understand how their entitlements may be affected and assesses eligibility for payments while they are outside Australia.

A datalink between the department and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) identifies social security recipients who depart from or return to Australia. Information generated by the datalink is used to automatically review payments for people who have left Australia.

Concession Cards

The department delivers six types of concession and health care cards:

  • Pensioner Concession Card
  • Health Care Card
  • Low Income Health Care Card
  • Commonwealth Seniors Health Card
  • Ex-Carer Allowance (Child) Health Care Card
  • Foster Child Health Care Card.

Having a concession or health care card gives cardholders access to Australian Government health concessions and helps with the cost of living by reducing the cost of certain goods and services.

Most people receiving an income support payment will automatically receive a concession or health care card. People receiving the maximum rate of Part A will automatically receive a Health Care Card covering their family. Partners and children may also be covered by a person’s card if it relates to an income support payment. For people who have a Low Income Health Care Card, their partner and their children may also be covered by the card.

For people who have a Commonwealth Seniors Health Card, only the cardholder has access to the concessions available for the card.

In addition to Medicare services, concession or health care cards can give people, their partners and children other concessions from state, territory and local government authorities and private businesses. Each card has its own eligibility requirements and concessions.

Advance payments

An advance payment is a lump sum payment of the recipient’s future entitlement. The advance payment amount can vary depending on the payment type received. Non-pension recipients-including Parenting Payment Single recipients-can receive a minimum of $250 and a maximum of $500, once per a 12-month period. Pension recipients can receive multiple advance payments depending on the amount available at each application. FTB recipients can receive a regular advance that is paid each 26 weeks as long as the recipient is still eligible.

Urgent payments

An urgent payment is an early part payment of a recipient’s regular fortnightly income support payment. It can be paid when a recipient requests assistance due to severe financial hardship due to exceptional and unforeseen circumstances or due to the costs associated with the funeral of an immediate family member.

From 1 June 2017, recipients, who request a payment due to exceptional and unforeseen circumstances are generally limited to two urgent payments per 12 month period.

The urgent payment process aims to identify people experiencing ongoing financial difficulties so early intervention and help can be offered. Social workers will also provide additional support and make referrals to financial counselling, other community organisations or accommodation assistance, where necessary.

Bereavement payments

Bereavement payments help recipients adjust to changed financial circumstances following the death of their partner, child or care receiver. The type and amount of bereavement payments depend on individual circumstances and when the department is notified of the person’s death. Bereavement payments are usually paid as a lump sum. However, some payments, such as the Family Tax Benefit Bereavement Payment, can be paid fortnightly.

Bereavement Allowance is a short-term income support payment that supports eligible recently widowed people.

Centrelink Payment Summary

People who receive taxable and certain non-taxable payments receive a Centrelink Payment Summary. The Centrelink Payment Summary information is automatically provided to the ATO. When completing an income tax return using myTax or a registered tax agent a recipient’s Centrelink Payment Summary information is automatically available.

People can view, download or request a copy of their Centrelink Payment Summary using:

  • the Centrelink online account through myGov
  • the Express Plus Centrelink mobile app
  • self service terminals at a service centre
  • Centrelink phone self service by selecting ‘request a document’.

Multicultural services

Multicultural Servicing Strategy

The department has developed a three year Multicultural Servicing Strategy 2016-19, which was launched by the Minister for Human Services on 31 August 2016, to meet its commitments under the Australian Government’s Multicultural Access and Equity Policy. The strategy continues the department’s long history of delivering culturally and linguistically appropriate services. It outlines a number of actions, including:

  • ensuring multicultural people are taken into account in the design of future digital business models, especially when language assistance is required
  • providing staff with multicultural awareness training
  • allocating a Multicultural Service Officer position to relevant business areas, to increase accessibility of services for culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) recipients
  • planning and delivering an annual ‘deep dive’, targeted satisfaction survey to multicultural recipients.

Multicultural Service Officers

In 2016-17, a network of 70 Multicultural Service Officers (MSOs) continued to operate throughout Australia. Each officer covers a geographical area, giving all service centres access to multicultural expertise. MSOs have close relationships with multicultural communities and play an important role in supporting service delivery to recipients from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. 

Examples of MSO activities include:

  • promoting and demonstrating the department’s digital services to recipients and community groups
  • working with multicultural communities, service providers, and government and non-government stakeholders to develop local strategies and local solutions
  • promoting the department’s payments, services and communication options to multicultural communities
  • promoting multicultural resources to staff.

Building trust and understanding

For Multicultural Service Officer (MSO) Victoria, a focus on offering support that people can understand makes a real difference to the lives of many migrants and refugees.

Victoria says: 'It's important we treat people as they are—not for what they look like or how they speak.

'Many stories have touched my heart over the years. One I can remember very clearly was about a woman from Africa.

'Because of all she'd suffered during a civil war in her country, she was very afraid. She didn't trust the government or even her own community. She kept her money in a pillow cover under her bed.'

As a migrant herself, Victoria understood the challenges the woman faced. She worked hard to gain her trust and connected her with a settlement service provider and community organisations to get the assistance she needed.

'Her story inspires me because, despite all the trauma she'd been through, she was able to find the strength to empower herself, learn English and build a better future,' Victoria said.

About 70 MSOs work for the department across the country to help migrant and refugee communities connect with Australian Government services.

Support for refugees and humanitarian entrants

The department offers a range of services to assist refugees entering the community. The department works closely with the DIBP, DSS, humanitarian settlement service providers contracted to DIBP, and community groups to ensure refugees have targeted services on arrival in Australia. A network of specialist Refugee and Asylum Seeker teams and subject matter experts in locations with high settlement populations provide tailored services for these entrants.

During the year the department continued to monitor its services to ensure they met the needs of refugees arriving through the Australian Government’s annual Humanitarian Program, and as part of the additional 12,000 places for Syrians and Iraqis.

Citizenship testing

Delivered on behalf of DIBP, weekly citizenship tests are available at 33 service centres in regional areas. Around 107,808 citizenship tests were taken across Australia during the year, with 13,144 tests taken in regional service centres.

Language services

The department provides free translation and interpreting services in over 200 languages to help people conduct their business.

More than 2,600 contracted interpreters deliver these services. The department also supplies regular, rostered onsite interpreters who work out of 56 service centres where demand for assistance in certain languages is high.

Bilingual staff may be paid a Community Language Allowance if they use their language skills in the course of their work. In 2016-17, 698 staff received the Community Language Allowance.

Assurance of Support

An Assurance of Support is a legal agreement between an Australian resident or organisation (assurer) and the Australian Government. Under the agreement an assurer agrees to support a migrant on a specific type of visa for their first two or ten years in Australia (depending on the visa type) so they do not have to rely on payments from the government. The department decides who can be an assurer by assessing their financial capacity to support a migrant.

Status Resolution Support Services

The department administers the Status Resolution Support Services payment. DIBP determines eligibility for the payment which provides financial assistance to people living in the community while their immigration status is being resolved. At 30 June 2017 approximately 12,000 recipients received the payment.

Innovative Multicultural Services

The department offers Express Plus Lite mobile app services in four languages for iOS and android devices. People can use the app to report their earnings anywhere at any time, increasing convenience and reducing the need for interpreter services. The languages are Arabic, Chinese, Vietnamese and Persian (Farsi).

Emergency responses

Payments and services

The department’s core responsibility in response to emergencies is to ensure continuity of payments and services. Service delivery during an emergency can include:

  • assisting individuals to test their eligibility for an income support payment or service
  • assessing and paying Medicare benefits
  • supporting Medicare providers
  • tailoring collection and assessment services to affected child support recipients
  • providing social work services
  • delivering the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment (AGDRP), Disaster Recovery Allowance (DRA), and equivalent ex-gratia payments
  • delivering the Australian Victim of Terrorism Overseas Payment (AVTOP).

To support the government’s emergency response the department also participates in state, territory and local recovery committees. Departmental services may be delivered from established relief or recovery centres with agreement from the state or territory government.

In response to an emergency, the department can deploy:

  • staff to recovery centres
  • staff to take emergency calls and process claims for emergency payments
  • social workers to local and overseas locations to assist Australians in emergency affected areas or to assist Australians when they return from offshore disasters
  • mobile computing support
  • Australian Government mobile service centres to provide services in affected areas.

Emergency Reserve

The department maintains a register of Emergency Reserve staff willing to assist in recovery efforts. This helps the department to respond quickly following emergencies. There are 5,877 staff (17.3 per cent of the department’s staff) registered for the Emergency Reserve.

Emergency Reserve staff are a resource that can be called on at short notice. These staff have a range of skills which are used in various roles including:

  • assisting people affected by emergencies at field locations
  • support to affected service centres
  • working behind the scenes in processing centres
  • answering calls to the Australian Government Emergency Information Line
  • backfilling staff deployed to provide emergency support.

In 2016-17 Emergency Reserve staff supported recovery efforts in response to Tropical Cyclone Debbie in April 2017.

Current events

Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payments (AGDRP)

The department’s response to emergencies included payment of AGDRP claims. This payment was provided to people adversely affected by Tropical Cyclone Debbie in Logan, the Gold Coast, Mackay, Rockhampton, Scenic Rim, Whitsunday, Lismore, Tweed, and Rockhampton local government areas.

Table: Income Management recipients
  Tropical Cyclone Debbie
Claims finalised 23,786
Claims paid to affected people 20,311
Amount paid $23,924,400

Disaster Recovery Allowance (DRA)

The DRA was activated to assist individuals, including employees, primary producers, and sole traders in specified areas who experienced a loss of income as a direct result of Tropical Cyclone Debbie.

Table: DRA payments at 30 June 2017
  Tropical Cyclone Debbie
Claims finalised 1,926
Claims paid to affected people 700
Amount paid $1,450,178

Strong sense of duty

Some staff, particularly in regional and rural areas, are involved in the community through volunteer emergency services. They are trained professionals who put their own safety on the line to protect the lives, livelihoods and assets of others.

Hugh from the Stanthorpe office is one such volunteer rural firefighter for the Queensland Fire and Emergency services.

In February this year, he was called to be part of the Queensland relief crews to help fight the Liston fires that were burning in New South Wales.

'I was in heavily wooded hill country. We spent our time back burning and blacking out and watching over our shoulders for spot fires that could have caught us in a 'flash over' (where the fire engulfs the truck).'

Hugh explains. But it is all in a day’s work for Hugh, who has attended quite a few fires in his two years of volunteer firefighting.

Hugh loves his work as a rural firefighter. 'Being a professional rural firefighter is challenging, but it is also very rewarding and I encourage anyone interested to contact their local brigade and find out if volunteering is for them,' Hugh said.

'Unpaid professionals put themselves on the line; they don’t do it for glory, but merely to give back to their local community and help in a very real and practical way.'

Ex gratia payments to New Zealand non-protected special category visa holders

Ex-gratia payments to New Zealand non-protected special category visa holders were also activated for individuals affected by Tropical Cyclone Debbie. These payments are equivalent to the AGDRP.

At 30 June 2017 more than:

  • 229 claims had been received
  • 188 claims had been paid to affected people
  • $219,400 had been paid.

Ex-gratia Disaster Recovery Allowance for New Zealand non-protected special category visa holders was activated to assist those who suffered a loss of income as a direct result of Tropical Cyclone Debbie. This payment is equivalent to the DRA.

At 30 June 2017 more than:

  • 67 claims had been received
  • 32 claims had been paid to affected people
  • $66,531 had been paid.

Emergency claim lodgement channel

There are various options to claim disaster recovery payments, including over the phone, online, by completing a paper claim form, and in person.

Table: Percentage of disaster recovery claims granted by claiming channel(a)
Claiming channel 2014-15 % 2015-16 % 2016-17 %
Phone 61 59 91
Online 33 18 0
Paper and in person 6 23 9
  1. These figures do not include AVTOP, or rapid response payment claims.

Australian Government Emergency Information Line

The Australian Government Emergency Information Line was activated in response to Tropical Cyclone Debbie in the 2016-17 financial year.

Table: Calls to the Australian Government Emergency Information Line
Australian Government Emergency Information Line 2015-16 2016-17
Calls answered 8,128(a) 59,570
  1. SA Pinery bushfires, WA Waroona bushfires, NSW East Coast storms and floods, TAS East Coast storms and floods.

Working in emergency recovery

In 2016-17, following Tropical Cyclone Debbie and the subsequent flooding which affected communities across Queensland and New South Wales, 53 staff were sent to the affected areas to assist in delivering emergency payments.

During these events the department had up to four ‘points of presence’ at any one time. Points of presence are mobile computing equipment sites that have laptop computers, printers and internet connectivity. These sites provide staff with instant access to departmental systems, allow on-the-spot assessment of claims, and offer other departmental assistance.

The department tailored business as usual activities to streamline access to payments and services for those in cyclone and flood affected areas. Additionally, the mobile service centre crews assisted in recovery; they spent ten days in 13 disaster-affected communities, helping nearly 1,200 people.

Australian Victim of Terrorism Overseas Payment (AVTOP)

AVTOP provides one-off assistance to Australians who were harmed (primary victims) and close family members of a person who died (secondary victims) as a direct result of a declared overseas terrorist act.

AVTOP was activated for the July 2016 Nice, France attack, the December 2016 Berlin, Germany attack, the March 2017 London, United Kingdom attack and the following 20 past overseas incidents:

  • September 2001 Istanbul, Turkey bombing
  • March 2002 Islamabad, Pakistan attack
  • March 2003 Khormal, Iraq bombing
  • May 2003 Riyadh, Saudi Arabia bombings
  • July 2003 Baghdad, Iraq arms assault
  • August 2003 Jakarta, Indonesia bombing
  • August 2003 Baghdad, Iraq bombing
  • November 2003 Istanbul, Turkey bombing
  • February 2004 Thaloqan near Kandahar, Afghanistan arms assault
  • May 2004 Yanbu’ al Bahr, Saudi Arabia arms assault
  • May 2004 Al-Khubar, Saudi Arabia armed assault
  • October 2005 Delhi, India bombings
  • September 2006 Gardez, Paktia Province, Afghanistan bombing
  • April 2008 Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan arms assault
  • December 2010 Varanasi, India bombing
  • August 2011 Quetta, Pakistan bombing
  • December 2011—March 2013 Mindanao, Philippines kidnapping
  • August 2013 Tripoli, Lebanon bombings
  • September 2014 Kabul, Afghanistan kidnapping
  • March 2015 Tunis, Tunisia arms assault.

In 2016-17, 333 calls were answered by the Australian Victim of Terrorism Overseas Hotline.

Table: AVTOP payments in 2016-17
  Primary victims Secondary victims
Claims finalised 15 2
Claims paid 11 0
Amount paid $748,600.00 $0

National Emergency Call Centre Surge Capability (NECCSC)

The department provides surge assistance through the National Emergency Call Centre Surge Capability (NECCSC) on request from states, territories and other Australian Government agencies when their own resources are overwhelmed (this does not include calls to the state and territory emergency services and 000).

In 2016-17 the NECCSC was activated for:

  • Smart Service Queensland in response to Tropical Cyclone Debbie
  • Safecom (South Australian government) in response to the South Australian extreme weather event.
Table: NECCSC Calls taken in 2016-17
NECCSC Activation Smart Service Queensland Safecom
Calls answered 1,170 518

National Security Hotline

The department also provides surge assistance for the National Security Hotline on request from the Attorney-General’s Department. The hotline is the single point of contact for people to report possible signs of terrorism or to request information.

In 2016-17 the department assisted in taking 536 calls to the National Security Hotline.

Events that closed in 2016-17

Claims for the AGDRP and DRA can be lodged up to six months from the date the payment is activated. Claims were paid in 2016-17 for events that occurred during 2015-16. These events included:

  • Western Australia Waroona bushfires, January 2016
  • Tasmania East Coast Storms and Floods, June 2016
  • New South Wales East Coast Storms and Floods, June 2016.

For these events, in 2016-17 the department paid $121,074.

Disaster health care assistance schemes

The Australian Government helps people to meet health and community care costs arising from specified natural disasters and terrorist attacks. The department administers the following special assistance schemes:

  • Balimed (2002)
  • Tsunami Healthcare Assistance (2004)
  • London Assist (2005)
  • Bali (2005)
  • Dahab Egypt Bombing Health Care Costs Assistance (2006).

Closure of Hunter River and Port Stephens fisheries

In 2016-17 the department delivered payments on behalf of the Department of Defence (Defence) to assist individuals and small businesses affected by the closure of the Hunter River and Port Stephens fisheries. The payments consisted of:

  • a fortnightly Income Recovery Subsidy for individuals
  • the Business Assistance Payment, Business Hardship and Business Transition Payments for small businesses.
Table: Payments relating to the closure of Hunter River and Port Stephens fisheries in 2016-17(a)
  Business Assistance Payment Business Hardship Payment
Claims finalised 7 101
Claims paid to affected people or business 5 89
Amounts paid to people or businesses $25,000 $810,653
  1. No figures are reported for 2016-17 for the Income Recovery Subsidy as small numbers of distinctive claims may lead to identifying individual claimants.

In 2016-17, 266 calls were answered by the Australian Government Emergency Information Line from people affected by the closure of the Hunter River and Port Stephens fisheries.

Page last updated: 14 November 2017