The employment agency has suspended welfare payments 74,000 times since joint obligations were returned last month, with 9,100 people experiencing homelessness among those temporarily cut off from income benefits.
Labor Department officials late Thursday revealed plans to give job seekers a new “48-hour window” before their payments are delayed, as they admit the latest figures under the current system are “big.”
With the entry of new job seekers, including some dealing with the system for the first time, figures given to Senate estimates show a total of 74,434 pending payments recorded between September 28 and October 18.
About 7% of all job seekers have experienced a payment suspension within the three weeks.
This includes 9,100 homeless people, 13,169 people with disabilities, 12,137 Indigenous job seekers and 12,401 former offenders. Some welfare recipients will be assigned to several categories.
A suspension of payment – which applies when a job seeker fails to attend a scheduled job agency meeting or other full-time activity – can result in delays in a person’s welfare payments.
Challenged by the numbers by Green senator Rachel Siewert, the minister of labor, Michaelia Cash, said job seekers could immediately contact their providers and “rectify the situation”.
He does not agree that the system is unfair.
“We are suspending joint obligations for a very long period of time,” added Cash. They are still suspended in Victoria.
Siewert said he “doesn’t understand” how “deferring payments to homeless people in the midst of a recession will help them find jobs.”
“This is a group that the government should provide additional support, not punish them for income support,” he said.
Siewert said the suspension of payments was “very stressful”, especially for people living below the poverty line.
“For those who said it might only be a few days, they missed,” he said.
“It is tremendous stress trying to navigate this system to deal with Centrelink and in some cases intimidating job providers.”
The Australian Unemployed Workers Union said on Twitter the numbers were “heartbreaking”.
Janine Pitt, the Labor Department’s first assistant secretary, also revealed upcoming changes to the system that would reduce the amount of deferred payments being provided.
Under the current system, a person’s pay is automatically withheld when their employment agent notes that they have missed an appointment or activity.
The person is required to “re-engage” with their provider through a chase meeting before their payment is recovered.
Pitt said late Thursday that job seekers would soon have a “48-hour window” or grace period to contact their agencies before their payments are deferred.
“Say someone has an appointment at 10 am [and] they don’t show up, at 11 am usually the consultant has noted in the system that the person is not present, “said Pitt.
“It will generate SMS messages for job seekers to let them know they have an appointment they have never met. They need to contact their provider. If they don’t contact their provider within two days, their payment will be put on hold. “
Previously, the person’s payments would be suspended immediately.
The changes will take effect from December.
Guardian Australia has reported extensively how about this automated system have vulnerable groups who are disproportionately affected, such as homeless people and single parents.
Last year, Guardian Australia revealed more than 120,000 people whose payments were withheld in 2018-19 were later found to have valid reasons for missing their appointment or activity.
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