This factsheet explains the activity test and participation requirements you must meet if you receive Newstart Allowance, Youth Allowance (unemployed), Parenting Payment or Special Benefit (nominated visa holder). It also explains when you may be exempt from the activity test or participation requirements.
Newstart Allowance, Youth Allowance and Special Benefit
To get Newstart Allowance, Youth Allowance and Special Benefit you must sign an Employment Pathway Plan and comply with its terms, and meet the activity test.
If you claimed Parenting Payment after 1 July 2006 you will have to sign an Employment Pathway Plan and meet your participation requirements when your youngest child turns six.
If you claimed Parenting Payment before 1 July 2006 you will have to sign an Employment Pathway Plan and meet your participation requirements when your youngest child turns seven.
Employment Pathway Plans
You must enter into an Employment Pathway Plan and comply with its requirements unless you are exempt from the activity test or participation requirements (see below).
Your Employment Pathway Plan will outline what you need to do in order to receive payment. It may include:
the number of job contacts you must make each fortnight;
a requirement to attend a Job Services Australia provider; or
a “Work Experience Activity” (such as Work for the Dole).
Centrelink and your Job Services Australia provider must take into account your capacity to comply with your Employment Pathway Plan. If they have not considered your family and caring responsibilities, or the impact of any disability or illness, then the terms of the Plan should be appealed. If they unreasonably refuse your suggestions for activities to include in your Plan, eg, a short full-time course of study that you think would help you get a job, you should appeal.
What if I don’t comply with my Employment Pathway Plan?
You must comply with the terms of your Employment Pathway Plan. If you fail to comply without a reasonable excuse, you could have a “no show, no pay failure”, a “reconnection failure” or a “serious failure” penalty. Penalties can range from losing a day of your payment to an 8 week non-payment period. For further information, see the factsheet “Penalties for non-compliance”.
What is the activity test / participation requirements?
To receive payments, you have to meet an activity test or participation requirements, unless you are exempt (see below). This may include:
looking for suitable paid work;
accepting all suitable job offers;
attending job interviews;
attending interviews with Centrelink and your Job Services Australia provider; and
attending training courses which could improve your chance of getting a job.
Usually you also need to detail your job search efforts in your fortnightly form and/or a jobseeker diary.
Work Experience Activity
If you are between 18 and 49 you will be required to do a “Work Experience Activity” after you have been on payment for 12 months. This can mean doing a course, working part-time or doing another activity that will improve your chance of getting a job.
Special rules for people who are over 55
If you are 55 or over you can meet your activity test or participation requirements by undertaking approved voluntary work and / or paid work of 30 hours per fortnight. You will not have any job search requirements although you must continue to be registered with a Job Services Australia provider.
If you do not meet the 30 hour per fortnight requirement, and do not have a reasonable excuse, you will be required to meet the same job search requirements as other people on Newstart Allowance, Youth Allowance, Parenting Payment and Special Benefit.
Special rules for principal carers of dependent children under 16
If you are the principal carer of a dependent child under 16 you can meet your activity test or participation requirements by looking for part-time work of at least 15 hours per week (although you can be required to accept a job of up to 25 hours per week if one is offered to you).
If you are offered a “suitable” job you will be required to take the job or risk an eight week non-payment penalty. To work out if a job is “suitable” Centrelink must take into account whether you have child care, the travel time and cost of travel, and whether or not you would be financially worse off if you took the job.
If you are working or are self-employed at least 15 hours per week, and earning at least the equivalent of the Federal Minimum Wage for 15 hours per week, you will not need to do any more activities in order to receive payments.
You can also meet your activity test or participation requirements through any combination of part-time paid work, part-time study and voluntary work with vocational value that totals 15 hours per week. Combinations of study, voluntary work and paid work must be approved by your Job Services Australia provider and included in your Employment Pathway Plan.
If you need to undertake a Work Experience Activity, your activities can be done during school hours (9am – 3pm) unless you can access suitable child care.
Special rules for people with a partial capacity to work
If you think that you have a permanent disability or medical condition that limits your ability to work, you can ask Centrelink for an assessment by a Job Capacity Assessor to see if you only have a partial capacity to work. If you only have a partial capacity to work you will have reduced activity test or participation requirements.
You will be considered to have a partial capacity to work if you have a physical, intellectual or psychiatric impairment that prevents you from working 30 or more hours per week for at least the next two years. Additionally, because of your impairment, no training activity is likely to enable you to undertake work of 30 or more hours per week within the next two years.
Activity test if you have a partial capacity to work 15–22 hours a week
If you are assessed as having a capacity to work 15–22 hours a week you will have the same activity or participation requirements as principal carers (see above for details).
Activity test if you have a partial capacity to work 0–7 or 8-14 hours a week
If you are assessed as having a capacity to work 0-7 or 8-14 hours a week your Employment Pathway Plan will not require you to actively seek work. You can meet your activity test or participation requirements by attending a quarterly interview with Centrelink.
What if I can’t meet my activity test or participation requirements?
If you’re sick or injured, you can be given a temporary exemption from the activity test or participation requirements if:
you are unable to work because of sickness or an accident; and
the sickness or injury is temporary; and
you can’t participate in another suitable activity during the period you are sick or injured; and
you provide Centrelink with a medical certificate which includes all the necessary information; and
Centrelink decides that due to your medical condition you are unable to meet your activity test or participation requirements.
An exemption will only be granted for up to 13 weeks. If at the end of 13 weeks you are still unable to work you will need to provide Centrelink another medical certificate.
Other circumstances in which temporary exemptions may be granted include:
major personal disruption to your home;
major personal crisis;
being a refugee;
being homeless; or
living in a remote area.
Principal carer – school holidays and leave periods
If you get Newstart Allowance, Youth Allowance or Special Benefit as a principal carer you will be automatically exempt from activity or participation requirements during the fortnight that includes the Christmas and New Year public holidays.
Special rules apply to breaks in employment over the Christmas long school holiday period. You can be exempted from your activity or participation requirements for up to eight weeks during this time, so long as you have employment to return to. You will need to contact Centrelink within the first fortnight of the closure and may need to provide proof of ongoing employment.
If you are on paid leave (at any time of the year), you will be taken to be meeting your activity or participation requirements so long as your income does not reduce during the leave period and your Centrelink payment does not go up.
If you take a break from employment due to circumstances outside your control (such as a temporary business shut down), and you’re not paid leave during this time, you can still meet your activity or participation requirements as long as you have a job to return to at your usual level of employment and as long as the break is less than 4 weeks.
Principal carer – 12 month exemptions
If you get Newstart Allowance, Youth Allowance or Special Benefit as a principal carer or get Parenting Payment, you will have an automatic exemption from the activity test or participation requirements for up to 12 months if you are:
an active registered foster carer; or
home schooling your child or helping with your child’s distance education; or
caring for a large family of four or more children, aged between six and 19; or,
caring for a child and you are a relative or community member (other than a parent), in accordance with a Family Court Parenting Order or State/Territory Parenting Order.
If at the end of the 12 months your situation has not changed the exemption may be granted again for up to another 12 months.
If you are a single parent and you are granted one of these exemptions, you will be paid at a higher rate of payment, equivalent to the rate paid for Parenting Payment (single).
Principal carer – temporary exemptions
You may be granted a temporary exemption if you:
are caring for a child with a disability. This exemption can be granted for up to 12 months. There is no limit to the number of times it can be granted;
have experienced domestic violence or stress due to a relationship breakdown (this exemption can be granted for up to 16 weeks);
are caring for a frail, aged or disabled adult family member (this exemption can be granted for up to 16 weeks);
are caring for a child or family member who has a temporary illness or injury (this exemption can be granted for up to 16 weeks); or
are caring for your youngest child who is six but has not yet started school (this exemption can be granted for up to 16 weeks).
There is no limit to the number of times the above exemptions can be granted.
If you think a Centrelink decision is wrong you have the right to appeal against it. Appealing is easy and free. To appeal simply tell Centrelink that you are not happy with its decision and that you would like to appeal to an Authorised Review Officer (ARO). It is best to lodge an appeal in writing and you should keep a copy of your appeal letter. However, you can lodge an appeal over the telephone.
The ARO is a senior officer in Centrelink who has the power to change the original decision. Many people are successful at this level.
You can appeal to an ARO at any time. However, to receive back pay from the date you were affected by the original decision, you must appeal to an ARO within 13 weeks of receiving written notice of the original decision. If you appeal more than 13 weeks after receiving the notice and you are successful, you will only receive back pay from the date you appealed.
If you think the ARO decision is wrong you can appeal to the Social Security Appeals Tribunal (SSAT). The SSAT is independent of Centrelink.
You have further appeal rights to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and the Federal Court. Time limits apply.
For more information on appealing see the factsheet “Appeals – how to appeal against a Centrelink decision” and the guide “Appealing to the Social Security Appeals Tribunal".
If you think you need an interpreter, or if you feel more confident with an interpreter, you should use one of the three free available interpreter services.
Most Centrelink offices have interpreters available at regular times each week. Your local Centrelink office can tell you about their available languages and times.
You can telephone the Centrelink Multilingual Call Centre on 131 202 and speak to a bilingual Centrelink officer.
You can also call the free Telephone Interpreter Service (TIS) on 131 450 and ask for an interpreter.
Please note: This factsheet contains general information only. It does not constitute legal advice. If you need legal advice please contact your local Welfare Rights Centre/Advocate.
Welfare Rights Centres are community legal centres, which specialise in Social Security law, administration and policy. They are independent of Centrelink. All assistance is free.
This factsheet was updated in July 2010.