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8.10 Ancillary services and support

Concession cards

The department delivers six types of concession and health care cards:

  • Pensioner Concession Card
  • Health Care Card
  • Low Income Health Care Card
  • Commonwealth Seniors Health Card
  • Ex‑Carer Allowance (Child) Health Care Card
  • Foster Child Health Care Card.

Concession or health care cards give cardholders access to Australian Government health concessions. They also help with the cost of living by reducing the cost of certain goods and services.

Most people who receive an income support payment will automatically receive a concession or health care card. People who receive the maximum rate of Family Tax Benefit Part A will automatically receive a health care card that covers their family. Partners and children may also be covered by a person’s card if the card is attached to an income support payment. For people who have a Low Income Health Care Card, their partner and their children may also be covered by the card.

Only the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card cardholder has access to the concessions available for the card—the cardholder’s family members cannot access them.

In addition to Medicare services, concession or health care cards can give cardholders, their partners and their children other concessions from state, territory and local government authorities and private businesses. Each card has its own eligibility requirements and concessions.

Rent Assistance

Rent Assistance is a payment to help people who are also receiving an income support payment or Family Tax Benefit (if they have dependent children).

Rent Assistance helps customers to pay their rent, generally in the private rental market. Private rent can also include amounts paid for site fees, mooring fees, board and lodgings, some retirement villages, and fees paid to occupy a non‑Australian Government funded bed in an aged care facility such as a hostel or nursing home.

Advance payments

In special circumstances, recipients of some payments can apply for an advance payment.

An advance payment is a lump‑sum payment made from a customer’s future entitlement. The advance payment amount can vary depending on the type of payment the customer receives. Non‑pension recipients—including Parenting Payment Single recipients—can receive a minimum of $250 and a maximum of $500 once in a 12‑month period. Pension recipients can receive multiple advance payments depending on the amount available at each application. Family Tax Benefit recipients can receive a regular advance that is paid every 26 weeks as long as the customer is still eligible.

In 2018–19, the department paid 2.6 million advance payments worth $1.9 billion, compared with 2.6 million advance payments worth $1.8 billion in 2017–18.

Urgent payments

If a customer faces severe financial hardship because of exceptional and unforeseen circumstances or because they need to pay for the funeral of an immediate family member, they can apply for an urgent payment.

An urgent payment is an early part‑payment of a customer’s regular fortnightly income support payment.

Customers who seek multiple urgent payments could be experiencing ongoing financial difficulties. The urgent payment process can help to identify these vulnerable people so that the department can offer early intervention and non‑financial help. Social workers will also provide additional support and make referrals to financial counselling, community organisations or accommodation help where necessary.

Bereavement payments

Bereavement payments help customers adjust to changed financial circumstances following the death of their partner, child or care receiver. The type of bereavement payment a customer receives and the amount they can receive will depend on their individual circumstances and when the department is notified of the death of their partner, child or care receiver.

Bereavement payments are usually paid as a lump sum. However, some payments, such as the Family Tax Benefit Bereavement Payment, can be paid fortnightly.

Bereavement Allowance is a short‑term income support payment that supports eligible recently widowed people.

Portability of payments

‘Portability’ refers to the continuation of Australian social security payments while a customer is outside Australia. The department assists customers to understand how their entitlements may be affected if they leave Australia. The department also assesses customers’ eligibility for payments while they are outside Australia.

A datalink between the department and the Department of Home Affairs identifies social security customers who depart from or return to Australia. The information that the datalink generates is used to automatically review payments for people who have departed from Australia.

In 2018–19, customers receiving income support payments, family assistance, allowances and concessions travelled outside Australia 1.98 million times, compared with 1.95 million overseas trips in 2017–18.

New Payments Platform

The NPP is a new national payment infrastructure that enables real‑time payments to be delivered 24/7, 365 days of the year. The department, in collaboration with the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), has developed capability to use the NPP to deliver some immediate, emergency and crisis payments in real time to customers where their account is NPP enabled.

The capability was introduced from October 2018. As at 30 June 2019, approximately 141,781 payments had been made successfully via the NPP for a total amount of approximately $44.2 million. Use of the NPP enhances the department’s service to customers while being more cost‑effective for the department. It reduces the number of payments that are currently made via Real Time Gross Settlement or Electronic Benefit Transfer cards.

The NPP is currently only available through the department’s staff‑assisted channels. The department is continuing to work closely with the RBA to explore other functionalities of the NPP to enhance its services to the public.

Centrelink Payment Summary

A Centrelink Payment Summary is a document that sets out the amounts that the department has paid to a customer within the financial year. It is provided to people who receive taxable and certain non‑taxable payments. The department generated 4,833,314 Centrelink Payment summaries in 2018–19.

The Centrelink Payment Summary information is automatically provided to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). When completing an income tax return using myTax or a registered tax agent, a customer’s Centrelink Payment Summary information is automatically available.

People can view, download or request a copy of their Centrelink Payment Summary using:

  • the Centrelink online account through myGov
  • the Express Plus Centrelink mobile app
  • self service terminals at a Service Centre
  • Centrelink phone self service by selecting ‘request a document’.

Customers continue to choose to use the department’s digital services to access their payment summaries. In 2011–12 the department issued over five million payment summaries via surface mail. In 2018–19, the number of payment summaries issued via surface mail had declined to 219,667 and just over two million payment summaries were accessed via the department’s digital services.

Services to incarcerated customers

The department provides services to incarcerated customers of Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support. The services it offers are aligned with the three stages of customers’ incarceration:

  • On entry into custody, the department suspends or cancels payments to prevent debt and ensures Child Support assessments are correct.
  • During custody, the department provides assistance to those who remain eligible for social security payments, facilitates access to highly specialised drugs and conducts Child Support reassessments.
  • On release from custody, the department reconnects customers to appropriate payments and services.

The department has staff who provide services to 144 prisons (including youth justice centres, prison work camps and mental health units) across Australia. The services are provided under Prison Protocol Agreements between the department and each of the eight state and territory correctional authorities.

Tasmanian transport schemes

The department administers two Tasmanian transport equalisation schemes:

  • the Tasmanian Freight Equalisation Scheme, which helps to alleviate the sea freight cost disadvantage for shippers of eligible non‑bulk goods that are moved by sea between mainland Australia and Tasmania, given that there is no option to transport the goods by road or rail
  • the Bass Strait Passenger Vehicle Equalisation Scheme, which helps to alleviate the cost of sea travel across Bass Strait between Tasmania and mainland Australia. The rebate is paid to passengers who are accompanying an eligible vehicle in the form of a reduction in the fare charged by the transport service operator.

In 2018–19, the department received 16,579 claims for assistance and processed $204.9 million in payments through the two schemes. This compares with 13,492 claims and $195.3 million in 2017–18.