The government released an internal report, on Tuesday night, suspending all welfare appointments for job-seekers because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The suspension will run until March 31 after an outpouring of Jobseeker Payment applications caused a series of system outages. For this reason, job-seekers will not be able to report to Centrelink and may risk having their welfare payments stopped eventually.
On Wednesday, reports sent to the employment service providers stated the government have no plans on informing that attendance to scheduled appointments was no longer required. The government excused job-seekers from their mutual obligations, including Work for the Dole, and the face-to-face interview necessary for mutual obligations at any job centre.
“Their payment will not be suspended, and they will not accrue a demerit,” the internal statement guaranteed.
The Department of Education, Skills, and Employment said through a spokeswoman on a press release last Tuesday that service providers do not need to inform job-seekers, but may do so if required. Hence, they are now working on sending notifications via SMS or message regarding this arrangement.
Rachel Siewert, the WA Greens Senator, called for the suspension of welfare appointments as the coronavirus crisis continues to spread globally. She said participants do not need to be present for a meeting to discuss mutual obligations right away, noting more people were becoming nervous about not receiving payments.
The Labour Union criticised an alleged misleading tweet by the Services Australia earlier Tuesday, saying it may send mixed messages. In the Twitter post, Services Australia declared mutual obligations would stay put for all job-seekers who were not affected by the viral outbreak.
Labour representatives, Brendan O’Connor, Louise Pratt, and Linda Burney said, “In what is a confusing time, job seekers need clear and consistent communication about their mutual obligation requirements.” They further suggested suspending beyond the one week apart from temporarily suspending mutual obligations requirements and welfare appointments.
Siewert also said her office received messages from participants of the Work for the Dole to take part in their group activities – a contradiction to the government’s directions for providers.
Hank Jongen, the General Manager of Services Australia, said their agency helped in the creation of an updated Notice to Claim. Its function is to assist people in online registration for welfare benefits. With this provision, Centrelink offices no longer require attendance.
Besides, participants will receive back pay from their initial contact with Centrelink. They will also have the luxury to complete their application for Jobseeker Payment soon.
Jongen, however, revealed that the agency had not introduced a new staff before the upsurge in customers on Monday. He, however, assured everyone an internal staff mobilisation is in effect. On the other hand, the agency plans on hiring up to 5,000 workers to prevent system overload.
Jongen also mentioned how customers were concerned about not getting their stimulus payment that will be due on March 31. For the recently unemployed though, expect a 15-day wait time to process claims for JobSeeker Payment. Siewert noticed recipients were still confused whether they have to report their income to Centrelink through welfare appointments in person or not.