The cost of living only seems to keep going up, but there is some help at hand.
Federal and state governments have a range of measures, from family assistance to car and energy discounts, to help make ends meet. The federal government actually handed out $180 billion in social security and welfare payments in the 2020 financial year.
But finding out which benefits you may be eligible for – and receiving them – will take some effort.
While there's no handy app to keep on top of the government payments you may be eligible for, they are listed online at servicesaustralia.gov.au.
Centrelink also has a simple payment finder that will determine what benefits you may qualify for.
While the COVID-19 pandemic saw a boost to unemployment support with JobKeeper, it has now been wound back. Jobseeker Payment, which has replaced the Newstart Allowance, is now $620.80 per fortnight if you're over 22 and looking for work (more if you've got kids, have been out of work for more than nine months, or are over 60). It had a small permanent increase of $50 a fortnight after being boosted in 2020 because of the pandemic.
The other payment is the Child Care Subsidy (85% of your child-care costs if your family income is less than $69,390 – and your child is immunised).
But this isn't everything on offer. There's also the Commonwealth's, Mobility Allowance, Crisis Payment or Special Benefit.
None of these cash injections will leave you rolling in clover… but they can help take the sting out of economic pain
State governments have their own payment plans on offer as well, and they can arrive and disappear before you have a chance to grab your share.
They range from a $100 Creative Kids rebate in NSW to $650 toward an overdue energy bill in Victoria if you can't afford to pay. NSW offers more than 70 rebates and savings to help ease cost of living pressures.
None of these cash injections will leave you rolling in clover – and you'll have to be a citizen, resident or visa holder and meet other criteria to access them – but they can help take the sting out of economic pain. And there's plenty of that going around these days.
The COVID boost – short-term and only for some
While the pandemic was a severe economic and health shock, government support and household financial reorganisation has lifted financial comfort – according to the most recent Household Financial Comfort Report by Members Equity Bank (a survey-based report that ME Bank has released every six months since 2011).
But underlying indicators suggest it's a temporary peak. While the majority of households reported increased financial comfort, for the unemployed, students and casual employees it was down – most likely a result of government support being withdrawn and a weak labour market.
Furthermore, the report warns that peak financial comfort will be short-lived and will fall as the health crisis ends and an uneven economic recovery continues.
Most of the government support schemes out there aren't splashed across billboards or getting a lot of airplay, but it may take a while for the money to come through.
Vittorio Cintio, national president of the Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW), says that while the information for financial support programs is available on the DHS website, getting hold of the benefits is another matter.
"The overall interface between the system and the people is not user-friendly," Cintio says. "Often criteria, verification, etc., are written in legalese and not easy to understand. Especially when support payment programs are rushed out in times of drought, fire and COVID – in our aim to provide additional services we can inadvertently cause confusion.
The overall interface between the system and the people is not user-friendly. Often criteria, verification, etc., are written in legalese and not easy to understandVittorio Cintio, national president, Australian Association of Social Workers
"It is a complex service system and navigating between federal and state/territory payment options can be difficult for support workers to navigate, let alone individuals.
"This can and usually does cause stress, agitation, trigger depressive episodes and can impact on mental health, and when this occurs, it can affect people's ability to take in new information [and] learn about the different payment options.
"The approach of current and successive governments is not based on the view that people are entitled to be treated with respect and that income support should provide a safety net to ensure everyone experiences a healthy standard of living… the government sees its role as enforcing a compliance regime."
Depending on your circumstance, you may be eligible for Family Tax Benefit.
Family Tax Benefit is a two-part payment that helps subsidise some of the costs of having dependent children and extends to full-time secondary students up to 19 years old not receiving other payments.
Receiving the more generous parent-related federal benefits often begins with qualifying for the Family Tax Benefit Part A, the government's general measuring rod for determining whether you're deserving of other benefits.
Who is eligible?
Eligibility will depend on your family income and other assets, plus how many kids you have, but you can make upwards of $100,000 and still qualify for a partial benefit in many cases. There is also a yearly supplement payment that is calculated after incomes and payment have been calculated and balanced for the financial year.
Family Tax Benefit Part B is paid to single parents, non-parent carers, grandparent carers or a couple with one main income, and is also adjusted for income.
The Sickness Allowance no longer exists. Now, if you're sick or injured and can't work or study, you must apply for JobSeeker.
Many of the crisis payments the government funded for the pandemic have been wound back as of early-2021.
Still available, the Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment is financial support when people have to self-isolate or quarantine, or are caring for someone with COVID-19. It's a lump-sum payment that is worth $1500 for each 14-day period, on a state-by-state basis.
In Victoria and Greater Sydney, there is also a COVID-19 Disaster Payment because of the additional burdens of lockdowns. Other states and territories may implement similar lockdown-related payments as the pandemic evolves.
In addition to Family Benefit payments, three federal programs you may not have heard of are designed to help young parents whose income is inconsistent, people who've lost their partners, and the dental health of Australia's children.
Paid Parental Leave
Parental Leave Pay is $150.78 per day before tax, paid for up to 18 weeks while caring for a new child and is available before, during or after any paid or unpaid employer funded leave.
Dad and Partner Pay of $753.90 is also available for up to two weeks, although a maximum of up to 20 weeks or 100 payable days of payments is allowed across both schemes for one person.
Newborn Payment and Supplement
If you qualify for the Family Tax Benefit Part A, you'll also qualify for the Newborn Payment, but accessing it only makes sense if you're not eligible for the Parental Leave Pay Scheme, whose restrictions include actually being on leave, having worked enough hours in the preceding 13 months and making less than $150,000 as an individual in the previous financial year.
Qualify for Family Tax Benefit Part A and not access Parental Leave Pay.
What's on offer
The Newborn Upfront Payment is a tax-free lump sum payment of $570 per child, and Newborn Supplement is a maximum of $1709.89 for 13 weeks for the first child, and a maximum $570.57 for 13 weeks for subsequent children.
The government is also willing to lend a hand if you end up with triplets or even quadruplets to look after, which is where the Multiple Birth Allowance comes in.
Multiple Birth Allowance
Qualify for Family Tax Benefit Part A and be a family dealing with the birth of three or more children at once.
What's on offer
$163.80 per fortnight for triplets and $218.26 per fortnight for quadruplets (or more) until age 16, or 18 if at least three are in full-time study until then, as part of your Family Benefit Part A payments.
Child Dental Benefits Schedule
The child must be aged between two and 17 and eligible for Medicare, and either the child or their family must receive an eligible payment (such as Family Tax Benefit Part A or Parenting Payment).
What's on offer
Benefits for basic dental services, capped at $1000 per child over two consecutive calendar years.
A range of bereavement payments are available and vary according to circumstances.
People claiming JobSeeker or Youth Allowance may receive a lump-sum bereavement payment if their partner dies.
Those receiving a Partner Allowance may continue to receive this for up to 14 weeks after the partner's death.
A Carer Allowance bereavement payment may be paid if you're getting both a Carer Allowance for an adult who dies, and an income support payment (other than Carer Payment) that does not qualify you for bereavement assistance.
For someone receiving a Carer Payment, this may continue to be paid for up to 14 weeks after the person's death.
If a couple has been getting a pension or income support payment for 12 months or more, a lump sum bereavement payment may be payable for up to 14 weeks after one partner's death.
It's rarely a simple thing to find out which federal government payments you might be eligible for, but Services Australia has made an effort to assist.
Its payment and service finder tool lets you select the options that best describe your circumstances, then explore a list of possible payments and services you may be entitled to.
If you're knocked back, you can appeal the decision if you believe it is incorrect. You can request an explanation and a formal review. It's even possible to claim compensation, although there are no guarantees any of these will be successful.
If you're in NSW, you could receive $100 to help pay for your child's sports and fitness programs.
Money from the state
Federal government support tends to stick to the enduring fundamentals of human need, while the states tend to give out money (and less of it) aimed at addressing the issues of the day.
Here's a rundown on some of the programs on offer in Australia's two most populous states.
With over 70 rebates and savings available, there's a lot of cash up for grabs for NSW residents, from help with your energy bills to free car registration if you spend an average of $26 per week on road tolls.
Here are some highlights:
- Creative Kids Rebate: Every school-age child in NSW will be eligible for $100 to help pay for "creative and cultural activities", including language classes, visual and performing arts, and coding and digital training.
- Family Energy Rebate: Up to $180 for families receiving the Family Tax Benefit.
- Active kids program: $100 for schoolkids towards sports and fitness programs.
See the full list of NSW rebates.
- Annual Energy Concession: 17.5% of electricity usage and service costs for Pensioner, Health Care and Veterans Affairs Gold card concession holders – doesn't apply to the first $171.60.
- Utility relief grant: Up to $650 toward a utility bill you can't afford to pay, available to Pensioner, Health Care and Veterans Affairs Gold card concession holders.
- Camps, Sports and Excursions Fund: Money for school camps, trips and other programs, $125 a year (primary school), $225 per year (secondary school) and $125–225 per year (for undergrad students) for Veterans Affairs Gold, Centrelink Health Care, Pensioner Concession Card holders and temporary foster parents.
- Good Money Financial Services: No-interest and low-interest loans plus financial counselling for people on low incomes.
Read more about Victoria's concession entitlements.