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New Bill Contains Important Social Security Change

New Bill Contains Important Social Security Changes

The Government has today introduced the Social Security (Social Assistance) Amendment Bill to make three significant amendments to the social security system. These are:

extending eligibility for Accommodation Supplement to residents of retirement villages who have licence to occupy tenure ensuring that benefit applicants who work for part of the year, for example seasonal workers, are not financially disadvantaged, by enabling them to elect a 52 week or 26 week income assessment period for the calculation of their stand down period changes to the regime which encourages sole parents to establish paternity for their children or apply for Child Support.

The Bill extends eligibility for Accommodation Supplement to residents of retirement villages who have a licence to occupy tenure, and who meet the other qualifying criteria for Accommodation Supplement, including an income and cash assets test. From 1 July 2005, it is expected that several hundred retirement village residents will qualify for an Accommodation Supplement of, on average, between $37 and $54 a week.

A stand down of between one and ten weeks applies to most new applicants before their benefit commences. The stand down is currently calculated on the applicant’s income in the 26 weeks before becoming entitled to the benefit and the number of children in their care. From 1 May 2005, all benefit applicants will be able to elect a 52 or 26 week income assessment period for the calculation of their stand down period. At the moment some seasonal workers who work for part of the year can be disadvantaged by the 26-week assessment.

“This change will benefit approximately 4,500 people a year by reducing the length of their initial stand down,” said Mr Maharey. “It will also reduce disincentives for people to undertake seasonal work.”

A further important change in the Bill is an increase in the reduction of benefit for sole parents who do not name the other parent, or apply for Child Support, or attend a hearing and give evidence at proceedings brought under the Child Support Act. From 1 July 2005, where three months have passed since the initial reduction of $22 per week was imposed, there will be a further reduction of $6 per week per beneficiary.

“The State will step in to help one-parent families when they can’t support themselves financially,” said Mr Maharey. “But in doing so the State expects the other parent to contribute to the costs of the child.

“However we recognise it’s not always possible to force sole parent beneficiaries to comply with their obligations. Currently, the reduction in benefit does not apply when there is insufficient evidence to establish the identity of the other parent in law, where the sole parent is taking active steps to legally identify the other parent, or where the child was conceived as a result of incest or sexual violation.

From 1 July 2005, there will be two new exemptions. Firstly, no reduction in benefit would apply where sole parent beneficiaries or their children would be at risk of violence should the sole parent comply with their obligations. Secondly, no penalty would apply when there are compelling circumstances for the sole parent’s failure to comply with their obligations and no child support is likely to be collected from the other parent in the foreseeable future.

The changes in the Bill form part of a broader package of measures to encourage more sole parents to name the other parent and apply for child support. This involves providing the right information at the right time to assist beneficiaries to make informed decisions.

The Bill also contains a number of other amendments to clarify existing legislation or practice

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