The Australian Senate passed several changes to the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform) Bill 2017. This document highlights one of those amendments (to Schedule 9 of the Social Security Act 1991), which directly relates to volunteering and will impact your organisation if you’re involving volunteers through the Australian Government’s Mutual Obligation Requirement arrangements.  These changes come into effect on September 20, 2018.

What are the Mutual Obligation Requirements?

This is an existing arrangement where the Australian Government (through Centrelink) allows certain individuals who receive allowances, including the Newstart Allowance (income assistance for those looking for work) to continue receiving their fortnightly payments by being involved in a combination of volunteering and paid work (or actively searching for paid work). How old you are determines how many hours of volunteering you’re allowed to include.

The proposed change?

Last year, the Australian Senate proposed changing the number of volunteering hours allowed for Australians receiving Newstart Allowance aged between 55 and 59 years of age from 30 hours per fortnight to 15 hours.

This change would require any Australians receiving the Newstart Allowance within this age-group to reduce any existing volunteering hours from 30 hours a fortnight to 15, and replace these hours with either paid work, or attempts to find paid work.

What change was passed?

At the end of March the Senate passed the above changes. However, they amended the change to make it time limited. That is, they made the requirement necessary for the first 12 months of job searching. What this means is that after 12 months of job search, an individual who is 55 to 59 years old can return to 30 hours of volunteering if they are unable to find suitable paid employment and it is determined to best suit the individual’s circumstances.

Please note, that the Australian Government has confirmed that they will also retain a number of exemptions (or a reduction in the number of job searches required) for those who meet the required existing criteria.

What does this mean for you?

If you are involving volunteers through the Australian Government’s Mutual Obligation arrangements, we encourage you to consider if these changes will impact any of your volunteers and discuss these with them.

Mutual obligation requirement volunteers can, subject to approval, share the required work or seeking employment and volunteer times with more than one organisation and workplace if they wish.

Centrelink staff have access to a list of registered volunteer organisations, and can check for customers if an agency is registered.  This is not available for public use or access.  Agencies can call 131524 to determine if they are already registered.

More information can be found at here, scroll down to the section headed Stronger Participation Requirements.