7. Social Security

Disability Support Pension

7.78 Uncertainty about the possible effect of paid work on qualification for Disability Support Pension (DSP) may act as a disincentive to work for recipients of the payment, the majority of whom are mature age. The ALRC recommends that the Guide to Social Security Law should be amended to clarify that undertaking paid work for fewer than 30 hours per week will not trigger a review of qualification for DSP.

7.79 DSP recipients are the largest group of working age income support recipients. At June 2011, there were 818,850 recipients of DSP.[128] Of these, 67.5% were aged 45 years or over; 65% aged 45–64; and 2.5% aged 65 years and over.[129]

Qualification for Disability Support Pension

7.80 DSP provides income support on the basis of a person being unable to undertake substantial employment because of his or her disability. It is not generally subject to participation obligations.[130]

7.81 To qualify for DSP a person must generally have a ‘continuing inability to work’ due to permanent physical, intellectual or psychiatric impairment.[131] The severity of impairment to a person’s work functioning is rated by reference to ‘Impairment Tables’.[132] Applicants for the DSP must have an impairment rating of 20 points or more.[133]

7.82 To have a continuing inability to work, new entrants to the DSP must be unable to work at least 15 hours per week independently of a program of support, or be re-skilled for such work, within the next two years.[134] A person whose impairment is not severe[135] must also have participated in a program of support.[136]

7.83 Proportionally few DSP recipients receive employment income. At May 2012, 70,243 recipients (less than 10%) had income from employment.[137]

7.84 Since 1 July 2012, all DSP recipients can work for at least 15 hours per week but fewer than 30 hours per week without their qualification for the payment being affected.[138] This is the case notwithstanding that to qualify for DSP a person must be assessed as having a work capacity of fewer than 15 hours a week.[139]

Review of qualification for Disability Support Pension

7.85 The review process for qualification for DSP may act as a disincentive to workforce participation for recipients.

7.86 A range of reviews may apply to DSP recipients. A DSP recipient may be subject to a ‘Service Update Review’, which may assess a person’s medical circumstances, income and assets, earnings and other relevant personal circumstances.[140]

7.87 A person may also be selected for a ‘manual medical/work capacity review’. The Guide to Social Security Law directs that this review should occur when a Centrelink ‘customer service adviser is not convinced that a customer remains qualified for DSP (eg because the customer service adviser discovers that the recipient is working)’.[141]

7.88 Centrelink also conducts ‘profiling reviews’ of DSP recipients, selectively identifying and reviewing certain recipients.[142] FaHCSIA has stated that its practice is not to make public the parameters used to select a person for a profiling review, but that ‘employment predictors by themselves are not enough to select a pensioner’.[143]

7.89 All reviews of qualification for DSP use the Impairment Tables that are currently in force to assess a person’s level of impairment.[144] These Tables were reviewed in 2011 and new Tables took effect from 1 January 2012.[145] Analysis carried out for FaHCSIA suggested that 36–45% of persons who qualified for DSP under previous Impairment Tables would not qualify when assessed under the new Tables.[146]

7.90 This has led to concern about the effect of taking up paid work upon the likelihood of being reviewed for qualification for DSP.

7.91 DEEWR, DHS and FaHCSIA submitted that ‘there is no evidence that the processes for reviewing ongoing eligibility for Disability Support Pension (DSP) create barriers to mature age participation in the workforce’.[147]

7.92 However, other stakeholders submitted that a lack of information about the review process for qualification for DSP was acting as a disincentive to paid work for recipients.[148] NWRN strongly endorsed a ‘recommendation to encourage the Government to provide greater transparency about the circumstances that can trigger a review’.[149] NWRN reported that

The information and advice lines at our member centres receive consistent and regular feedback from people anxious that any history of work or earnings will potentially trigger a review, at some point in the future.[150]

7.93 BSL agreed that lack of clarity about the review process for DSP qualification may act as a disincentive to mature age participation.

7.94 It is appropriate that there should be some mechanism for review of a person’s continued qualification for DSP. However, uncertainty about the circumstances of review may be acting as a disincentive to increased workforce participation for DSP recipients. The ALRC therefore recommends that the Guide to Social Security Law be amended to ensure that the parameters for review are consistent with recent amendments to the Social Security Act that allow a DSP recipient to work at least 15 hours per week but fewer than 30 hours per week and remain qualified for DSP.[151]

Recommendation 7–3 The Guide to Social Security Law should be amended to provide that undertaking paid work for fewer than 30 hours per week will not trigger a review of qualification for Disability Support Pension.

[128] FaHCSIA, Characteristics of Disability Support Pension Recipients June 2011 (2011), 10.

[129] Ibid.

[130] However, from 1 July 2012, DSP recipients under age 35, with a work capacity of at least eight hours per week, are required to attend regular interviews with Centrelink to develop participation plans to help build their capacity to work: Social Security Act 1991 (Cth) ss 94(1)(da), 94A.

[131] Ibid s 94. A person must also be at least 16 years of age and meet residence requirements.

[132] The Tables and the rules to be complied with in applying them are found in Social Security (Tables for the Assessment of Work-related Impairment for Disability Support Pension) Determination 2011.

[133] Social Security Act 1991 (Cth) s 94(1)(a), (1)(b).

[134] Ibid s 94(1)(c)(i), (2), (5). Alternatively, the person must be participating in the supported wage system: Social Security Act 1991 (Cth) s 94(1)(c)(ii). Persons whose start date for payment was before 11 May 2005 must have had a continuing inability to work 30 hours or more per week: FaHCSIA, Guide to Social Security Law (2013) <www.fahcsia.gov.au/guides_acts> at 21 March 2013, [3.6.1.10].

[135] A person’s impairment is severe if it rates 20 points or more under the Impairment Tables, of which 20 points or more are under a single Impairment Table: Social Security Act 1991 (Cth) s 94(3B).

[136] Ibid s 94(2)(aa). A person who is assessed as being permanently blind is automatically qualified for a Disability Support Pension, and does not have to demonstrate a continuing inability to work: Social Security Act 1991 (Cth) s 95; FaHCSIA, Guide to Social Security Law (2013) <www.fahcsia.gov.au/guides_acts> at 21 March 2013, [3.6.2.40].

[137] Senate Community Affairs Committee—Parliament of Australia, 2012–13 Budget Estimates Hearings Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs Portfolio: Answers to Estimates Questions on Notice, Question 354 (FaHCSIA) (24 July 2012).

[138] Social Security Act 1991 (Cth) s 96.

[139] FaHCSIA, Guide to Social Security Law (2013) <www.fahcsia.gov.au/guides_acts> at 21 March 2013, [3.6.1.12].

[140] Ibid, [6.2.5.15].

[141] Ibid, [6.2.5.18].

[142] Ibid, [6.5].

[143] Senate Community Affairs Committee—Parliament of Australia, Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2011—Schedule 3 (Disability Support Pension Impairment Tables): Responses to Questions on Notice (FaHCSIA) (12 September 2011).

[144] FaHCSIA, Guide to Social Security Law (2013) <www.fahcsia.gov.au/guides_acts> at 21 March 2013, [3.6.3].

[145] Ibid.

[146] Taylor Fry, Analysis of the Testing of Draft Impairment Tables (2011), 1.

[147] DEEWR, DHS and FaHCSIA, Submission 101.

[148] National Welfare Rights Network (NWRN), Submission 99; National Seniors Australia, Submission 92; Brotherhood of St Laurence, Submission 86.

[149] National Welfare Rights Network (NWRN), Submission 99.

[150] Ibid.

[151] Social Security Act 1991 (Cth) s 96.