Calls to review Youth Allowance criteria as job losses impact eligibility

There are concerns thousands of gap year students may not be able to get financial assistance when they begin their higher education as job cuts impact their chances of meeting the eligibility criteria.

The Centrelink payment, known as student and apprentice Youth Allowance, is a form of financial assistance for those undertaking full-time study.

Figures from May showed more than 200,000 people were receiving the payment.

For West Australian gap-year student Lexie Duncan-Phillips, 2020 was all about working and earning enough money to be eligible for the financial study assistance.

“It just means that you have that bit of money coming in,” she said.

Like many of her fellow gap year students, she does not immediately qualify for study-based Youth Allowance and to be eligible has to prove “independence” from her parents.

This can be done by working full-time for 18 months, or, for regional and rural students, earning $26,550 over 14 months or working 15 hours a week for two years.

But with the coronavirus impacting work hours across the nation that goal now seems impossible to Ms Duncan-Phillips.

“[The cafe] was shut for two weeks and since then my hours were less than half, and now they are roughly half,” she said.

She said many of her friends were in the same situation.

“There’s a of people who I know who have been on their gap year trying to earn money and some have completely lost their jobs,” she said.

Regional students worse off

Being a regional student from Albany, 400 kilometres south of Perth, study assistance is particularly important for Ms Duncan-Phillips.

Because the nearest major universities are in Perth she will not have the option of living with parents.

“You have to become fully independent if you want to go to uni, and when it’s made so difficult for you it makes you unsure about what’s going to happen in the future.”

The unusual circumstances have prompted calls for the Federal Government to review the criteria so that this year’s gap year students have a fair chance at receiving it as well.

Government ‘monitoring’ impacts

Social Services Minister Ann Ruston said the department was “monitoring” the situation.

“At this stage no decision has been made to change the criteria, or the workplace eligibility criteria,” she said.

“But it’s certainly something I’ll be monitoring it going forward.

“To those young people, I would say test your eligibility with social services anyway, because there are times that eligibility can be waived or altered in special circumstances.

“Right now, with the pandemic on there are many instances where young people who previously wouldn’t have been eligible will be able to get Youth Allowance under the current circumstances.”

Ms Ruston said it was hard to tell what the long term impacts would be, but the Government would make sure that initiatives were incentivising people to go on to higher education.

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