COVID-19 support and other helpful information
On Thursday last week, we did our first ever livestream on Facebook!
Unfortunately this ‘first’ came about due to COVID-19 and the extreme difficulties we know many of you are facing at the moment. COVID-19 is a big, world-changing, grief-inducing situation we are facing collectively. So while it might feel isolating, we are all experiencing this together. Almost all of us have never experienced a pandemic before; we all know that first-times can be terrible, let alone a first-time of this extremity.
Here at Advocacy & Welfare, our usual support-giving is turned sharply toward doing whatever we can to assist you during COVID-19. That’s not to say our usual support isn’t available, but that we recognise how greatly COVID-19 is affecting every aspect of life (ours included!). And on that note, I’ll leave some information about where to seek mental health support at the end of this blog post.
Back to our Facebook Live… Tom jumped on to talk to you all about COVID-19 relevant resources. We spoke about Centrelink COVID-19 supplements, applying for Centrelink, how to speak to your employer and how to speak to your landlord. We also urged all of you who have been affected by COVID19 to apply for the UNE COVID-19 Student Emergency Fund. The biggest update to our livestream on Thursday is that Study NSW has created a hub of information specifically for International Students, which I’ll touch on below.
To follow up, here are some of the support options available to you and places to look for the ‘source of truth’.
To be clear, this information is correct as of the date of publication (to the best of our ability – we know there is a lot of unknown information and confusion out there!). Please check Services Australia for up-to-date information about Centrelink. For official information about COVID-19, please see health.gov.au.
UNE COVID-19 Student Emergency Assistance Fund
If you have been directly affected by COVID-19, we urge you to get in contact with us about the COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Fund. One of us here at Advocacy & Welfare can discuss your situation with you, get a feel for your eligibility and help you complete the application form. See here for more information.
International Student Welfare Services Hub
Study NSW launched the International Student Welfare Services Hub, which aims to support international students during this time. There is information about COVID-19, health cover, multilingual support, emergency food assistance, charities, mental health and much more. Check it out here. Please also remember that International students are eligible for the COVID-19 Emergency Fund (depending on other circumstances) and that UNE International is here to support you too.
The best place to look for the ‘source of truth’ here is the Services Australia website. We understand that there are long waiting times for getting in touch with Centrelink at the moment, and it is highly recommended that you do not visit a Service Centre in person if you can avoid it.
Already on Centrelink?
The COVID-19 payments will be paid to you automatically, without you needing to do anything, provided you are on one of the included payments. The COVID-19 payments that have been announced are the support payment and the supplement. We’ll briefly outline each of those below.
A number of payment types are eligible for the $750 support payment, which has started to be paid out already. A wider range of payments will receive the $750 support payment, with most eligible people receiving it by mid-April. A second support payment will be available in July to those who don’t receive the supplement.
The $550 fortnightly COVID-19 supplement will be included in your first scheduled payment on or after Monday 27 April. This supplement will continue for each fortnight that you remain eligible, for up to 6 months. Fewer payments are eligible for the fortnightly supplement.
Need to apply for Centrelink?
If you have lost your job, aren’t able to work, have been hospitalised or are caring for children, it appears you could be eligible for a payment. In many cases, this would be the JobSeeker payment. Some of you studying part-time out there might fall into this category.
If you study full-time (which means 75% load or more; at UNE this means 6 units over the year), and haven’t claimed a Centrelink payment before, you could claim for Austudy or Youth Allowance. If you’re Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and study, you may be eligible for Abstudy.
Sophie Trevitt, Solicitor at Canberra Community Law, created a quiz to help you figure out if you can get Centrelink. Check it out here. As with anything not directly from official sources, we recommend you cross-reference your eligibility with that on the Services Australia website.
Claiming a payment
If you want to claim a payment, you should ‘register an intention to claim’. If you have a myGov account linked to either the Australian Taxation Office, Medicare and/or Centrelink, you can register your intention to claim quite easily. If you do not have a myGov account, you will need to create one. If you have a myGov already, it needs to be linked to either the ATO, Medicare or Centrelink before you can register your intention. You will then have time to complete your claim.
When your claim is processed, your payment will be backdated to the date you registered your intention.
Centrelink has temporarily removed the mutual obligation requirements, participation requirements, liquid asset waiting periods and newly arrived resident waiting periods on a number of payments. See here for more information.
Less immediate documentation needed
Currently, Centrelink does not require bank statements, proof of reduced work hours, separation certificates, relationship verification form or rental arrangement proof. They still need information about your income, where you live and who you live with. Some of these documents may be required in the future, and you will be notified if you’re required to provide them.
Your employer and JobKeeper
JobKeeper involves the Government paying employers $1500 per fortnight for each eligible employee, with the employer being legally required to pay this to their eligible employees. It is still evolving. There are still a lot of unknowns, primarily because JobKeeper requires legislation to come into being. Many of these unknowns will be for your employer to figure out. It appears that employers won’t be paying this money to their employees until May. Some of the eligibility requirements are yours, such as employment status and citizenship/residency, but some of them are to do with your employer.
It appears that if you were stood down, you could still be eligible for JobKeeper.
In light of these delays and uncertainties, if you have lost work we recommend that you apply for JobSeeker. If you end up being eligible for JobKeeper, you can cancel your JobSeeker claim. In some cases, you can keep your JobSeeker payment and simply report your JobKeeper income. If it turns out that you’re not eligible for JobKeeper, you’ll have a source of income already lined up (remembering of course that your JobSeeker claim will be backdated to the date you registered your intention to claim).
It is up to your employer to register for the JobKeeper scheme, however, your employer might not have any solid information to tell you about JobKeeper just yet. If you’re wondering whether your employer is registering for JobKeeper, you can contact them directly. However, be mindful that there are still many unknowns and patience (while sometimes difficult) is necessary.
How to speak to your real estate or landlord
If you are having trouble paying rent, speak to your real estate or landlord as soon as possible. It is important to be honest about your situation, so that you can request a delayed payment or rent reduction at the earliest possibility. You also never know how your landlord will react until they know your situation. Please note that your landlord or real estate cannot request that you withdraw money from your superannuation to pay your rent.
What may happen if you cannot pay rent will vary depending on what state or territory you live in. With the exception of Tasmania, no other state or territory has legislated for a ban on evictions. Prime Minister Scott Morrison did signal an ‘eviction moratorium’, but it has not come into law yet in any location except Tasmania.
Outside Tasmania, the usual processes under law regarding eviction will still need to be followed. This means that you wouldn’t instantly be turfed out as soon as a rent payment is late. Mark Giancaspro and David Brown published an article on The Conversation today about the options for rent relief in Australia.
You might have seen online that some landlords are being very accommodating, while some are not. Unfortunately, at this stage, we need to wait on the States and Territories to legislate the ‘eviction moratorium’ that Scott Morrison signalled. If you can still pay rent, you need to do this. The contractual requirement to pay rent has not been removed.
For advice that’s specific to your State or Territory, contact your local tenancy advocacy service. The Tenants’ Union NSW has a COVID-19 specific webpage that includes links to other state and territory services.
If you are someone still living in college, speak to your Head of College ASAP if you’re having financial difficulties.
That wraps up what Tom spoke about in our Facebook Live, with a few updates. However, we also think it’s also really important to know what mental health support is available to you.
Mental Health Support
UNE Counselling and Psychological Services
UNE students can access free counselling through UNE Student Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS). They are fully qualified and registered psychologists, offering on-campus appointments and phone/video chat sessions for online students. The service is confidential and free for UNE students.
You can contact them Monday- Friday, 9am-4 pm, on (02) 6773 2897. For more urgent assistance, UNE offers After Hours Support on weekdays from 4.00pm to 9.00am AEST, weekends and public holidays. Phone 1300 661 927 or text 0488 884 169.
Beyond Blue Webchat
Beyond Blue has an online webchat available between 3.00pm and midnight.
Australia Psychological Society (APS) COVID-19 Information
The APS has put together some helpful information about managing coronavirus anxiety and staying mentally healthy during social isolation. They also included a list of all the official sources of information. Check it out here.
Talking to children about traumatic events or worries about the future
Emerging Minds has created a video to help you tackle this conversation with your children.