Coronavirus (COVID-19) information for job seekers

From 28 September 2020, mutual obligation requirements become mandatory for all job seekers, except for those in Victoria.

Face-to-face attendance at activities and appointments with providers will resume, only where it is safe to do so. Job seekers serviced by a provider can opt in for face-to-face servicing. All providers must have in place a COVID‑19 safe plan to ensure the safety of their staff and job seekers.

The Australian Government has made available a range of support, services and information to help job seekers find and keep a job, as the economy recovers from the COVID‑19 pandemic.

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Update: Supporting Victorians through the COVID‑19 pandemic

Mutual obligation requirements for job seekers in Victoria will remain unchanged—no penalties or suspensions will apply for any job seeker.

Where job seekers can, and it is safe to do so, they can engage with their employment service provider either online or over the phone.

Employment service providers in Victoria have been instructed to take all local health advice, including all lockdown measures, into consideration when making any arrangements for job seekers.

Special circumstances exemptions will continue to be available from Services Australia (Centrelink) for job seekers who require them, including for people directly impacted by COVID‑19.

Sole traders and those who are self-employed will continue to be exempt from requirements to allow them to work to re-establish their business.

If you still have questions or concerns about your requirements, please speak to your provider, or contact the department’s National Customer Service Line either at nationalcustomerserviceline@dese.gov.au or on 1800 805 260. Online job seekers can contact the Digital Services Contact Centre via digitalservices@dese.gov.au or on 1800 314 677.

Mutual obligation requirements for other states and territories, from 28 September 2020, are explained below.

Latest COVID-19 health advice

Job seekers can stay up to date with Australian Government Department of Health advice about the COVID‑19 pandemic, as well as any advice provided by state or local authorities. The Department of Health provides a range of information about COVID‑19, including how to protect Australians, when and how to isolate if required, as well as health updates and alerts.

Applying for income support

Services Australia (Centrelink) is working to get new job seekers onto income support as quickly and efficiently as possible. Step-by-step advice on how to claim income support, such as JobSeeker Payment, is being updated regularly on the Services Australia website.

Once registered with Services Australia, job seekers will be asked to complete a Job Seeker Snapshot. This information helps job seekers get connected to the right level of support in their region. They will also be required to complete a Job Plan, which is a list of tasks and activities that help them find work.

Job seekers referred to Online Employment Services

Most job seekers will be referred to Online Employment Services (OES). Job seekers will be able to access a range of tools, information and advice online to help their job search.

For more information on the OES, please visit the OES website. Job seekers referred to Digital Employment Services as part of the New Employment Services Trial can visit the NEST website for more details.

Job seekers referred to employment services providers

Depending on their circumstances, job seekers may be referred to an employment services provider, most likely a jobactive provider.

Providers will book an initial appointment with job seekers. Job seekers have the option to opt in for face-to-face servicing, including for initial appointments. Appointments can be delivered over the phone or on online. Job seekers can talk to their provider about the support they need when they look for work, including the task and activities required in their job plans which must be reviewed and agreed upon. Throughout the job searching journey, providers will stay in regular contact with job seekers to provide further guidance as needed.

Job seekers and COVID-19

Job seekers are required to self-isolate in line with Department of Health advice if they have been diagnosed with COVID‑19. Job seekers who believe they may have contracted COVID‑19, or believe they have been in contact with someone who has, must also self-isolate.

Job seekers should contact their employment services provider by phone, not in person, to let them know why participation at an appointment/activity is not possible. Providers will reschedule any appointments or activities until self-isolation is completed in line with advice from health authorities.

Job Seekers should also contact Centrelink by phone, not in person, to let them know about the need to self-isolate. You can contact Centrelink to discuss an exemption by calling the numbers below:

  • JobSeeker Payment and Special Benefit recipients can call 132 850.
  • Youth Allowance recipients can call 132 490.
  • Parenting Payment recipients with mutual obligation requirements can call 136 150.

Job seekers who have recently travelled, must follow the advice of health authorities including any advice about the need to self-isolate.

For those needing mental health support please refer to information published on the Department of Health website or by local health authorities.

There are a number of ways you can get health support during this challenging time, including:

  • Speak to your GP about accessing Medicare-subsidised mental health services. Telehealth has been made available, so you can have an appointment from home via telephone or video.
  • Reach out to the Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service on 1800 512 348 or visit the Beyond Blue - Coronavirus website. This service is specifically designed to help people get through the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s available in languages other than English.
  • Visit the Head to Health website if you, or someone you care about, might need some help coping with anxiety and worry. It provides access to free and low cost phone and online mental health services and supports.

If you need help now call Lifeline (13 11 14), Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800) or the Suicide Call Back Service is also available (1300 659 467).

For more information visit the Department of Health - Resources website and search for mental health.

Mandatory mutual obligation requirements for job seekers in all states and territories, except for Victoria

In return for income support payments, job seekers are expected to complete mutual obligation requirements. These requirements are tasks and activities listed in each job seeker’s Job Plan designed to help them get a job and remain connected to the workforce.

From 28 September 2020, mutual obligation requirements become mandatory, in all states and territories except for Victoria. Job seekers with employment service providers must:

  • participate in appointments with their provider (attendance can be by phone/online unless you opt-in to face-to-face servicing)
  • review and agree to a Job Plan
  • conduct eight job searches, monthly
  • participate in activities (participation can be online with the option to opt-in for face-to-face servicing)
  • accept suitable paid work.

Job seekers connected to Online Employment Services, are required to undertake eight job searches each month, agree to a Job Plan and accept suitable paid work. This video explains how to manage your obligations as a job seeker in Online Employment Services.

Reporting of mutual obligation requirements, such as job search and attendance at activities, can be done via their individual dashboard on the jobactive jobseekers website or the Job Seeker app (available in the Apple App store or Google Play). If you are with a provider, you can also report your participation at activities directly with them.

If job seekers are unable to meet their mutual obligation requirements, they should contact their provider first. Online job seekers should visit the jobactive how to guide to learn more about using their accounts, or they can call 1800 314 677. Special circumstances exemptions continue to be available from Centrelink for job seekers who require them, including those directly affected by COVID‑19. Sole traders and those who are self-employed will continue to be exempt from requirements to allow them to work to re-establish their business.

Face-To-Face Service Delivery

From 28 September 2020, job seekers have the option to opt-in for face-to-face servicing, including for appointments and activities.

This will allow flexibility in choosing the method of servicing that suits the job seekers needs including options to participate in individual and group based face-to-face training such as Career Transition Assistance, Employability Skills Training, PaTH Internships, and other forms of work experience and placements.

Job seekers who do not wish to opt into face-to-face servicing must still meet their mutual obligation requirements through participation online, unless they meet the grounds for an exemption from mutual obligation requirements from Services Australia (or their ParentsNext provider for participants in that program).

The option to opt-in for face-to-face servicing is designed to provide job seekers and providers with the flexibility to adapt servicing to the job seeker's personal circumstances and preference.

For more information, please read the Return to face-to-face servicing factsheet – Participant with providers factsheet.

Penalties for not meeting mutual obligation requirements

From 28 September 2020, job seekers may have their income support payment suspended or financial penalties applied if they do not meet their mutual obligation requirements.

Under the Targeted Compliance Framework, job seekers may also accrue demerits if they don’t meet their mutual obligation requirements. Find out more about the new compliance system and how any impacts to payment can be avoided.

Penalties may apply where a job seeker refuses an offer of suitable paid work without a reasonable excuse – this may result in the income support payment being cancelled. The job seeker will need to reapply for income support, and they must serve a four-week waiting period before they can receive income support again.

If the provider determines a job is suitable, they will consider the reasons the job seeker has declined employment, taking a range of matters into consideration, such as caring responsibilities, medical conditions, cultural/religious reasons or other personal circumstances. After this process, the provider will refer the matter to Services Australia if it is determined the job seeker does not have good reason for not accepting the job.

Services Australia will consider the whether the job seeker has a reasonable excuse for not accepting the position, based on their individual circumstances and the employment on offer.

Flexible learning and mutual obligation requirements

The Government is committed to ensuring Australians have the support they need to reskill or upskill and take on new jobs to support Australia’s economic recovery.

Job seekers will now be able to use their study and training to help meet their mutual obligation requirements.

Job seekers who are enrolled in an eligible course can have their job search requirements reduced to take into account their study/training. Study and training will fully meet requirements for job seekers who are also doing part-time work for a combined total of 70 hours per fortnight. This is available to job seekers in jobactive as well as job seekers receiving Online Employment Services.

Job seekers can search for eligible courses on the MySkills website. Any course that are identified as ‘Subsidies’ (in bold) on My Skills is eligible.

Participation (Mutual Obligation) Requirements for ParentsNext participants

From 28 September 2020, mutual obligation requirements will return for ParentsNext participants, except those in Victoria.

Where it is possible and safe to do so, attending appointments and activities can resume face-to-face. ParentsNext participants can opt in or out of face-to-face servicing by contacting their provider.

If participants choose not to receive face-to-face servicing, your provider will assist you in alternative ways, such as by phone or online.

From 28 September 2020, ParentsNext participants will be required to:

  • attend your initial ParentsNext appointment and then every three months (attendance can be by phone/online unless you opt-in to face-to-face appointments)
  • negotiate and agree to a Participation Plan
  • participate in and report on having done the activities you agreed to do.

Participants’ payment may be suspended if they do not meet these requirements without a valid reason.

For Victorian participants, requirements remain voluntary. Participants will continue to receive monthly phone contact from their provider to offer assistance.

For further information on the return to participation (mutual obligation) requirements, visit the ParentsNext website.

Work for the Dole activities resume

Work for the Dole activities may resume from 28 September 2020 in all States and Territories except Victoria, as long as it is safe to do so and all appropriate COVID‑19 requirements are in place. The health and safety of Work for the Dole participants remains a critical component of Work for the Dole. Job seekers will be given choice to opt-in to a Work for the Dole activity if they choose to do so.

New Business Assistance with NEIS participants

If you are a New Business Assistance with NEIS participant, these Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) provides information about accessing the Coronavirus Supplement and what support is available during this time.

Other resources

For the latest COVID 19 news, updates and advice from Australian Government agencies, please visit the Australian Government website.

For health advice including cleaning protocols, please visit the Department of Health website.

For more information on emergency management please visit the Emergency Management page at the Department of Home Affairs website.

For information on the outbreak of COVID-19 please visit the World Health Organisation’s website.

Information about how eligible businesses can access JobKeeper support is detailed on the Treasury website.

Find out how the Australian Government is supporting small businesses to retain their apprentices and trainees through a wage subsidy.

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