Social security benefits and their eligibility criteria

Technical resource

There are a number of social security benefits with differing and complex eligibility criteria. This guide looks at some of the main payments and concession cards.

Centrelink and the Department of Veteran Affairs (DVA) are responsible for a range of payments. These can be divided into pensions, allowances, and other benefits.

Clients will need to lodge a claim to receive a benefit and:

  • must be an Australian resident and physically reside in Australia at the time they make a claim

  • provide all relevant information (even if it’s not specifically asked for) 

  • respond to any Centrelink correspondence within 14 days

  • advice Centrelink of any material change in their circumstances within 14 days.

Centrelink payments, allowances and other benefits as well as their eligibility criteria are summarised in A guide to Australian Government Payments. Veteran Affairs payments and their eligibility criteria are summarised on the Department of Veterans' Affairs website.

Pensions

Pensions are long term income support payments. The Age Pension and the Disability Support Pension (DSP) are the main types of pensions payable.

Below are the basic conditions of eligibility and applicable payment rates for each.

Age Pension

The following age requirements apply:

  • Those born before 1 July 1952 became eligible at age 65.

Since 1 July 2017, the eligibility age increases by six months every two years, until the qualifying age reaches 67 on 1 July 2023. This means the current qualification age is 66, if the individual did not attain age 65.5 by 30 June 2019 (i.e. born on or after 1 January 1954) as shown in the table below.

Date of birth

Eligible for Age pension at age

1 July 1952 to 31 December 1953

65.5

1 January 1954 to 30 June 1955

66

1 July 1955 to 31 December 1956

66.5

1 January 1957 and later

67

Basic pension rates are:

  • outlined in Facts and figures

  • calculated under income and asset tests- the test that results in the lower, or nil rate will apply.

Disability Support Pension (DSP)

The claimant must:

  • be aged 16 or over but under age pension age at the date of claim lodgement, and 

  • have a physical, intellectual or psychiatric impairment assessed at 20 points or more under the impairment tables, and 

  • be unable, as a result of impairment, to work for 15 hours or more per week for the next two years, and 

  • be unable, as a result of impairment, to undertake a training activity which would equip the person for work within the next two years, or 

  • be permanently blind.

Basic rates are:

  • paid at the same rate as the Age Pension, except if aged under 21 without children where a Youth Disability Supplement is also payable

  • subject to the same means test as the Age Pension, except if aged under 21 without children where separate asset and income thresholds apply.

Pension supplements

Pension supplements are added to the regular fortnightly payments of the Age Pension, Carer Payment, Bereavement Allowance (no new grants after 20 March 2020), Disability Support Pension (except if aged under 21 without children) and to certain other income support payments or ABSTUDY Living Allowance recipients if the person has reached age pension age.

The maximum pension supplement is the combined value of the Telephone Allowance, Utilities Allowance, the GST Supplement, Pharmaceutical Allowance and an additional amount into a single payment. The maximum Pension Supplement is currently $69.60 a fortnight for singles and $105 a fortnight for couples, combined.

The minimum pension supplement amount is the last benefit amount to reduce when the income test is applied. It is also the amount which remains payable if any pension supplement is payable after the application of the income and assets tests. The minimum amount is currently $37.40 a fortnight for singles, and $56.40 for couples, combined.

Pensioners may elect to receive the minimum pension supplement amount on a quarterly basis with instalments paid after 20 March, 20 June, 20 September and 20 December each year.

A pension supplement basic amount (formerly the GST Supplement) is paid to recipients of the Parenting Payment (Single) who are under age pension age, and to those eligible for the pension supplement who are absent from Australia for longer than 6 weeks. The basic amount is currently $24.20 a fortnight for singles and $39.80 for couples, combined.

Energy Supplement

The Energy Supplement is a tax-exempt, permanent payment to assist with household expenses, including energy costs. Indexation ceased on 1 July 2014, so payment amounts are now fixed and vary depending on the type of benefit being received.

Payments are made at the same time as the regular payment cycle for pensioners, other income support recipients, families receiving Family Tax Benefit payments, Seniors Supplement recipients, youth and student payment recipients and DSP recipients aged under 21 without dependent children.

Since 20 March 2017, the Energy Supplement is only paid to Family Tax Benefit recipients and Commonwealth Seniors Health Card holders, as long as they have been continuously receiving the Energy Supplement since 19 September 2016.

Most pension, allowance and family payment recipients can choose to receive the supplement with their regular fortnightly payment or quarterly in arrears. Commonwealth Seniors Health Card holders receive the Energy Supplement quarterly in arrears.

Allowances

Unlike pensions, allowances are more of a temporary payment. There are greater eligibility requirements including a stricter means test, and payments are at a lower rate than for pensions.

Below are the basic conditions of eligibility and rates that apply to each type of payment.

For all current rates refer to the Services Australia website.

Allowance

Basic conditions of eligibility and rates

JobSeeker Payment (JSP)

Aged 22 or over, but under age pension age

Must be one of the following:
Looking for work

  • Unemployed,
  • Unless exempted, must participate in, or be willing to participate in approved activities and/or job search,
  • Prepared to enter into, comply with or vary an existing Job Plan to fulfil the mutual obligation /activity test requirements.

Can't work or study

  • Temporarily incapacitated for work (or full-time study and on Austudy or ABSTUDY)),
  • Must have a job or full-time study to which they can return,
  • A medical certificate from a qualified medical practitioner must be supplied

Recently lost their partner

  • Were a member of a couple,
  • Person's partner passed away,
  • Have not become a member of a couple again,
  • Lodged the claim within specific time limits, generally within 14 weeks of the death 

Partner Allowance (PA) 

No longer open to new entrants

Existing recipients may lose this benefit if they travel overseas for an extended period

It may be paid for up to six weeks of a temporary absence from Australia or longer if the person has to travel to study or train as part of their full-time Australian course or Australian Apprenticeship 

Widow Allowance (WA) 

Women born on or before 1 July 1955

Not a member of a couple

Widowed, divorced or separated since turning 40

No recent workforce experience (work of at least 20 hours a week, for 13 weeks or more during the last 12 months)

Paid at the same rate as JSP

Other benefits

Carer Payment

The basic conditions of eligibility include a person providing constant care for those meeting the following definitions:

  • a person who has a physical, intellectual or psychiatric disability, or 

  • a disable adult who has a dependent child in their care. If the dependent child is aged six years or over, a person must qualify for and receive Carer Allowance for that child, or 

  • a child with a severe disability, or a severe medical condition, or

  • two or more children with a disability, or medical condition, or 

  • a disabled adult and one or more children each with a disability or medical condition, or 

  • a child with severe disability or severe medical condition on a short-term or episodic basis, or 

  • a profoundly disabled child

In addition to the above, the person being cared for must also:

  • meet the care receiver income and assets tests, or 

  • be receiving an income support payment from Centrelink or DVA, or

  • not be receiving an income support payment only due to not meeting residence requirements

The carer is not required to live with or adjacent to the person being cared for, but must be providing constant care in a private home of the care receiver. A person receiving the Carer Payment for a child, may also be entitled to the Carer Allowance.

The basic rates payable are the same as for the Age Pension and payment may be paid during a period of respite care for up to 63 days in a calendar year.

Income and asset tests apply for the care provider and are the same as for the Age Pension.

If the care recipient does not receive a pension or benefit from Centrelink or DVA they are also subject to an income and asset test. The income and assets limits are as follows:

  • the income limit for the person receiving care (and relevant family members) to enable their carer to qualify for a Carer Payment is currently $116,189 

  • the assets limit for the person receiving care (and relevant family members) to enable their carer to qualify for a Carer Payment is currently $716,750 

  • if the assets of the person receiving care exceed the assets limit, their carer may still qualify for the Carer Payment if they pass an income test and the liquid assets test 

  • the current liquid assets limits for people receiving care are $6,000 (single) and $10,000 (partnered).

Carer Allowance

The Carer Allowance is a means test exempt income supplement, paid to someone who provides daily care and attention at home to a person with a disability or medical condition who is:

  • aged 16 or over where the disability causes a substantial functional impairment, or 

  • a dependent child aged under 16 (subject to additional eligibility requirements).

The basic rates paid are:

  • $131.90 per fortnight, plus a $1,000 Child Disability Assistance payment paid annually on 1 July for each child being cared for under 16 years of age 

  • up to $600 Carer Supplement paid annually for each person being cared for

  • an additional (fixed) $600 Carer Supplement paid annually where a recipient is in receipt of certain income support payments.

Carer Payment vs Age Pension

Recipients of the Carer Payment have the choice of staying on this payment or converting to the Age Pension once reaching age pension age. They cannot receive both. Listed below are some of the factors that may influence a person’s decision.

Influencing factor

Carer Payment

Age Pension

Means testing

Applies to both carer and care receiver

Only applies to carer

Reviews

Carer reviews every two years

No carer reviews (unless in receipt of Carer Allowance)

Travel

Up to six weeks of overseas travel without care receiver

Can be paid indefinitely – depends on conditions

Respite

Breaks of up to 63 days per year

Not affected

Carer Supplement

$600 per annum

Only paid if also receiving the Carer Allowance

Rent assistance

Higher rate if single and sharing private accommodation

Lower rate if single and sharing private accommodation

Family Tax Benefits

The Family Tax Benefit (FTB) is one of a number of payments available to eligible families to provide support with the cost of raising children. It consists of two parts:

  • FTA Part A is designed to help families with the cost of raising children. The payment is based on the combined income of a family, and is paid in respect of each eligible FTB child

  • FTA Part B provides extra help for single parent families and couple families with one main income earner.

FTB Part A & Part B payments can be paid either fortnightly or as a lump sum at the end of the financial year, and consist of:

  • the individual’s standard rate FTB 

  • the energy supplement (different rates apply for Part A and Part B payments) 

  • an end of year supplement.

The end of year supplements are paid following the lodgement of tax returns by an individual and/or their partner, if they’re required to lodge a tax return. Individuals and/or their partners who are not required to lodge a tax return need to advise Centrelink in order to receive the supplement. The FTB Part A end of year supplement is subject to the child meeting immunisation requirements and the combined family income not exceeding $80,000.

FTB Part A is paid at different rates depending on the individual and their partners combined adjusted taxable income and the number and ages of eligible children in the family.

FTB Part B is also paid at different rates depending on the age of the youngest child, and where the individual is a member of a couple, the income of the secondary earner. To be eligible for FTB Part B, the primary earner must have an adjusted taxable income (ATI) of, or below $100,000. 

There is no asset test for FTB payments. However, there is an income test which is based on ATI. If more than the base rate of FTB Part A is payable, a maintenance income test may also apply. The ATI test is not applied for FTB Part A where:

  • a recipient or their partner is in receipt of certain income support payments, such as a social security pension, benefit, allowance, service pension or Defence Force Income Support Allowance 

  • the family’s ATI for this financial year is $55,626 or less.

The definition of ATI for family assistance purposes is:

  • taxable income

  • reportable fringe benefits

  • reportable superannuation contributions 

  • total net investment losses 

  • tax free Social Security pensions and benefits 

  • foreign income

  • tax exempt foreign income 

  • less any child support payable.

Maintenance income test

Where more than the base rate of FTB Part A is payable, a maintenance income test may also apply. The maintenance income test applies if the recipient or their partner is entitled to receive child support or spousal maintenance. However, if the recipient or partner are permanently blind and on specific pension payments, an exemption from the maintenance income test may apply.

Current FTB rates and income test thresholds are outlined in Facts and figures.

Child Care Subsidy

The Child Care Subsidy was introduced on 2 July 2018 as part of the government’s New Child Care Package. It replaces the former Child Care Benefit (CCB) and Child Care Rebate (CCR) payments, and is paid directly to services.

The subsidy is means tested, with an annual cap applying to families earning above the threshold.

There are three factors that determine the level of Child Care Subsidy available to families:

  • the combined family income determines the percentage of subsidy they’re eligible for

  • the activity level of parents determines the number of hours of subsidised care a family can access (the higher the level of activity, the more hours of subsidised care a family can access, up to a maximum of 100 hours per fortnight)

  • the type of child care service used. The subsidy is calculated using hourly rate caps according to the type of child care service (i.e. centre based day care, family day care, outside school hours care and in home care).

Your clients will need to provide the following information to Centrelink:

  • the combined family income estimate for the financial year

  • the hours of recognised activity including work, training, study and volunteering

  • the type of child care their family uses.

An Additional Child Care Subsidy was also introduced, replacing a number of payments including the Special Child Care Benefit and the Jobs, Education and Training Child Care Fee Assistance. It will, in most cases, cover all of a child’s fees and is designed to support:

  • families who require practical help to support their children’s safety and well being 

  • grandparents who are primary carers

  • families experiencing temporary financial hardship

  • families transitioning from income support to work

Parental Leave Pay

Parental leave Pay (PLP) is paid for up to 18 weeks to help eligible parents take time off work to care for a newborn or recently adopted child.

Payments are made to the primary carer of a newborn or recently adopted child. Eligibility requirements include meeting a work test and having an ATI of no more than $150,000.

PLP is a taxable payment and may affect the payment of other family assistance payments. Refer to the Services Australia website for more information about eligibility requirements, payment rate and other benefits payable. 

Concession Cards

Centrelink and DVA also issue a range of Concession Cards. The cards listed below provide Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme (PBS) eligible medicine at a concessional rate, with some providing additional benefits.

  • Pension Concession Card (Centrelink & DVA)

  • Health Care Card

  • Gold Repatriation Health Card (DVA)

  • Repatriation Pharmaceutical Benefits Card (Orange Card DVA)

  • Commonwealth Seniors Health Care Card (Centrelink & DVA)

  • Low Income Health Care Card (Centrelink & DVA)

  • White Repatriation Health card (DVA)

Next: Your guide to means testing

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