Tuesday, 24 March 2020: The Northern Territory Council of Social Services (NTCOSS) is relieved that the Federal Government has listened to advocates from the community services sector and others and extended the $550 per fortnight supplement to students.

The measures, however, have still fallen short of providing relief for other vulnerable groups who receive government payments and there are many more points of advocacy the Federal and Territory Government should act on.

NTCOSS CEO Deborah Di Natale said:
“It is extremely encouraging that the Federal Government is doing the right thing by students across the country and in the Northern Territory by including them in the $550 per fortnight supplement.

“Students are the future of this country and they are more likely than many other groups to be employed in unstable working arrangements or live in shared accommodation.

“We’re still concerned for people with a disability and carers among other groups who haven’t yet been confirmed to receive the $550 per fortnight payment yet.

Continuing to outline other measures NTCOSS is advocating on at a Territory and Federal level, Ms Di Natale said:
“We are pushing both levels of government for more action on housing and for the Territory’s homeless, who are some of the most vulnerable groups in both a health and economic context.

“We are working very closely with the Northern Territory Government on securing measures that will relieve economic and health stress for vulnerable Territorians.

“Those measures we are working closely on include a moratorium on late payments, fees and disconnections from essential services and ensuring that there is continuity planning to provide continuity of community services such as disability and homelessness services,” said Ms Di Natale.

Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) CEO Cassandra Goldie outlined in detail the measures that have come into place as part of the stimulus package and gave advice on how to access Centrelink services.

“While we’ll need more certainty over the longer term, the $550 fortnightly supplement comes as a huge relief to many right now.

“We note that everyone who is already receiving a social security payment does not need to contact Centrelink. The additional support will be provided automatically if you are already receiving a social security payment.

“We welcome the Government’s commitment to 5000 additional Centrelink staff and we urge the Government to roll out a public awareness campaign to deliver clear, accessible information on income support payments and processes and to work with us to do this.

“The current events highlight just how important it is for all of us that we have a strong, safe, adequate social safety net for everyone, and that government provides adequate resources for it to respond, including in times of crisis.

“As so many have expressed, the intense and widespread need for these payments is heartbreaking.
“Now more than ever, we are seeing why it is crucial we have a strong social safety net in place at all times,” Dr Goldie said.

Advice on accessing Centrelink
If you already receive Newstart or another payment, you do not need to contact Centrelink to get the extra support announced.

If you are still getting paid, still have income coming in, if you can wait a few days, that may help. If you don’t need payments urgently, wait a day or two to connect.

For people who have lost their jobs and need to apply for a payment urgently:
Online: If you have digital access, try applying online through MyGov. Try again later if you cannot get through.

The government has enacted Intent to Claim processes so people don’t have to lodge a full claim immediately, and they will be back paid to the day they lodged their intent to claim. In other words, people won’t miss out on income support because of delays to lodge a completed claim.

Phone: We know many people do not have online access. The phone number for Jobseeker Payment is 132 850.

In person: If you do decide to line up, please practice social distancing.

We are also monitoring advice from Centrelink.  Don’t give up. For those who can access Centrelink via online or phone, please don’t give up – try again later.

We will see unprecedented levels of demand for Centrelink.  Understanding on all sides as Centrelink staff are doing all they can to help people trying to get support. Things may take some time.
The Government’s commitment to hiring 5,000 extra Centrelink staff is very welcome and we urge Government to move quickly to get these staff on deck.

Deborah Di Natale, NTCOSS CEO is available for interview. For more information, or to arrange an interview, please contact Shaun Brockman, Policy, Advocacy and Communication Officer on 0411 039 429, or send an email to shaun@ntcoss.org.au