Employment Services Assessments and Job Capacity Assessments

8.47 On 1 July 2011, the JCA program was replaced with the ESAt. JCAs are now largely used for Disability Support Pension claims and reviews and are not primarily employment services driven.[46]

8.48 Like a JCA, an ESAt is used, among other things, to determine a person’s capacity to work and identify barriers to employment.[47] The assessment also informs the kinds of activities that a person will be required to undertake to improve their capacity to meet activity test requirements.[48] In some circumstances, the assessment will indicate whether a person may be eligible for an exemption.[49] An ESAt will also identify unsuitable activities for a job seeker, such as where work may aggravate a pre-existing illness.[50]

8.49 There are a range of outcomes available as a result of an ESAt. For example, a job seeker may be referred to a specialist DES provider; to Stream 4; or (where they do not require referral to a specialist service) to a JSA provider and allocated to services Streams 1, 2 or 3, as determined by their JSCI score. ESAts also recommend activities for EPPs, the use of the Employment Pathway Fund (EPF), and access to services.

8.50 There are two types of ESAt, both of which involve an assessment of the job seeker’s circumstances to determine the most appropriate service:

  • Medical Condition ESAt—which also determines a job seeker’s work capacity, where one or more medical conditions are identified. ESAts are similar to the previous standard JCA for potentially highly disadvantaged job seekers with disability, injury or illness. In a Medical Condition ESAt the assessor must rely on the available medical evidence.

  • Non-Medical Condition ESAt—where no medical condition is identified.[51]

8.51 Previously, a JCA used Impairment Tables to determine the impact of any medical conditions or disabilities a job seeker has on ability to work and whether the job seeker can benefit from employment assistance.[52] JCAs were conducted by a range of private health and allied health professionals, such as registered psychologists or rehabilitation counsellors employed by Centrelink, CRS Australia, HSA Group and 15 non-government providers.[53] However, as of 1 July 2011, ESAts and JCAs are conducted by health and allied health professionals employed by a single Government provider under the Department of Human Services (DHS) portfolio.[54] This move to a single Government provider may address some concerns about the experience and consistency of ESAt and JCA assessors.

8.52 Prior to the introduction of ESAts, stakeholders criticised the way JCAs were conducted, arguing, among other things, that there was a need for JCAs to better capture the needs of victims of family violence without treating only the medical manifestations of family violence.[55] The introduction of ESAts—which introduce a non-medical condition ESAt—may address some of these concerns.

8.53 This section considers:

  • whether a ‘significant barrier to work’ under the JSCI should automatically trigger referral to an ESAt or JCA; and

  • the ways in which an ESAt or JCA can consider the impact of family violence.

Referral to an ESAt or JCA

8.54 A job seeker will be referred to an ESAt usually where the JSCI indicates significant barriers to work. In this case, in addition to serving a stream placement role, the JSCI is intended to identify job seekers ‘who have barriers that are so serious or complex that they may require additional assessment which, when appropriate to their needs, will result in referral to specialist employment services’.[56]

8.55 Centrelink has primary responsibility for identifying and initiating referrals for an ESAt or JCA for job seekers in Streams 1–3.[57] However, a JSA provider may decide to refer a job seeker for an ESAt using the factors referred to in the Referral for An ESAt Guidelines.[58]

Referral as a ‘significant barrier to work’

8.56 A job seeker’s disclosure of family violence may be—but apparently is not always—considered a ‘significant barrier to work’, automatically leading to a JCA.[59] Some stakeholders suggested that family violence should automatically constitute a ‘significant barrier to work’ and therefore result in referral to a JCA.[60] Other stakeholders suggested that the JCA is ‘inadequate’ in dealing with job seekers who are experiencing family violence.[61]

8.57 DEEWR noted that this referral decision is currently made by a Centrelink social worker and that to have an automated referral may lead to resourcing issues.[62]

8.58 Overall, however, there is a need to balance the desire to ensure job seekers experiencing family violence receive appropriate support, which could potentially be provided through an ESAt or JCA, with the effect of ‘tagging’ all job seekers experiencing family violence as having significant barriers to work.

8.59 Stakeholders commented broadly about the purpose of referral to a JCA, suggesting it should ‘form part of an informed consultation with the victim about their options’[63] and referral should be an option discussed with the individual job seeker—including the benefits and possible consequences of such a referral.[64]

8.60 Accordingly, the ALRC does not consider it appropriate that family violence automatically constitute a ‘significant barrier to work’. To do so goes against the principle of ‘autonomy/self-agency’ discussed in Chapter 2 and creates a ‘one-size fits all’ model which may have unintended consequences.

ESAt and JCA assessors

8.61 ESAts and JCAs are conducted by health and allied health professionals, even in the case of a Non-Medical ESAt. In 2010, the report of the Independent Review commented that, in submissions, providers expressed concerns that JCAs ‘are not necessarily conducted by a person with significant expertise in the key issues which need to be examined’. However, the report recognised that upcoming reforms (which have now been introduced) may address some of these problems.[65]

8.62 Prior to 1 July 2011, JCA assessors were required to complete online modules in order to be certified to conduct JCAs. The ALRC is not aware how training and education will be conducted under the new system.

8.63 In submissions to this Inquiry, stakeholders expressed concerns about JCA assessors, in particular with respect to their lack of knowledge or understanding of family violence, and their tendency to focus on isolated medical aspects of the job seeker’s circumstances rather than conduct the JCA in a more holistic manner.[66]

8.64 For example, WEAVE highlighted that, in their experience, the usual process for a victim of family violence is that:

physical and mental illnesses arising from violence are recognised and the victim is treated as a medical case with referrals for a Job Capacity Assessment focusing on their health concerns. The process of leaving a violent [partner] who may be continuing to threaten, stalk, harass and abuse becomes reduced to an issue of the victim needing anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications so they can jobsearch.[67]

8.65 Similarly, PhD candidate Myjenta Winter found there was no consideration of family violence even when women had medical certificates verifying serious mental health conditions because of violence. Winter argued that family violence and sexual assault need to be recognised as having immense impacts on women and children’s mental and physical health for years, and contributes to the development of serious illnesses.[68]

8.66 The Australian Association of Social Workers Queensland (AASW (Qld)) and the Welfare Rights Centre Inc Queensland (WRC Inc (Qld)) recommended enhanced training for assessors to be able to assess a victim’s readiness to work.[69] Stakeholders also expressed the view that JCA assessors should have compulsory training in relation to family violence.[70]

8.67 A range of other concerns were expressed in consultations, including the inappropriateness of a JCA in circumstances of family violence, given the often fluctuating impact of family violence on a job seeker’s ability to work.

8.68 The ALRC considers the introduction of a Non-Medical ESAt may address some of the ‘medicalisation’ of family violence concerns raised by stakeholders in this Inquiry. However, given the ESAt system was introduced on 1 July 2011, it has yet to be assessed in practice. The ALRC therefore recommends that in any review of the ESAt, DHS should examine the particular impact of the ESAt on people experiencing family violence.

8.69 Referring job seekers who disclose family violence to assessors with particular speciality or experience in family violence may address some of the concerns raised by stakeholders. However, this might require additional resources,[71] increase delays and present difficulties in terms of access to those assessors, particularly in rural and remote areas. In addition, as family violence may be just one barrier and not necessarily a person’s primary barrier to work, it would be preferable to stream a job seeker according to their primary barrier—ensuring that secondary barriers are still addressed.

8.70 As DHS is now the single provider of all assessors, this may add consistency to the assessment process. However, the ALRC recommends that DHS provide training to assessors to enable them to identify and respond to the concerns of people experiencing family violence.

Recommendation 8–4 The Department of Human Services should conduct a review of the Employment Services Assessment with a particular focus on the impact of the assessment on job seekers experiencing family violence.

Recommendation 8–5 The Department of Human Services should provide Employment Services Assessment and Job Capacity Assessment assessors with consistent, regular and targeted training to ensure that the existence of family violence is appropriately and adequately considered.

[46] DEEWR, Correspondence 26 July 2011.

[47] FaHCSIA, Guide to Social Security Law <www.fahcsia.gov.au/guides_acts/> at 1 November 2011, []; [1.1.J.10].

[48] Ibid, [].

[49] Ibid, []; [].

[50] Ibid, [1.1.U.55].

[51] DEEWR, Employment Services Assessment <www.deewr.gov.au/Employment/Programs/Pages/ESAt.
aspx> at 14 July 2011.

[52] DEEWR, Correspondence 26 July 2011; Centrelink, Information About Assessment Services Fact Sheet (2011).

[53] DHS, Job Capacity Assessment Review: Summary Paper (2008), 5, 33.

[54] DEEWR, Employment Services Assessment <www.deewr.gov.au/Employment/Programs/Pages/ESAt.
aspx> at 14 July 2011.

[55] WEAVE, Submission CFV 14; M Winter, Submission CFV 12.

[56] DEEWR, Correspondence, 15 June 2011.

[57] Where a JSA provider wants to refer a job seeker in Streams 1–3 for an ESAt they must complete a request for ESAt form for approval by DEEWR to proceed.

[58] DEEWR, Referral for an Employment Services Assessment Guidelines, Version 1.5 (2011). A job seeker may also be referred for an ESAt or JCA where a person: is applying for Disability Support Pension or having a medical review of Disability Support Pension; is in receipt of Newstart Allowance or Youth Allowance and is applying for an activity test exemption; registers directly with a job services provider; or informs Centrelink or their job services provider of a significant change in their circumstances that affects their work capacity or employment assistance needs: FaHCSIA, Guide to Social Security Law <www.fahcsia.gov.au/guides_acts/> at 1 November 2011.

[59] DEEWR, Description of JSCI Factors and Points, 13.

[60] M Winter, Submission CFV 97; WEAVE, Submission CFV 14.

[61] M Winter, Submission CFV 12.

[62] DEEWR, Submission CFV 130.

[63] WEAVE, Submission CFV 14.

[64] AASW (Qld) and WRC Inc (Qld), Submission CFV 137.

[65] J Disney, A Buduls and P Grant, Impacts of the new Job Seeker Compliance Framework: Report of the Independent Review (2010), 24.

[66] See, eg, M Winter, Submission CFV 12.

[67] WEAVE, Submission CFV 14.

[68] M Winter, Submission CFV 97.

[69] AASW (Qld) and WRC Inc (Qld), Submission CFV 137.

[70] See, eg, WEAVE, Submission CFV 14; M Winter, Submission CFV 12.

[71] DEEWR, Submission CFV 130.