Exemptions for volunteer firies

A firefighter wearing an orange protective suit observes the damage caused by bushfires. The landscape is blackened and there are flames on the ground in front of the firefighter.

This story was first published on Friday 13 December 2019. If you wish to use this content, please contact media@dese.gov.au to confirm that the information is still current.

Volunteer firefighters involved in an emergency response will not have their income support payments cut while fighting fires.

Contingency arrangements are in place nationwide until 19 January. Contingency arrangements effectively make any existing mutual obligation requirements such as job search, provider appointments and Work for the Dole voluntary.

This means that no job seeker will be required to meet any mutual obligation requirements until 20 January. Job seekers may volunteer to undertake their usual requirements and attend their usual activities where they choose to do so. Job seekers are encouraged to talk to their employment services provider about the ongoing services and support they can access and how they can continue to participate in employment services during the contingency period. 

During the contingency arrangement, job seekers who are not able to participate are not required to seek exemptions through Centrelink.

On 6 January, the Prime Minister, the Hon Scott Morrison MP announced that job seekers in fire affected regions would not have mutual obligation requirements for at least two months. The department are working to confirm the appropriate arrangements and to identify all those areas in which these arrangements will apply. 

Job seekers affected by fires, Volunteer firefighters and Defence Reservists involved in an emergency response will not have their income support payments cut.
Following the end of the national contingency arrangement, job seekers that live outside of bushfire affected areas can contact Centrelink to seek an exemption from all of their requirements if they are affected by bushfires. This includes job seekers who are:

  • volunteering as part of an emergency response (for example, volunteer firefighters)
  • serving as part of the Defence Force Reserves as part of the bushfire recovery response
  • living in and/or directly impacted by the bushfires, including job seekers who are temporarily away from their usual residence (for example, visiting family) and cannot return home
  • providing support for a relative or loved one who has been directly impacted by the bushfires.

Evidence is normally required before an exemption can be granted. More flexible arrangements are currently in place to ensure that exemptions are still able to be granted if, at the time of contact, the job seeker cannot reasonably provide evidence.

To request a short-term exemption — up to 13 weeks — a job seeker will need to contact Centrelink. It’s also possible to apply for an extension if required.
Exemptions from mutual obligations covers all of their requirements, such as job search and Work for the Dole.

This applies to all firefighters responding to emergencies, regardless of whether their organisation is on the list of approved volunteer organisations with Centrelink or not.

Ongoing volunteering and requirements
Depending on their age and how long they have been receiving payment for, job seekers aged 55 years and over may choose to satisfy their mutual obligation requirements through approved voluntary work, suitable paid work, or a combination of these activities for a combined total of at least 30 hours per fortnight. In some circumstances principal carers can also satisfy their mutual obligation requirements in this way.

If a job seeker wants to have their volunteering recognised as an ongoing activity that is counted towards their mutual obligation requirements, the voluntary work must be first approved by Centrelink, and only within not-for-profit organisations that have also been approved by Centrelink.

More information

For more information visit the Mutual Obligation Requirements for NSA/YA Job Seekers page on the Guides to Social Policy Law website.

Correct at time of publication.