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What to do if you’ve lost your job due to coronavirus

The coronavirus pandemic is having a dramatic impact on all Australians and their jobs, with estimates hundreds of thousands of people could lose work.

While this is a concerning time for everyone, there are emergency measures in place to help soften the blow to those hardest hit by the virus, either due to loss of work or sickness.

If you’re seeing your hours cut and face losing your job, what can you do about it? And how can you stay afloat?

Police explain to hundreds lining up outside a Centrelink office in Sydney that they will have a long wait.

Police explain to hundreds lining up outside a Centrelink office in Sydney that they will have a long wait.Credit:Nick Moir

Can your employer stand you down?

Casual workers can, essentially, be stood down by their employer at any time simply by not receiving any shifts. That does not mean casual workers can be discriminated against – for example, as a result of illness – but it does mean businesses seeing a sharp drop in demand can choose not to roster them on.

Permanent full-time and part-time workers have more rights but they can still be stood down if work has to be stopped for “any cause for which the employer cannot reasonably be held responsible”, according to workplace laws.

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A general slowdown in trade caused by coronavirus is not enough for that law to be invoked – but a government order to close a business, as faced by gyms and pubs among other businesses, is enough to invoke the law.

Individual contracts and business-wide agreements can also affect workers’ rights by including provisions for consultation, as one example. If you are stood down, when the downturn is over you’ll return to work in your old role with the same pay.

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A redundancy is different to a stand-down because it is permanent, and comes with some payment and notice requirements. The rules around redundancy vary depending on industry agreements and your contract but typically an employee can be made redundant if the business goes under or if it genuinely has no need for their work.

For this reason, it’s important to know exactly where you stand in your current employment situation.

Some businesses will still pay staff for a period of time if they are required to self-isolate or are affected by the virus. For instance, ride-sharing platform Ola is paying assistance for up to 14 days while accounts are on hold, based on their individual average daily earnings on the service.

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Casuals at Wesfarmers’ Officeworks, Kmart and Target will also be paid up to two weeks’ wages for missed shifts if they have to self-isolate or care for others. And other companies, such as Woolworths, have been looking to redeploy workers from struggling businesses like Qantas.

If you can still take leave from your work, including long service leave and annual leave, you won’t be able to access government payments. So it’s good to be clear with your employer where possible.

What help is available?

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If you lose work during the pandemic, or are unable to work due to contracting the virus or needing to self-isolate, you will be able to claim support from the federal government.

An extra Coronavirus Supplement payment of $550 a fortnight to new and existing income support recipients is available from April 27 for six months.

That money will go to people who are on the JobSeeker Payment, Austudy, Abstudy, Youth Allowance (student), Sickness Allowance, Youth Allowance, Parenting Payment, Partner Allowance and Farm Household Allowance.

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Those who have lost their jobs and are on JobSeeker payments — which incorporates the former Newstart payment — including the new supplement, will receive $1100 a fortnight all up under the changes. If you have children you may be eligible for more.

JobSeeker and Youth Allowance has been opened up to sole traders and the self-employed and people caring for someone infected or in isolation due to coronavirus.

People who are in Australia on temporary visas, or from New Zealand who are not Australian residents and arrived after February 2001, are not eligible for the payments.

If you are on a temporary visa that requires you to keep working in order to stay in the country, you should call the Department of Home Affairs on 131 881 if you lose your job. The acting minister for immigration Alan Tudge has said the government will consider calls on an “individual” basis.

The assets test, waiting period, seasonal workers’ preclusion period and newly arrived residents’ waiting period will be temporarily waived. The supplement payment is taxable and will be paid automatically each fortnight.

An income test applies – people will be eligible for the full benefits if they earn under $1075 a fortnight. A person’s partner also cannot earn more than $48,000 a year, though the government has said it is considering changing that threshold.

Those who are already Centrelink customers do not need to do anything to receive the benefits.

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If you are new to Centrelink, you can claim benefits online through myGov but you will need to create a Centrelink “customer reference number” over the phone or in person too.

Here’s where you start a MyGov account. You then have to finish the process on the phone when your identity will be verified and you will receive a customer reference number. For the JobSeeker Allowance, phone 132 850.

Once you have a customer number you can lodge an “intent to claim” before formally having all the necessary documents. Once that is done, your payments will be backdated to that point when they are formally approved.

Another new measure will allow those suffering financially through this period to access up to $20,000 from their superannuation, including $10,000 in 2019-20 and a further $10,000 in 2020-21. This early release of super will not incur extra tax. You will need to apply online through myGov before July 1 for the first tranche and in the three months after this time for the second-round payment.

To be eligible you will either need to be unemployed, receiving certain benefits, or have had your work hours reduced by more than 20 per cent since January 1. If you are a sole trader, your business either needs to have been suspended or have had a 20 per cent reduction in turnover to be eligible.

Those receiving benefits already will be eligible for a $750 payment on March 31 and a second payment of the same amount from July 13, although the second payment will not be made to those getting the extra Coronavirus Supplement payment. These funds are paid automatically.

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Federal government measures

  • $750 payment from the end of March to recipients of Age pension, Family Tax Benefit, Youth Allowance, Newstart, Austudy, Disability Support, parenting and carer payments.
  • Services Australia offering Major Personal Crisis exemption of 14 days for those who cannot meet current income-support obligations due to required isolation.
  • Extra payments of $550 per fortnight over the next six months for new and existing recipients of benefits such as JobSeeker, Youth Allowance, Parenting Payments, Farm Household Allowances and Special Benefits, on top of existing payments.
  • An extra $750 payment to social security, veteran income support recipients and eligible concession card holders, provided from July.
  • Individuals in hardship able to access $10,000 of their superannuation in 2019-20 and $10,000 in 2020-21.

What can you do about your major expenses?

The biggest concern for most people is the cost of keeping a roof over their heads, be that rent or mortgage repayments. Most banks are offering repayment relief for up to six months for those suffering hardship due to coronavirus and have lowered interest rates on a range of products following cuts from the Reserve Bank. If you are unsure about your ability to pay your mortgage you should contact your lender as soon as possible.

For renters, the state and territory authorities are working on rules around hardship cases for tenants to ensure there aren’t evictions during this period.

Utilities bills can also be a concern through times of limited income. For those eligible for government benefits, there is an Energy Supplement you may be able to receive. The amount depends on how many people are in your household and the type of benefits you’re receiving.

You should also ring your energy company for advice and assistance. Their hardship policies will include those affected by the virus and, in some cases, payments can be deferred and paid in instalments.

Different states and territories are implementing other measures to help households. In Western Australia and the Northern Territory, some household fees and charges have been frozen – that is, they won’t increase with inflation as normal until July next year. Tasmania is providing one-off emergency payments worth $250 to individuals and $1000 to families that are required to self-isolate.

Bank assistance

All offering six months of repayment relief for businesses and individuals suffering from hardship due to coronavirus.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia

  • Up to $10 billion in repayment deferrals for small businesses and home loans for up to six months 
  • 76,000 businesses to be auto-enrolled into loan deferral arrangements from April 1. Digital registration available for home loan customers.
  • 125 basis point reduction in variable small business loans, and waiving of merchant and redraw fees for businesses in hardship.
  • 70 basis point reduction in home loans with fixed terms of one, two or three years, a 60 basis point increase in 12 month term deposits.
  • Reduction in minimum repayments for principal and interest home loan accounts from May 1.

Westpac

  • Small business customers’ overdrafts reduced by 200 basis points from April 6.
  • Variable interest rates of small business cash-based loans cut 100 basis points from April 6.
  • Fixed home loan customers offered 2.29 per cent per annum rate on principal and interest repayments from March 27.
  • 70 basis point increase for 12-month term deposits up to $500,000. Rate of 2 per cent for those aged 65 plus. From March 27.

ANZ

  • Reduction of some fixed-rates by 0.8 per cent of new loans for small businesses and 0.49 per cent for home loan customers.
  • Variable small business rates reduced by 0.25 per cent per annum and variable rates decreased by 0.15 per cent.
  • Small and medium businesses given access to 12 month increases in overdraft facilities.

NAB

  • Cutting 200 basis points from the rate on all new loans and overdrafts on some products from March 30.
  • Reduce variable rates on small business loans by 100 basis points from March 30.
  • A 60 basis point reduction to fixed-rate home loans.
  • A 10-month deposit rate of 1.75 per cent for term deposits.

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