Job Seeker Classification Instrument

8.18 The JSCI is a questionnaire used to determine a job seeker’s relative level of disadvantage in the labour market and, therefore, the likely difficulty in obtaining employment.[17] Job seekers are assigned ‘points’ according to their answers to specific questions which, in turn, indicate factors that correlate with disadvantage in the labour market. Job seekers are classified as Stream 1 if they have fewer than 19 points; Stream 2 if they have 20–28 points; and Stream 3 if they have more than 29 points. DEEWR considers that this streaming process is ‘essential to ensuring that … resources are preferentially directed to those who are most in need’.[18]

8.19 Entry to Stream 4—the stream for the most disadvantaged job seekers—is based on an ESAt or JCA, discussed later in this chapter. There is also a process for reviewing assessments.

8.20 Stakeholders expressed a broad range of concerns about the JSCI, in particular indicating that it does not encourage job seekers to disclose sensitive information, such as family violence.[19] In addition, two key aspects of the JSCI emerged as of central relevance to job seekers in this context:

  • the administration of the JSCI, which may prevent job seekers from feeling comfortable enough to disclose family violence; and
  • the content of the JSCI, which, even when family violence is disclosed, may inadequately recognise the extent to which family violence is a barrier to employment.

Administration of the JSCI

8.21 The ALRC recommends that the JSCI should usually be conducted in private and in person, so that job seekers may freely disclose family violence.

8.22 The JSCI is ordinarily administered by Centrelink when a job seeker first registers for activity-tested income support. JSA or DES providers or ESAt/JCA assessors may also administer the JSCI in certain circumstances.[20] The JSCI may be administered in person, or by telephone interview.

8.23 The JSCI Guidelines provide that a JSCI:

must be conducted in a private setting. It must also be conducted face-to-face, unless there are Exceptional Circumstances. For an initial JSCI, all questions must be asked in full. Interpreter services should be used where appropriate … A job seeker can be accompanied by a nominee, including a family member, advocate, social worker or counsellor for support when the JSCI is conducted.[21]

8.24 Several stakeholders expressed concerns about the administration of the JSCI,[22] in particular suggesting that the way in which the JSCI is administered impedes the identification of sensitive issues, like family violence. Other concerns relate to:

  • conducting the JSCI over the telephone, in public areas within Centrelink or in the presence of partners;[23]
  • the JSCI being premised on self-disclosure; and
  • difficulties updating the JSCI.[24]

8.25 A 2010 report noted the ‘barriers of understanding, communication and trust which are likely to affect a telephone interview’.[25] This may have a greater impact on job seekers from non-English speaking backgrounds.

8.26 Reflecting such concerns, the Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse (ADFVC) recommended that

any discussions about family violence issues be conducted in a private space wherever possible to encourage disclosure, protect client confidentiality and minimise the possibility that the perpetrator of the violence is in the vicinity of the client when the above questions are posed.[26]

8.27 However, the DEEWR advised that:

The conduct of interviews by telephone is essential to ensuring the cost-effective delivery of Centrelink business and providing job seekers with convenience and speed of access to benefits and services. Around 65 per cent of First Contact Service Offers, which incorporate the initial administration of the JSCI, are conducted by telephone interview.[27]

8.28 DEEWR also emphasised that the result of independent testing by the Social Research Centre in 2007 and 2008 was that:

no significant difference was found in the consistency of Centrelink JSCIs irrespective of whether the JSCI was conducted face to face or by telephone. For Centrelink, job seekers were allocated to the same service Stream between 90 to 94 per cent of occasions.[28]

8.29 Further DEEWR advised that the Employment Services Provider and DES Provider Guidelines either already address, or are being updated to address, these concerns.[29]

8.30 More generally, some stakeholders emphasised the need for training of Centrelink staff administering the JSCI. [30]

8.31 In some circumstances it may be appropriate to administer the JSCI over the telephone, for example where this will protect the safety of job seekers by ensuring they do not have to attend a Centrelink or JSA provider office, or in rural and remote areas. However, the ALRC considers that the administration of the JSCI over the telephone may discourage job seekers from sharing sensitive information. Similarly, the ALRC considers that where the JSCI is administered in person, this should not occur in a public area or in the presence of the job seeker’s partner.

8.32 While the administration of the JSCI by telephone is in part to enable cost-effective service delivery, the ALRC notes the apparent inconsistency between the JSCI Guidelines, which provide for the conduct of JSCIs in person unless there are ‘Exceptional Circumstances’, and the apparently high number of JSCIs administered over the telephone.

8.33 The ALRC considers that, where possible, interviews should be conducted in person and solely with the job seeker, unless the job seeker requests the presence of another person—for example, a support person, case manager, interpreter, independent advocate or similar. This may go some way to limit barriers to disclosure of family violence presented by administering the JSCI over the telephone, including those faced by culturally and linguistically diverse job seekers in particular, or which may arise as a result of the presence of the person using family violence or other family member.

Recommendation 8–1 As far as possible, or at the request of the job seeker, all Job Seeker Classification Instrument interviews should be conducted:

  1. in person;
  2. in private; and
  3. in the presence of only the interviewer and the job seeker.

Recommendation 8–2 Centrelink customer service advisers should receive consistent, regular and targeted training in the administration of the Job Seeker Classification Instrument, including training in relation to:

  1. the potential impact of family violence on a job seeker’s capacity to work and barriers to employment, for the purposes of income support; and
  2. the availability of support services.

Content of the JSCI

8.34 The ALRC recommends that the JSCI should include a new family violence category to ensure that the JSCI captures all information relevant to a job seeker’s disadvantage in the labour market.

8.35 The JSCI assesses 18 categories of information, or factors. Information about each of the following factors is gathered from a number of sources including the job seeker’s record, an ESAt/JCA report (where available) and direct questioning of job seekers. The current factors include:

  • age and gender;
  • recency of work experience;
  • vocational qualifications;
  • Indigenous status;
  • access to transport;
  • disability/medical conditions;
  • living circumstances;
  • phone contactability;
  • proximity to a labour market; and
  • personal characteristics.[31]

Family violence and the JSCI

8.36 Information about family violence is not collected as a separate category of information. However, as family violence may affect many categories—for example, a job seeker’s living circumstances or access to transport—some of these existing factors may indirectly be related to their experiences of family violence. In addition, family violence may be raised as one aspect of a job seeker’s ‘personal characteristics’. For example, under the ‘living circumstances’ category, job seekers are asked whether they have been living in secure accommodation for the last 12 months or longer; whether they are staying in emergency or temporary accommodation; how often they have moved in the past year; and whether they live alone and/or have care-giving responsibilities.[32]

8.37 The personal characteristics category is intended to capture any other personal factor or characteristic that may affect the job seeker’s ability to obtain or retain employment. The question is voluntary and job seekers can choose not to answer, however administrators are told that they should encourage job seekers to ‘fully disclose their circumstances to ensure they receive the most appropriate services’.[33] The Explanation of the JSCI Questions Advice emphasises that factors recorded in response to this category must be relevant to the personal characteristics question and not to other questions in the JSCI and that, as a result, it may be necessary to review and change previous responses. It also notes that conditions such as depression or anxiety or other ‘disability, health or medical issues’, should be recorded under the work capacity category if they are expected to last three months or more.[34]

8.38 Stakeholders expressed strong views about the need for the JSCI to consider family violence.[35] Women Everywhere Advocating Violence Elimination (WEAVE) submitted that, in administering the JSCI,

staff routinely skip questions bundling several questions into one generic question such as ‘Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about, are there any other issues that impact on your ability to undertake employment?’ For many women, these questions are not sufficiently specific for them to disclose the existence of domestic violence and they will routinely answer no, having no understanding that such issues could be considered.[36]

8.39 For example, the ADFVC expressed concern about how information about family violence is sought in the JSCI, and recommended the ‘introduction of standard questions for raising family violence issues with clients’.[37] Similarly, WEAVE suggested that the JSCI ‘should directly inquire with regard to family violence victimisation’ and should include an assessment of the circumstances of the people for whom the job seeker has caring responsibilities, including the ‘care load’ of job seekers caring for dependent others.[38]

It is common for children who have been exposed to violence to have more frequent physical and mental problems which affect their ability to attend childcare and school. Parents who are themselves recovering from violence are also responsible for getting children through nightmare, bedwetting, truancy, self-harming, anxiety and depression. Currently these demands are invisible to the system and vulnerable victims face system-induced problems as a result.[39]

8.40 A number of stakeholders outlined a range of information that should be considered under any new category relating to family violence, in particular: ‘ongoing trauma, the cost of child care and the need to attend appointments related to the abuse’.[40] The ADFVC suggested ‘these issues need to be given adequate weight in the assessment to ensure its accuracy’, emphasising that the result of its research indicated:

Some women also referred to their children not being emotionally ready to be left on their own or in child care (including older children who might access after school care), due to their own trauma from the abuse. These caring responsibilities prevented women from working … A large number of [women] who were not working stated outright that childcare costs would equal or exceed any earnings gained from their employment.[41]

8.41 Stakeholders also emphasised that any questions about family violence should not be considered as universal screening and that clients should be given choice to answer such questions.[42]

8.42 However, DEEWR expressed the view that due to the relatively small numbers of job seekers reporting family violence, it does not warrant a separate category, but rather should be considered as a ‘sub-category under personal factors’.[43]

A new family violence category

8.43 The ALRC recommends that a new family violence category should be included in the JSCI. Ensuring that the JSCI captures all relevant information that may affect a job seeker’s disadvantage in the labour market and barriers to work is important to ensure they are placed in an appropriate employment services stream and provided with the necessary support to gain and retain employment. A new family violence category should better elicit information about family violence.

8.44 In creating a new category, consideration should be given to: safety concerns; caring responsibilities for children, particularly those who have experienced or witnessed family violence; and the impact of family violence on a job seeker’s housing, transport and health.

8.45 However, in creating a new category, it should not lead to a ‘medicalisation’ of family violence. This reflects concerns by stakeholders, that is the tendency to focus on isolated medical aspects of the job seekers’ circumstances rather than consider family violence and its impact in a more holistic manner.[44]

8.46 It is important that the impact of family violence without necessarily resulting in the categorisation of job seekers into higher streams. While being placed in a higher stream may result in the provision of necessary services or support, the ALRC has some concern about this resulting in job seekers experiencing family violence being placed into the ‘too hard’ basket and not being provided the necessary support or being a priority in terms of achieving employment outcomes.[45] In light of these concerns, the ALRC considers that DEEWR should consider the question of the weight or score attached to the new category in the context of the overall JSCI.

Recommendation 8–3 The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations should amend the Job Seeker Classification Instrument to include ‘family violence’ as a new and separate category of information.

[17] The JSCI was first introduced in 1998 and was revised by DEEWR in 2008–09. The review looked at ‘the effectiveness, appropriateness and efficiency of the JSCI’ with the goal of ‘improving labour market participation and [providing] early intervention for disadvantaged job seekers’: DEEWR, Review of the Job Seeker Classification Instrument (2009), app C. The review relied on consultations, qualitative research, cognitive testing of questions, and econometric analysis: DEEWR, Review of the Job Seeker Classification Instrument (2009), 5.

[18] DEEWR, Correspondence, 15 June 2011.

[19] ADFVC, Submission CFV 26; WEAVE, Submission CFV 14; M Winter, Submission CFV 12.

[20] DEEWR, Job Seeker Classification Instrument Guidelines, Version 1.6 (2011).

[21] Ibid, 9.

[22] WEAVE, Submission CFV 14; M Winter, Submission CFV 12; ADFVC, Submission CFV 26. This concern was also expressed in Australian Council of Social Service, Submission to Minister for Employment Participation on the Future of Job Services Australia (2011).

[23] ADFVC, Submission CFV 26.

[24] Advanced Personnel Management, Submission to the Review of the Job Seeker Classification Instrument (2008); AMES Research and Policy, Submission to the Review of the Job Seeker Classification Instrument (2008); BoysTown, Submission to the Review of the Job Seeker Classification Instrument (2008); Jobs Australia, Submission to the Review of the Job Seeker Classification Instrument (2008); National Employment Services Association, Submission to the Review of the Job Seeker Classification Instrument (2008); Sarina Russo Job Access (Australia), Submission to the Review of the Job Seeker Classification Instrument (2008).

[25] J Disney, A Buduls and P Grant, Impacts of the new Job Seeker Compliance Framework: Report of the Independent Review (2010), 23.

[26] ADFVC, Submission CFV 26.

[27] DEEWR, Correspondence, 15 June 2011.

[28] Ibid.

[29] DEEWR, Submission CFV 130.

[30] Joint submission from Domestic Violence Victoria and others, Submission CFV 22.

[31] DEEWR, Description of JSCI Factors and Points, 1.

[32] DEEWR, Explanation of the Job Seeker Classification Instrument Questions Advice, Version 1.8 (2011), 16.

[33] Ibid, 22.

[34] Ibid, 22, 23.

[35] ADFVC, Submission CFV 26; WEAVE, Submission CFV 14; M Winter, Submission CFV 12.

[36] WEAVE, Submission CFV 14.

[37] ADFVC, Submission CFV 26.

[38] WEAVE, Submission CFV 14.

[39] WEAVE, Submission CFV 92.

[40] ADFVC, Submission CFV 26.

[41] Ibid. See also R Braaf and I Meyering, Seeking Security: Promoting Women’s Economic Wellbeing Following Domestic Violence (2011).

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

[43] DEEWR, Submission CFV 130.

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

[45] This concern is linked in part to concerns expressed in relation to the JSA fee structure, however as outlined earlier in this chapter, this issue is beyond the scope of the Terms of Reference.