COVID-19 Welfare Explainer

5 May 2020

Has COVID-19 impacted you financially? There is plenty of financial support for students at the moment if you know where to look. Farrago has put together this quick explainer to help you work out the payments you might be eligible for. There’s even a little flow chart if you’re really pressed for time.

Over the past month, the Australian Government has announced a range of unprecedented spending measures aimed at minimising the economic impact of the pandemic on individuals, businesses and the economy. The Government is expected to spend $192 billion – around $7,600 per Australian citizen – but, who does all this money go to?

The Government believes the JobKeeper package could benefit up to 6 million workers – nearly half the total workforce. But it won’t help everyone, and the package has received criticism for not including support for 1.1 million casual workers and temporary visa holders. International students have also been calling for federal support. 



I’ve just lost my job, can the Government help me?

The $130 billion JobKeeper payment is the single biggest stimulus package in Australian history. It’s designed to help businesses retain staff during the coronavirus and economic slowdown.

Employers are eligible for the JobKeeper payment if they pay staff members a minimum of $1,500/fortnight. The payment is organised through the employer, so you will receive it through your employer’s payroll. To receive the monetary support, you must meet a few conditions: 

  • You’re a full or part-time employee and  were employed by an eligible employer at March 1;
  • You’re a casual employee and were employed on a regular basis for at least 12 months at March 1;
  • You’re an Australian citizen or permanent resident… or temporary visa holder from New Zealand. Thanks, Jacinda. (If you’re an international student, head down to the “I’m an international student – help!” section.)

I think I’m eligible – what do I do next?

Because the JobKeeper payment is essentially a wage subsidy given to your employer to keep you on the books, the best thing to do is to get in contact with your (old) boss. It might be awkward, but there’s a good chance they’ll already know whether you’re eligible or not. If you are, they will probably give you a form to fill out called the ‘JobKeeper employment nomination notice’. If you were working part-time or casually and you currently receive another welfare payment such as Youth Allowance, you’ll need to notify Centrelink that you’ve applied for JobKeeper and report your income as you would under normal circumstances.

I’m on Centrelink payments – has anything changed?

Many welfare recipients will find their income more than double after April 27 when the coronavirus supplement commences. Make sure to check the full list of eligible recipients, but people who are currently receiving study support payments including Youth Allowance, AUSTUDY and ABSTUDY are automatically eligible for the extra $550 a fortnight. That’s on top of the $750 economic support payment which most current recipients have already received, with another $750 potentially coming your way in July. You will still have to report your income, but Centrelink has announced it is temporarily suspending ‘compliance action’ and some debt collecting activities, meaning that payments won’t be suspended if you fail to report. 

I can’t get JobKeeper and I’m not on Centrelink – what do I do?

If you’re an Australian resident and your circumstances have changed due to coronavirus, you might be eligible for a welfare payment. If you’re a student under 24, Youth Allowance might be an option. Parental means tests still apply for those under 22, but if your parents have also lost income and are unable to support you, you could be eligible. If you’re 25 or older and studying full time, Austudy is your go-to. You’ll still need to declare income, but they’ve waived the assets test for the time being. They’ve also waived some of the income and reporting obligations for ABSTUDY, which is your option if you’re an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student requiring support for study, housing, living expenses and travel. And if you’re over 22 and not working or studying, you might be eligible for JobSeeker. Again, a lot of the reporting and income requirements have been changed, including the Partner Income Test

The main point is: if you think you’re eligible, hop onto the Services Australia website and get yourself a Customer Reference Number (CRN). The sooner you find out whether you’re eligible, the sooner you can submit a claim, and you’ll typically be back-paid from the date you submitted a successful claim. 

I’m an international student – help!

It’s a scary enough time to be far away from family and communities, but, while you’re unlikely to be eligible for Centrelink payments, there are a few other options out there for you. On April 29, the Victorian Government announced that international students studying at Victorian universities would be eligible for a payment of up to $1,100 AU through the $45 million International Student Emergency Relief Fund. Applications aren’t open just yet, but you can register your interest by filling out this webform.

There’s not much support for international students from the Federal Government. However, Education Minister Dan Tehan has announced that those working in the “crucial sectors” of aged care and supermarket retail will be allowed to work more hours than the usual 40 per week. International students will also be able to access any super savings they’ve earned while working in Australia. 

Outside of government payments, the University of Melbourne has a dedicated coronavirus financial support page which is definitely worth checking out. The Emergency Student Support Fund is available to students who have experienced a loss of income or financial hardship due to COVID-19. Eligible students will be able to receive a grant of up to $7,500 to help with basic living costs during the pandemic. Students who have cancelled overseas study can also access the Fund to make up for costs not covered by travel insurance. 

These are stressful times. The frustration of dealing with employers, Centrelink and University services doesn’t make things much easier. The UMSU website has plenty of information and resources for wellbeing, financial and advocacy support. There’s also some handy information on staying connected and a calendar of upcoming online events. We might not be seeing bands and bevs for a while, but a Facebook Live with Eliza & The Delusionals might be the next best thing. 


“File:Centrelink-entrance-Burnie-20160802-001.jpg” by Gary Houston is licensed under CC0 1.0 

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