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5.7 Job seekers

The department provides payments to those who are looking for work.

The department delivers the following payments to job seekers:

  • Newstart Allowance
  • Youth Allowance (Job Seekers).

The department also administers the Youth Jobs Prepare Trial Hire (PaTH) internship program, which gives people an opportunity to gain experience and skills in the workplace.

The department assesses payment eligibility for those who are seeking employment but who have medical conditions and other barriers to employment.

Newstart Allowance

Newstart Allowance gives financial help to people looking for work. Recipients must be looking for suitable paid work and be aged 22 years or over but under Age Pension age.

Recipients need to meet income and assets tests and residency requirements. They may also need to meet mutual obligation requirements.

In 2018–19, the department released a new‑look online claim interface to provide a better digital experience for claimants, keeping them informed and in the digital channel. The new claiming mechanism makes more use of virtual assistants and has an improved questioning sequence better tailored to individual circumstances. Also, individual nominees can now submit an online claim on behalf of the person they act for.

Youth Allowance (Job Seekers)

Youth Allowance (Job Seekers) is an income support payment to young job seekers generally aged 16 to 21 years.

Recipients need to meet income and assets tests and residency requirements. They may also need to meet mutual obligation requirements.

In 2018–19, the department introduced new‑look online claiming similar to the online claim experience for Newstart Allowance customers, which cut down the number of questions customers are required to complete from 100 to 26.

Meeting mutual obligation requirements for job seekers

The community expects income support recipients to do all they can to find suitable work.

Therefore, job seekers, who receive Newstart Allowance, Youth Allowance or Special Benefit (paid under Newstart Allowance conditions), and Parenting Payment Single recipients with a child over six, must meet mutual obligation requirements.

Mutual obligation requirements aim to ensure that job seekers who are receiving income support payments are actively seeking work and contributing to the community that is supporting them while they are looking for work.

To meet their mutual obligation requirements job seekers must attend appointments and participate in activities designed to help them get work.

The department administers two job seeker compliance frameworks: the Job Seeker Compliance Framework and the Targeted Compliance Framework. These frameworks set out the consequences if a job seeker does not meet their requirements and does not have a good reason.

The Job Seeker Compliance Framework was introduced in 2009. It applies to customers in the Community Development Program for job seekers who live in remote areas.

The Targeted Compliance Framework was introduced on 1 July 2018. It applies to job seekers in jobactive and Disability Employment Services, and to compulsory participants in ParentsNext.

Under both compliance frameworks, job seekers who do not meet their mutual obligation requirements may have their payment suspended until they contact their employment services provider. This approach encourages the job seeker to quickly re‑engage with their provider and to meet their mutual obligation requirements.

Job seekers who repeatedly miss requirements without a good reason may face financial penalties, non‑payment periods or cancellation of their payment.

Table 9 below shows the number of payment recipients who had mutual obligation requirements in 2018–19.

Table 9: Customers with mutual obligation requirements, by payment type




Newstart Allowance




Youth Allowance




Special Benefit(d)




Parenting Payment Single(e)








(a) Source: Department of Social Services on 6 July 2017.

(b) Source: Department of Social Services on 29 June 2018.

(c) Source: Department of Social Services on 28 June 2019.

(d) The majority of Special Benefit recipients are not activity tested.

(e) Parenting Payment Single recipients are not subject to compulsory mutual obligation requirements until their youngest dependent child turns six years of age.

Seasonal Work Incentives trial

The Seasonal Work Incentives Trial, which commenced on 1 July 2017, allows eligible job seekers who participate in specified horticultural seasonal work to earn up to $5,000 in a 12‑month period before their income is assessed under the income test. As at 30 June 2019, the trial had 478 participants.

The trial is due to end on 30 June 2020.

Job seekers with medical conditions and other barriers to employment

The department, through Assessment Services teams, undertakes assessments of job seekers who have medical conditions to identify their work capacity and the type of employment service best suited to their circumstances. The two assessments are:

  • Employment Services Assessments (ESAts)
  • Job Capacity Assessments (JCAs).

Employment Services Assessments

An ESAt identifies the most appropriate type of employment service for job seekers with multiple and/or complex barriers. For job seekers with long‑term disability, illness or injury, an ESAt assesses their capacity to work.

Job seekers assessed as being able to work fewer than 30 hours per week have reduced mutual obligation requirements and may be eligible for supplementary payments such as the Pharmaceutical Allowance and the Youth Disability Supplement.

There are two types of ESAts:

  • Medical ESAts help the department assess the capacity to work of a job seeker with long‑term illness, injury or disability and identify the most suitable employment service for them.
  • Non‑medical ESAts are used to identify the most suitable employment service for a job seeker where medical evidence has not been provided.

Job Capacity Assessments

A JCA helps the department determine the impact of medical conditions and disabilities on a person’s ability to work and whether the person would benefit from employment assistance. A JCA is used as part of determining medical eligibility for DSP. People may be referred for a JCA if they are:

  • claiming DSP
  • undergoing a review of medical eligibility for DSP
  • seeking to have DSP paid indefinitely while they are outside Australia.

Medical Assessment Team assessments

A Medical Assessment Team (MAT) assessment is a streamlined process introduced to improve the end‑to‑end DSP claim process by allowing an early assessment of all available medical evidence to determine if the more comprehensive JCA is required to assess eligibility. The assessor completes a written recommendation for the delegate to support a decision to grant or reject a claim without a JCA when appropriate.

Assessment Services teams

Assessment Services teams conduct ESAts and JCAs as well as MAT assessments specific to assessing eligibility for DSP. These multidisciplinary teams are located across Australia. Currently, there are 49 teams in 204 locations.

Table 10 below shows the number of medical and non‑medical ESAts and JCAs the department completed each year.

Table 10: Medical and non‑medical ESAts and JCAs, 2016–17 to 2018–19




% change since 2017–18

Employment Services Assessment: non-medical





Employment Services Assessment: medical





Job Capacity Assessment










(a) Figures from 2016‑17 differ from the figures published in the 2017–18 report, because the figures are a point in time calculation at the end of the relevant financial year. Variances in total assessments occur because a small number of assessments submitted in the previous financial year require revision and resubmission in the subsequent financial year.


The department employs the following types of qualified health and allied health professionals to perform assessments:

  • exercise physiologists
  • medical advisers
  • occupational therapists
  • physiotherapists
  • psychologists
  • registered nurses
  • rehabilitation counsellors
  • social workers
  • speech pathologists.

In 2018–19, the department employed 480 qualified health and allied health professionals in assessment roles.

Health Professional Advisory Unit

The Health Professional Advisory Unit (HPAU) strengthens DSP decision‑making by providing expert advice to departmental assessors and decision makers and providing medical opinion on matters before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. It is a multidisciplinary unit comprising six medical advisers and 15 health and allied health professionals across a virtual network.

The involvement of the HPAU on more complex issues provides assurance that the correct assessments are being made (observed by the Australian National Audit Office in its report Qualifying for the Disability Support Pension).

The HPAU provides ongoing specialist advice on and input into training materials and procedures used by Assessment Services. This supports the quality and consistency of the assessments that the department provides.

The HPAU also provides advice relating to ministerial complaints, media‑related cases and high‑profile matters. It works closely with the Department of Social Services on DSP policy matters.

In addition, the HPAU carries out medical assessments for the department for:

  • foreign pensions
  • portability extensions of DSP due to a medical condition
  • indefinite portability of DSP.

HPAU medical advisers and health professionals also provide educational and professional development forums to relevant groups across the department.

In 2018–19, the HPAU received 1,235 referrals and there was a strong trend toward more complex, appeal‑based referrals.