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Sole parents to receive more help to lift capacity

Sole parents to receive more help to lift capacity and get work

Work and Income will be doing more to help sole parents into work with changes to legislation that comes into effect this month, says Social Services and Employment Minister Steve Maharey.

The Social Security (Personal Development and Employment) Amendment Act, which comes into effect on 10 March 2003, delivers on government promises to develop a social security system that responds better to the needs of individuals and their families.

“The legislation abolishes the arbitrary work test on sole parents receiving the Domestic Purposes or Widows Benefits. Currently 19% or 21,924 are subjected to a work test requirement to seek part or full-time work because of the age of their youngest child.

“As a result of the change all people receiving the DPB, Widows or Emergency Maintenance Allowance will receive enhanced case management to help them in training and work planning for their future.

“All 118,098 in the three benefit groups will be required to work with their case manager to develop and implement a Personal Development and Employment Plan. The plan will outline personal development, training and employment goals and the action points required to reach those goals.

“Case loads have been reduced to on average one case manager for every 150 sole parent clients to ensure they receive one-on-one tailored assistance. Case managers have undergone intensive training in the new service model and are well connected to their local communities so they can offer the best information to clients on ways of improving their circumstances and job opportunities.

“Many at home parents find it difficult to reconnect to the labour market. These changes mean sole parents receiving a benefit are from day one moving towards work with good support and information systems around them.

“This new way of working with sole parents has also been accompanied by a change to the abatement rate that allows sole parent clients to retain a greater proportion of any income. All sole parent clients will have their income abated at a single rate. Income under $80 a week is not affected and income between $81 and $180 will reduce by 30 cents in the dollar and 70 cents in the dollar for income over $180 per week.

“This Government is committed to supporting and working with sole parents in a pragmatic and sensible way that identifies barriers to employment as well as identifying opportunities for them to improve their circumstances for themselves and their families,” said Steve Maharey.

Social Security (Personal Development and Employment) Amendment Act Questions and Answers

What are the main changes to the DPB/WB? The changes take a social development approach to helping DPB/WB clients into employment. This means case managers working with clients to plan their re-entry into the workforce as their parenting responsibilities and individual circumstances allow. DPB/WB clients are no longer subject to a Work Test. Instead, clients are required to develop a Personal Development and Employment (PDE) plan which will contain the client’s goals and action points to achieve the goals. The other main change is a new single abatement rate which will mean sole parents are able to keep a greater proportion of any other income they receive while on benefit.

What is a Personal Development and Employment (PDE) plan? A Personal Development and Employment plan will contain a client’s training and employment goals and action points needed to achieve the goals. The plan will take a broad approach taking account of parenting and family needs as well as training and employment goals. It will outline how the case manager and client will work together and the kind of assistance Work and Income will provide the client. What is enhanced case management? Enhanced case management is a new way of working with clients. Case managers working with DPB/WB clients will have case loads which will nationally average 1-150. This will allow case managers to spend more time with each client and take a holistic approach when helping the client develop their PDE plan. The plan will focus not just on the individual client’s training and employment goals, but on their parenting responsibilities, personal, social and health needs. How does the new single abatement rate work? The reforms have introduced one flat benefit abatement rate called the partial abatement rate. This will make it more worthwhile for a client to take up work by allowing them to retain more of their earnings. Previously there were two abatement rates depending on whether the client had to seek part time or full time work. With the new more generous partial abatement rate the benefit will not be affected by the first $80 of income. Income between $81 and $180 reduces the benefit by 30 cents for every dollar received and by 70 cents for every dollar received over $180.

What happens if a client fails to complete a Personal Development and Employment plan? PDE plans are compulsory for clients required to participate in the planning process and they must demonstrate their commitment to achieving the plan’s goals. If they fail to do this without good and sufficient reason benefit sanctions can be imposed. Failing to demonstrate a commitment to the plan can lead to benefit reductions of 20% after 4 weeks and 50% after eight weeks. When a client agrees to complete the PDE activity sanctions are removed and benefit reductions back-dated.

How many clients will be affected by the removal of the work test? The majority of DPB/WB clients will not be affected by the removal of the work test. Of all clients receiving the DPB and Widows benefit only 19% are subject to the work test now, while another 1/3 must attend a yearly planning interview How often will clients see their case manager? This will vary and depend on the individual circumstances and parenting responsibilities of each client. Some will see their case manager more frequently than others depending on the level of support and assistance they require. At a minimum all clients are required to see their case managers annually to discuss how they have demonstrated commitment to their plan, and to update their plan for the next period.

How will clients know about the changes? All DPB/WB clients have received a letter and brochure outlining the changes and how they affect them. Brochures and posters have also been distributed to Work and Income service centres and community organisations. Case managers will also be calling in their clients over the coming months to discuss the changes and to help clients develop their PDE plans. Will lower case loads for DBP/WB case managers mean higher case loads for case managers managing other clients? New money was provided by the Government to resource the lower case loads for DPB/WB clients. At a local level this means that most service centres have more case mangers.

Won’t the changes, especially the removal of the work test, encourage beneficiaries to stay on the benefit and lead to a rise in numbers on the DPB/WB? Previous evaluations of DPB clients show they are a highly motivated group and will return to work when the time is right for them. Last year they participated in more than 30,000 individual training and employment programmes, and over 11,000 cancelled their benefit because they started full time work, while 22% of DPB clients are already working part time to support themselves and their children.

The new PDE planning approach is intended to provide more support for clients to address barriers or constraints they may face to moving into employment. At the same time the new single abatement rate will make it easier for DPB/WB clients to move into and stay in work. The new abatement rate is part of the government’s ‘making work pay’ approach. How many clients receive the DPB and Widows Benefit? The number of clients receiving all forms of DPB and the Widows Benefit as at 21 February was 118,845.

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