Since 27 April 2020, a Coronavirus supplement of $550 per fortnight has effectively doubled the rate of certain social security payments (eg JobSeeker, Youth Allowance, and Austudy). Individuals eligible for these payments received the full amount of the $550 Coronavirus supplement on top of their payment each fortnight. With the supplement set to end on 24 September, the government has sought to provide some certainty for recipients particularly in the middle of a second wave in one of Australia’s most populous states.

The government has committed to extending the payment period of the Supplement from 25 September 2020 to 31 December 2020 albeit at a reduced rate of $250 per fortnight. This effectively slashes the JobSeeker payment from $1,100 currently to $800 a fortnight. According to the government, the lowering of the Supplement reflects the gradually improving economic and labour market conditions and is designed to ensure there are appropriate incentives for payment recipients to seek out employment and study opportunities.

Along with the lowering of the payment rate, the government has also signalled its intention to reinstate means testing from 25 September 2020 for both existing and new recipients. Perhaps the change that would be most concerning for Australians seeking to apply for the JobSeeker after 24 September would be the reinstatement of the Liquid Assets Waiting Period. New claimants for the JobSeeker from 25 September 2020 and a range of other payments will have to wait between 1 and 13 weeks to receive any payments if they have savings equal to or more than $5,500 (single with no dependants), or $11,000 (partnered or single with dependants).

Individuals already on the JobSeeker are not completely off the hook, the gradual reintroduction of the mutual obligation requirements has started taking place. This can include voluntary job searches, at least one phone or online appointment with a jobseeker’s employment services provider, or voluntary participation in activities (either online or in person). At this stage, there is no payment suspensions or penalties for failure to comply with mutual obligations requirements, but it is likely to be reimposed at a later time.

It is not all bad news, to support payment recipients through these changes and encourage a majority of recipients to get additional work, the government has increased the income free area of the JobSeeker payment from 25 September 2020 to 31 December 2020 to $300 per fortnight. This means that recipients of the payment can earn income of up to $300 per fortnight and still receive the maximum payment rate. The partner income test cut-out will also be increased from 25 September to $3,086.11 per fortnight ($80,238.89 per year) for individuals with no personal income.