Key legislation related to social security
On 1 February 2020, the Australian Government Department of Human Services was reorganised into Services Australia, which falls within the Department of Social Services. Services Australia encompasses Centrelink, Medicare Australia, Child Support and Hearing Australia. For ease of reference, this chapter refers to ‘Centrelink’.
Social security law is found in the:
- Social Security Act 1991 (Cth) (‘SS Act’);
- Social Security (Administration) Act 1999 (Cth) (‘SSA Act’);
- Social Security (International Agreements) Act 1999 (Cth);
- A New Tax System (Family Assistance) Act 1999 (Cth) (‘Family Assistance Act’); and
- A New Tax System (Family Assistance) (Administration) Act 1999 (Cth).
Guides to social security
Readers are encouraged to refer to A Guide to Australian Government Payments. This guide is produced by Centrelink and contains the basic details of all Centrelink payments (including qualification, rates, and information about income and assets tests). The guide is updated quarterly; the current version is dated 1 July 2022.
Legal practitioners should also read The Social Security Guide; Centrelink officers use this guide to assess eligibility for payments.
Recent social security reforms
As at 1 July 2022, the following payments have either ended, or will end in 2023:
- Bereavement Allowance (closed to new entrants on 20 March 2020 and will end completely when all recipients complete their bereavement period);
- Widow Allowance (closed to new entrants on 1 July 2018 and ends on 1 January 2022);
- Partner Allowance (ends on 1 January 2022).
Several changes have been made to participation requirements for certain Centrelink payments as a result of the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Streamlined Participation Requirements and Other Measures) Act 2022 (Cth). Most significantly, the amendments to the law include the introduction of ‘mutual obligation requirements’, which in some cases have replaced ‘activity tests’. The amendments include the power for legislative instruments to be made that regulate mutual obligations requirements (see ‘Compliance with mutual obligations requirements’.)
At the time of writing (1 July 2022), no legislative instruments have been made in relation to mutual obligation requirements. It is anticipated that legislative instruments will be made late in 2022 that provide for a points-based system for compliance with mutual obligations requirements.