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Communtity Law Manual | Work & Income | You’re looking for work or only able to work part-time

Types of benefits

You’re looking for work or only able to work part-time

Qualifying for JobSeeker Support

Who qualifies for Jobseeker Support?

To qualify for Jobseeker Support, you (and your partner, if you have one) must be 18 or older and must be in one of the following situations:

  • you’re not in full-time work, but you’re available for and looking for it (the “work test”), or
  • you’re not in full-time work and your capacity to work is limited by sickness, injury or disability, or
  • you have a job but, because of sickness or injury, you’re not currently working or are working at a reduced level.

Your income must also be less than the amount that would reduce your benefit to zero under the benefit “abatement” rules. For example, if you’re a single person with no children you can earn up to $90 (before tax) a week, and after that your benefit is reduced (“abated”) by 70 cents for every dollar you earn over $90 a week (see “Benefit rates: How much you’ll get, and how much you can earn” in this chapter).

Note: If you’re 18 or 19 and are a parent, you’ll be eligible for the Young Parent Payment, not Jobseeker Support (see “Teenage parents (Young Parents Payment)” in this section). When you turn 20, you‘ll be eligible for Jobseeker Support (if you have a partner) or Sole Parent Support (if you’re single).

Work-test requirements for Jobseeker Support

Social Security Act 2018, ss 119, 126, 136, 141, 144, 146, 147, 153, 154, 161, 233

A person receiving Jobseeker Support must be available for and looking for full-time work (at least 30 hours a week), unless they’re granted this benefit on the basis of sickness, injury or disability. Usually their partner, if they have one, must also comply with the work test.

To comply with the work test you must:

  • be able to show Work and Income, if they ask, what efforts you’re making to obtain a job, and
  • be available for courses and other activities that Work and Income may set for you.

Work-testing can cover a range of activities, including those aimed at removing or reducing “barriers” to employment. This can include:

  • participating in courses provided by organisations on Work and Income’s behalf
  • going to job interviews
  • applying for suitable jobs.

If you can’t attend any part of a course, you’ll need to satisfy the course provider that there are good reasons why you can’t attend. If the reason is that you’re unwell, you’ll most likely need a medical certificate.

You’ll be required to accept any “suitable” job, including temporary, seasonal or subsidised work. You’re allowed to turn down a job offer or refuse to apply for a particular job if you have a “good and sufficient” reason. There is no legal definition of “good and sufficient” – this is decided case by case.

Work and Income is likely to impose a sanction (penalty) on you if you:

  • decline or fail to do an activity to the satisfaction of Work and Income or the relevant organisation, or
  • fail to attend a job interview or refuse to accept a job offer without a good and sufficient reason.

(See “Trouble with Work and Income: Penalties, investigations and overpayments” in this chapter.)

Note: People getting JobSeeker Support may also qualify for a Disability Allowance to help with ongoing disability costs. Your disability doesn’t have to limit your ability to work in order to qualify for the Disability Allowance. For more details, see “Help with ongoing disability costs: Disability Allowance”.

Putting off the work test because you’re temporarily unable to work

Social Security Act 2018, s 155

People receiving Jobseeker Support (other than on the basis of sickness, injury or disability) can apply for the work-test requirements to be suspended (“deferred”) for a period if they’re temporarily injured or unwell. This means they won’t be required to be available for and looking for work during that time. A doctor will decide how long the work test will be suspended for.

Usually you can see your own doctor, but Work and Income can require you to see a different one, from a panel of doctors called “designated doctors” who assess work capacity. If you and Work and Income disagree about which designated doctor should assess you, Work and Income will decide who it will be.

If Work and Income refuse to defer the work test in your case, you can challenge this decision by applying for a review by a Medical Appeal Board (see “Challenging Work and Income decisions: Reviews and appeals” in this chapter).

Partners and the work test

Social Security Act 2018, ss 121, 129, 140, 166, 167

Your partner will be subject to the same work-testing requirements as if they were a beneficiary in their own right.

This means that if you’re receiving Jobseeker Support and you don’t have any dependent children, your partner will be required to be available for and looking for full-time work.

If you do have dependent children, the work-test requirements will depend on the age of the youngest child (see “How having dependent children affects the work test” below).

If your partner is a teenager (aged 16 to 19), they’re not subject to the work-testing requirements and instead are subject to the requirements that apply to teenagers getting the Youth Payment or Young Parent Payment (these are explained under “Activity requirements for Young Parent Payment”).

Drug testing

Social Security Act 2018, ss 6, 147, 149, 151, 261–263, Sched 2; Misuse of Drugs Act 1975, s 2(1) (definition of “controlled drug”)

Note: Drug-testing, or being referred to jobs that need drug-free employees, does not apply to those who are addicted to or dependent on drugs or who are undergoing certain drug treatments.

If you’re receiving Jobseeker Support, you and your partner may have to undergo drug testing in some situations.

If a prospective employer or training provider requires their employees or trainees to be drug-free, you can be required to undergo a “screening” or an “evidential” drug test, or both. These will test you for anything that is classified as a “controlled drug”.

The drug testing is initially paid for by the employer or training provider. However, if you fail the test, you then have to pay the cost of the test.

If you fail a drug test, or if you refuse to have a drug test or to apply for a job that requires a drug test, you’ll be subject to a sanction (penalty). The first time you fail a drug test, your benefit will be cut by half. The full benefit will be reinstated if you agree to stop using drugs (this is called “re-complying”). If you haven’t “re-complied” within four weeks after your benefit was cut, your benefit will be cut completely until you do re-comply.

If you fail a drug test a second time within 12 months, your benefit will be cut completely. You’ll only be able to get your benefit back by making an agreement with Work and Income that you’ll pass an additional drug test within 25 working days (this allows time for drugs to pass through your system), and that you’ll give them evidence of the test result no later than 30 working days after making this agreement with them.

If you’ve failed a drug “screening” test, you can dispute the result by asking for the same sample to be tested by an “evidential” drug test, which is more accurate.

Rules about your children when you’re on JobSeeker Support

How having dependent children affects the work test

Social Security Act 2018, Sched 2 (definitions of “part time work”, “part-time work-tested beneficiary”, “work-tested spouse or partner”), ss 121–125

If you have dependent children, the work-test requirements for you and your partner (if you have one) will depend on the age of the youngest child:

  • Sole parents of children 14 or older – You’ll be required to be available for and looking for full-time work (at least 30 hours a week – this is the “full-time work test”).
  • If you have a partner – You’ll be required to be available for and looking for full-time work, and
    • if the youngest child is 14 or older, your partner will also be required to be available for and looking for full-time work
    • if the youngest child is three or older but under 14, your partner will be required to be available for and looking for part-time work, which means at least 20 hours a week
    • if the youngest child is under three, Work and Income may require your partner to undertake work preparation activities from time to time, which could include, for example, training or education.

    Note: If you’re a sole parent and your youngest child is under 14, you’ll qualify for Sole Parent Support rather than Jobseeker Support (see “Adult parents with younger children (Sole Parent Support)” in this section).

What happens if you have another child while on the benefit?

Social Security Act 2018, ss 221–224

If you have another child while on a benefit, then from the child’s first birthday Work and Income will usually impose the same obligations on you as if you didn’t have the child. This applies to any additional child that comes into your household – not just when you’ve had a new baby, but also when you’ve begun caring for someone else’s child.

Sole parents on JobSeeker Support who have another child

If you’re receiving Jobseeker Support as the sole parent of a child aged 14 or older, and another child comes into your household while you’re on the benefit, then from the age of 12 months this additional child will usually be ignored for the purposes of determining whether you must be available for and looking for work (the “work test”), and whether you qualify for Sole Parent Support on the basis that you now have a child under 14. This means it will be the age of the youngest of your other children that determines these things.

For example, if when you began receiving Jobseeker Support you had a child aged 14, you would have been required to be available for and looking for full-time work. If 18 months later you give birth to another child, you’ll be transferred to Sole Parent Support and won’t be required to be available for and looking for work (whether part-time or full-time), because your youngest child is under three. However, this applies only until your new child’s first birthday – from that date, you’ll be transferred back to Jobseeker Support and will have to be available for and looking for full-time work despite the fact that you have a child under three.

In some cases, a new child will be ignored even from birth for the purposes of qualifying for Sole Parent Support. This applies if you have an additional child sometime after being transferred to Jobseeker Support:

  • from the old Domestic Purposes Benefit on 15 July 2013 (when the new benefits were introduced) because your youngest child was 14 or older, or
  • from Sole Parent Support because your youngest child turned 14.

Couples who have another child

If you have a partner who is included in your Jobseeker Support, and an additional child comes into your household, then for the purposes of the work test that will apply to your partner, the additional child will usually not be taken into account after their first birthday.

For example
  • If when you began receiving Jobseeker Support, you and your partner had a seven-year-old child, your partner would have been required to be available for and looking for part-time work (the “part-time work test”). If a year later you have a new baby, your partner will not have to meet the part-time work test until the child’s first birthday. After that, the part-time work test will apply again.
  • If you and your partner had a 15-year-old child when you began receiving Jobseeker Support, your partner would have been required to be available for and looking for full-time work. If a few months later you and your partner also begin caring for a relative’s child aged six, Work and Income will ignore this additional child for work-test purposes and will still require your partner to be available for and looking for full-time work, because the other child is 14 or older.

Discretion to take additional child into account

However, Work and Income has a discretion to take an additional child into account despite the rules set out above (both for sole parents and couples), if:

  • it’s satisfied that, in the particular case, this would best achieve the purpose of those rules, which is to “improve the financial and social outcomes for families that include people to whom [these provisions] apply by providing earlier access to employment services and expectations, while recognising the care and development needs of children”, or
  • there are circumstances beyond your control that make it inappropriate or unreasonable not to take the additional child into account.

Challenging decisions about Jobseeker Support

Taking decisions about JobSeeker Support to a Benefit Review Committee

If Work and Income refuse your application for Jobseeker Support, or impose a sanction (penalty) on you while you’re on this benefit, you can apply for a review by a Benefit Review Committee (see “Challenging Work and Income decisions: Reviews and appeals”).

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