EXPLAINER

Coronavirus: What to do now you're unemployed

Centrelink offices have been inundated with people attempting to register for Jobseeker allowance. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos
Centrelink offices have been inundated with people attempting to register for Jobseeker allowance. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Losing your job is a shocking experience, particularly if it comes out of the blue.

You may never have imagined standing in a line outside a Centrelink office - but now it's happened.

The first thing is not to blame yourself. This is a global pandemic which is hitting the hardest, most able people on the planet. You have worked hard and paid taxes. You are entitled to the benefits which may be available.

What benefits may you be entitled to?

The main benefit for unemployed people is the JobSeeker Payment (previously called Newstart Allowance).

It's paid to people aged from 22 to pension age who are still looking for work - you must be available for work and if the government thinks you may not be, the payment will be stopped.

The amount depends on your circumstances - age, savings, ownership of property, assets, including car, the size of the pay-off by your old employer (if any). The questions are rigorous and probing.

In pre-virus times the payment ranged up from $565.70 a fortnight for a single person but that's now increased.

What is the new entitlement because of the coronavirus?

The federal government announced higher payments for six months.

"We will be supercharging the safety net," Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

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Under this time-limited boost, the test of how much money the claimant has in the bank will be eased so recipients will not have to run down savings. Nor will they have to go to a Centrelink office.

And more money will be offered.

The basic rate for Jobseekers goes from $565.70 to $1115.70 a fortnight. It will vary upwards according to things such as married status and children.

How do you apply?

You can apply online (put "JobSeeker Payment how to apply" into the search engine and an official government link will be among the first to come up).

You will need to create a MyGov account and then link it to the Centrelink service.

All of this is simple, but you will have to call Centrelink and get a Customer Reference Number and that can be time - and patience - consuming.

Get used to this: "We're experiencing high call volumes and long wait times."

But once you're in the system, it should all be clear. You will, though, be quizzed about your circumstances. The questions will keep coming.

You will help yourself keep calm if you pre-gather a bunch of documents and information - tax file number, bank account number, identity document, financial statements and no doubt much more.

Where can I get advice?

Aside from government websites, Economic Justice Australia has law centres and its website offers specific advice.

Navigating Centrelink is difficult at the best of times, and it is going to be even slower and harder as tens of thousands of people try to access the system.

Sophie Trevitt, solicitor, Canberra Community Law

"The social security safety net is there to be just that - a safety net. It is designed to assist people in times of crisis," Sophie Trevitt, solicitor at Canberra Community Law said.

"Navigating Centrelink is difficult at the best of times, and it is going to be even slower and harder as tens of thousands of people try to access the system. Please persevere, and contact your community legal centre for advice if you need further assistance."

Some basics

Understand your own new financial situation. Calculate - on paper - what will go in and what will go out of the bank account. Know what you need to do to stay afloat.

Try not to use your credit card. The high interest rates will mount and add to the burden. All easier said than done.

Unemployment is a health issue

Unemployment plays on people's minds. Obviously, it offers a financial challenge but it can also undermine a sense of self-worth.

The mental effects have been well-documented so you will be better able to deal with problems if you know what they might be. They may hit the lowest paid and the highest paid.

There is a danger of depression if unemployment is prolongued and if the unemployed person gets perpetual rejection in a brutal jobs market.

Smoking and alcohol consumption often increase. The research seems to show that women are less affected by being made redundant. Families are put at greater risk of illness, stress and breakdown.

Recognise the signs. Don't be afraid to seek advice. Again: it's not your fault.

How do I apply for a job?

Firstly, brace yourself for rejection. Sometimes - often - it's rejection by simply not getting a reply.

It's not your fault. It's just the regrettable way of the world.

But these are good tips:

  • Read the job description carefully. Make sure you have the skills and experience that the employer is looking for.
  • Write the application for the job you are going for. Don't have a stock application on your desktop and just upload it.
  • Use all the space but don't overdo it. Screeds of detail going on and on for page after page may turn an employer off.
  • Google your own name. If you have some embarrassing incident in your past, perhaps involving drink in a party, get the image off.
  • Read your application. Rewrite if necessary. Reread it again and smooth the language. Check names. A wrong name and incorrect spellings send the application straight into the bin.

And remember ...

It really wasn't your fault. The accursed virus did it.

And good luck.

  • For information on COVID-19, please go to the federal Health Department's website.
  • You can also call the Coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080
  • If you have serious symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, call Triple Zero (000)

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This story What to do now you're unemployed first appeared on The Canberra Times.