Social Security

The Australian social security system

Social security (welfare) is the name given to state benefits paid to residents in Australia. Social security is non-contributory and is financed from general taxation (although there’s a specific levy for Medicare).

In the period 2004/05, social security payments totalled $82.6 billion, estimated to rise to $94.7 billion by 2007/08. Nevertheless, many people fail to apply for allowances and pensions to which they’re entitled. If you apply and your application is rejected, you can ask for the decision to be reviewed by an Authorised Review Officer (ARO); if it’s turned down again, you can appeal to the Social Security Appeals Tribunal, and finally to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

A range of publications detailing social security allowances, benefits and pensions is available from Social Security offices and community organisations. Centrelink, the Department of Social Security, provides a telephone enquiry service on 13-1021. Calls are charged at local call rates from anywhere in Australia. For more information, contact the Department of Family and Community Services (FaCS), PO Box 7788, Canberra Mail Centre, ACT 2610 (local call rate 1300-654227, www.facs.nsw.gov.au ).

Eligibility

The main beneficiaries of social security are the aged and disabled, single parents, those who are unemployed, sick or in special need, and families with children. Eligibility for most social security benefits is subject to an income and/or means test. The poorest 10 per cent of Australians receive some 600 per cent more in government payments than the richest 10 per cent over their lifetime. If you’re found to have sufficient income or assets after a means test, your social security payments are reduced or terminated. Assets which are means tested include most investments but not belongings such as antiques, cars, holiday homes, your principal home and superannuation pensions. Financial investments are deemed to earn a certain income (adjusted annually).

New Migrants

New migrants must wait 104 weeks (any time spent as an Australian resident can be counted towards this period) before they can claim most social security payments, although refugees and humanitarian immigrants are exempt from the waiting period. Migrants can, however, claim Medicare benefits, the minimum rate of Family Payment and, in exceptional circumstances, special benefit (see Benefits below) and a widow’s allowance during the two-year waiting period. Some sponsors of migrants need to provide an Assurance of Support, which makes them liable to repay the government if certain welfare benefits are paid to the migrant during his first two years (ten years for children sponsoring a parent who’s within ten years of retirement).

Benefits

Benefits include a bereavement allowance, carer pension, child disability allowance, disability support pension, double orphan pension, family tax payment, health care card, maternity allowance, mobility allowance, multiple birth payment (triplets or more), ‘jobsearch’ and ‘newstart’ allowance, parenting or guardian allowance (if a single parent), pharmaceutical allowance, rent assistance, sheltered employment and rehabilitation allowances, sickness allowance, widow’s allowance and youth training allowance. A discretionary payment (called special benefit) may be paid to those who aren’t eligible for other forms of assistance but are unable to support themselves.

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