Community Affairs - 1/6/2011
Senator SIEWERT: Can we deal with income management here?
Ms Carroll: Yes. The plan under this outcome is to deal with income management, and also to deal with problem gambling. I know there were some questions earlier about when we would get to problem gambling.
CHAIR: We will start with income management and we will go with the flow.
Senator SIEWERT: Can I also clarify, will we deal with DSP changes in disabilities and carers tomorrow?
Ms Carroll: Yes.
Senator SIEWERT: I have already asked DEEWR a lot of questions yesterday and I know that some of the issues need to be raised with DHS, so if you tell me that is for them I will move on. Can we start generally on the extension of the financial counselling initiative. Is it basically just extending the current funding and things will remain the same?
Ms Oswald: Yes, the additional funding for financial counselling is a top-up to the existing funding, so it will continue the positions that were funded through the global financial crisis money.
Senator SIEWERT: Is that simply rolling on for the same organisations and there is no new tendering?
Ms Oswald: That is right.
Senator SIEWERT: I will come back to financial counselling as it relates to income management. Could we perhaps go through where we are up to with income management in the NT and then move on to the new provisions? Is that okay? Could we get some data about where we are up to on the completion of the rollout of the process in the Northern Territory? How many people are now on income management? Where are we up to there?
Ms Carroll: I think you might have been given a sheet of paper that had some facts and figures on it.
Senator SIEWERT: Thank you.
Ms Carroll: I think it was requested yesterday. I just thought that might help as a reference sheet.
Senator SIEWERT: That will shorten things, thank you. Will we go through this table? Is that okay? When we talk about the vulnerable welfare recipient payment measure, the new customers—less than 20—are they the new ones that have gone on since I asked in the last estimates?
Ms Hefren-Webb: The way this table breaks down is that 'new customers' essentially represents people who were not subject to income management under the NTER. They are not necessarily 17 new since we last spoke.
Senator SIEWERT: Is this the total number?
Ms Hefren-Webb: If you look across, the total number is 217 people in the vulnerable measure. Of those 217—is that the figure you have?
Senator SIEWERT: We are looking here at vulnerable—
Ms Hefren-Webb: Yes, and if you go right across to the right.
Senator SIEWERT: Unless I am missing something, nothing on my sheet says 217.
Mr Pratt: While we are clarifying this, I have some information for Senator Fifield from this morning which—
CHAIR: Yes, we can do that while we are making sure we have the right document in front of us.
Mr Pratt: Senator Fifield, you were asking about the AusTender contract CN383740, which was the $44,000 to support the business coming from the budget. I have a bit of information here. This was in relation to supporting work on emergency relief funding, which occurs under outcome 3—
Senator FIFIELD: Supporting?
Mr Pratt: Supporting some work in relation to the emergency relief funding program. Essentially it was to assist with finalising contracts, provide administrative support and draft letters. One temporary staff member was employed at a relatively junior level to do this work and that person has been engaged until 30 June. The projected expenditure will be just over $14,000 over that time.
Senator FIFIELD: When you say the 'emergency relief funding program', which particular program is that?
Mr Pratt: This is the one where we provide emergency relief funding to people who have been affected by an emergency—for example, the Queensland floods.
Senator FIFIELD: The description in the tender said that it was for anticipated extra queries from the minister’s office as a result of the budget.
Mr Pratt: Yes, it was rather poorly worded.
Senator FIFIELD: Given that it would have absolutely nothing to do with that.
Mr Pratt: To the extent that some of those queries could have been around that area, it is not completely inaccurate, but it is essentially to provide additional support around the operation of this program.
Senator FIFIELD: Thank you for that detail.
Senator SIEWERT: We will restart.
Ms Carroll: I think the issue was that the crib paper Ms Hefren-Webb had did not have the suppressed numbers.
Senator SIEWERT: As I figured. I was trying to be polite.
Ms Carroll: The final had actually come out, because Centrelink obviously does not ever give numbers under 20.
Senator SIEWERT: That is what I figured, which is why I said straightaway that I thought we were on a different sheet.
CHAIR: Do we now have the same sheet?
Ms Carroll: Yes.
Ms Hefren-Webb: With the sheet that says ‘new customers under 20’, you were asking whether they were new since we last spoke?
Senator SIEWERT: Yes.
Ms Hefren-Webb: Not necessarily. These have come on since August last year, but they are not former NTER customers.
Senator SIEWERT: That is the total number of new customers. So the rest that are vulnerable are essentially those ones from the NTER?
Ms Hefren-Webb: Correct.
Senator SIEWERT: When you break it down to Indigenous and non-Indigenous, all the NTER ones we will assume are Indigenous and then you are not breaking down the other 20; is that correct?
Ms Hefren-Webb: They will have suppressed the Indigenous and non-Indigenous ratio, if there is a figure less than 20.
Senator SIEWERT: It is fairly safe to presume that a very large majority of them are Aboriginal people. In terms of those that were transitioned, do you have a breakdown of how many of those would be age pensioners and how many would be in other groups; in other words, they are not long-term unemployed?
Ms Hefren-Webb: Are you talking about the vulnerable?
Senator SIEWERT: Yes, the vulnerable.
Ms Hefren-Webb: I do not have those figures with me. I know that approximately three-quarters were DSP recipients.
Senator SIEWERT: DSP rather than aged?
Ms Hefren-Webb: Yes. There was a large proportion. The remainder were mostly age pensioners and there are a few on things like special benefit and so forth.
Senator SIEWERT: In terms of parenting participation, when you say ‘other customers’, what does that mean?
Ms Hefren-Webb: Other customers are people who have previously been involved with income management but not in the NTER. We get a bit of movement across from Kununurra. There may have been a voluntary customer there and they have moved over. They may have been in the cape. It is a small number and, again, those have been suppressed.
Senator SIEWERT: Is that because it is a small number?
Ms Hefren-Webb: Yes.
Senator SIEWERT: There are 2,130 that were granted exemptions. Can you break down how many were Aboriginal and how many were non-Aboriginal?
Ms Carroll: Of the exemptions, 75 per cent were non-Indigenous and 25 per cent were Indigenous.
Senator SIEWERT: What is the average time for processing of exemption applications?
Ms Hefren-Webb: I do not have an average time for processing.
Senator SIEWERT: Should I ask Centrelink?
Ms Hefren-Webb: That is Human Services.
Senator SIEWERT: I will try to remember to ask that one tomorrow. Should I ask Centrelink about the number of appeals as well?
Ms Hefren-Webb: No, I have figures on that. There have been 86 decisions reviewed by a Centrelink original decision maker, 59 reviewed by an authorised review officer and four reviewed by the SSAT.
Senator SIEWERT: Who were the 86 reviewed by?
Ms Hefren-Webb: The Centrelink original decision maker. There were 59 by an authorised review officer and four reviewed by the SSAT.
Senator SIEWERT: How many of those were successful?
Ms Hefren-Webb: Of the decisions reviewed by the Centrelink original decision maker, 70 were affirmed. So they affirmed the Centrelink decision. In five the decision was set aside. Essentially the matter was looked at afresh. One was varied. Ten requests for review were withdrawn. Of the decisions reviewed by an authorised review officer, 48 affirmed the original decision; three set aside the original decision and eight requests for review were withdrawn. Of the four decisions reviewed by the Social Security Appeals Tribunal, my understanding is three have been affirmed and the remaining one is still pending. I understand that two that have been affirmed have appealed to the AAT and those matters are still pending.
Senator SIEWERT: Could you give me the budget breakdown figures on how much has been expended since this measure was introduced?
Ms Hefren-Webb: The majority of the funding for income management goes directly to the Human Services portfolio for Centrelink service delivery. The expenditure figures I have are really a minor portion.
Senator SIEWERT: Can you give me yours and I will get the rest tomorrow?
Ms Hefren-Webb: Yes. These figures are at 31 April 2011. Of the $1.267 million appropriated, $1.051 had been spent. That would comprise funding for communications, evaluation and voluntary income management incentive payments.
Senator SIEWERT: One was communication, but what was the other one?
Ms Hefren-Webb: Evaluation and voluntary income management incentive payments—the $250 payment made each six months.
Senator SIEWERT: How many of those have we had?
Ms Hefren-Webb: There have been 3,664 voluntary income management incentive payments made as at 22 April.
Senator SIEWERT: Is that the 13-week saving payment?
Ms Hefren-Webb: No. There are two. The voluntary income management payment is paid every six months a person is on voluntary income management.
Senator SIEWERT: That is that one?
Ms Hefren-Webb: It is that one. The matched savings payment is the other one that you are referring to.
Senator SIEWERT: I always mix the two up. How many of those have been paid?
Ms Hefren-Webb: Four.
Senator FIFIELD: Is that the managed savings scheme?
Ms Hefren-Webb: That is correct.
Senator SIEWERT: Is the $250 every six months?
Ms Hefren-Webb: That is correct.
Senator SIEWERT: So there have been four matched savings since the new measure came in?
Ms Hefren-Webb: That is correct.
Senator SIEWERT: What date do you take the new measure from?
Ms Hefren-Webb: The legislation took effect from 1 July, but we did not commence the rollout till August. As you know, it took a while across the NT. That would be from August, but when we spoke in November last year we said that it would have been too early for anyone to have those payments. It is not too early now. There should be some and there are a few.
Senator FIFIELD: On the matched savings scheme, there was an article in the Australian in March which said that only one person had accessed the full $500 available at that time. There are now four people who have availed themselves of the scheme. Have all of those four reached the $500 maximum?
Ms Hefren-Webb: Yes, those four claimed the full $500 amount.
Senator FIFIELD: Is there anyone else who has claimed a smaller amount?
Ms Hefren-Webb: No-one has claimed a smaller amount.
Senator FIFIELD: So they have all claimed the maximum?
Ms Hefren-Webb: There might be people who are working towards a savings goal who will claim in the future, but at this stage no-one has claimed another amount.
Senator FIFIELD: Do you only seek to claim it once you have hit $500?
Ms Hefren-Webb: You can claim at any point, but you can only claim once. It is in the interests of the customer to save as much as possible. If someone came in and attempted to claim $50, they would be asked whether they were aware that that meant they could not save more and subsequently claim a higher amount.
Senator SIEWERT: It is a one-off measure.
Ms Hefren-Webb: That is right.
Senator FIFIELD: So you have had a rush on the scheme since March.
Senator SIEWERT: If you are on income management, how much money do you think you are going to save over this period?
Senator FIFIELD: I am not suggesting anything else. What were the expectations for the scheme? Is this where you thought the uptake would be?
Ms Hefren-Webb: It is a little lower than we expected.
Senator FIFIELD: What were you expecting?
Ms Hefren-Webb: I cannot remember exactly what the estimate was.
Senator FIFIELD: Are we talking double figures?
Ms Hefren-Webb: Yes. We were expecting probably in the hundreds.
Senator FIFIELD: Are you disappointed or surprised?
Mr Lye: It is a measure that is new that had not been tried before, so it is very difficult to estimate take-up on these sorts of things. It was put in place with a view to try to incentivise savings and so, in that sense, it is very hard to work out what people’s behaviour will be. The other thing is that, given the staggered rollout of the new income management, it is probably a little early to make a judgment about whether it has been successful or not.
Senator FIFIELD: At what point would you seek to make that judgment?
Ms Hefren-Webb: I would make the additional point that there are two parts to this scheme. People have to complete an approved money management course and then undertake the matched savings. They can undertake the savings over any time period they like. We have had 812 people register for the money management course and 415 people complete the course. Another 335 are still participating and 62 have withdrawn. That indicates to us there is a fair bit of interest in developing financial management capacity. Some of those people will be undertaking savings, but we do not have any visibility of that until they come in to claim the matched savings payment. The fact that we have had reasonably high take-up of the course indicates to us that there is an interest in this area. As to why we have not had more people do the savings as well, that is something we will be having a look at.
Senator SIEWERT: One of the issues is trying to exist on $32 a day.
Senator FIFIELD: I have no doubt. It raises questions as to the realism of the scheme. Where was the design and concept of the scheme come up with in the first place? Was that something the department came up with or was it something the government came up with?
Ms Carroll: Which scheme?
Senator FIFIELD: The matched savings scheme.
Mr Pratt: Are we going to rerun the discussion we had this morning about the genesis for policy ideas, whether that comes from the government or from the department?
Senator SIEWERT: I would like to ask some other questions, but we get the same answers.
CHAIR: We will see where it goes, Mr Pratt.
Senator FIFIELD: I do not think it goes to advice to government. You can take something like the Henry review. It is clear, if there is an idea that the government adopts, where it came from. It is just what the antecedents of this particular policy were.
Ms Hefren-Webb: I can answer that in the sense that these schemes have been run by a few of the banks. It is an idea that has been around in the community sector that was picked up for this cohort.
Mr Lye: There is literature from the UK and elsewhere regarding the concept. It is not new to this area.
Senator FIFIELD: I will yield to Senator Siewert.
Senator SIEWERT: You obviously have a document there with a whole lot of financial figures on it. Is that a document that you could table that would save me asking a whole lot of questions?
Ms Hefren-Webb: No. I do not think that I could table it in its current form.
Senator SIEWERT: Is it possible in its unscribbled form?
Senator BOYCE: What is the document?
Ms Hefren-Webb: It is some handwritten notes.
Senator SIEWERT: I wanted to go back to the figures around the financial counsellors and accessing money matters. Are those figures just for the NT or are they for accessing financial counselling in the other states as well?
Ms Hefren-Webb: The figure of 812 people who have registered is just for the money management course, which is only one element of financial counselling. I will defer to my colleagues.
Ms Oswald: In terms of Commonwealth financial counselling for income management in the NT, there are seven organisations and 16 full-time equivalent positions in the NT. In WA there are around 11 organisations and over 13 full-time equivalent positions.
Senator SIEWERT: If you remember, over a couple of estimates we have had this discussion about people that are on income management that are not accessing, which is why I asked whether it was just for the NT. Has there been an increased uptake in financial counselling? I would like to know state by state if possible, because WA is one of the ones that was not accessing financial counselling, as I recall.
Ms Oswald: I do not have individual client numbers specifically for income management for Commonwealth financial counselling, so we would have to take that on notice and get back to you.
Senator SIEWERT: In any of the states? You have had them in the past.
Ms Hefren-Webb: We cannot always confirm that a client in financial counselling is an income management client. I think that is what we have discussed in the past; because they do not have to self-identify as such. My apologies: the client numbers are across the Northern Territory and Western Australia. In 2009-10, there were
14,000 people who accessed financial management support services in the NT and WA, and in the year to December 2010 there were 7,000 people that had accessed those services.
Senator SIEWERT: So 14,000 is from when?
Ms Hefren-Webb: That is 2009-10.
Senator SIEWERT: And up until now it is 7,000?
Ms Hefren-Webb: Up to December 2010, so the first six months of this financial year.
Senator SIEWERT: So it is about the same?
Ms Hefren-Webb: That is correct.
Senator SIEWERT: How many of those are repeat?
Ms Hefren-Webb: I do not have that information.
Ms Oswald: We do not know repeat numbers of clients because financial counsellors do not necessarily have to record that kind of information. I have some 2010-11 numbers on financial counselling. In the NT there were 707 and in WA there were 2,264 people who accessed financial counselling.
Senator BOYCE: Is that all of the states?
Ms Oswald: That is 2011 to date—to December.
Senator SIEWERT: I would like to go on to the new process. How involved was FaHCSIA in identifying the 10 new sites? I realise that there are different things happening in five of them, but let us just say 10 for the time being. How involved were you in identifying those 10 sites?
Ms Carroll: The department was part of an interdepartmental committee process. The submissions that went up to government around the measures were put forward by a number of ministers across the government. The department was involved in that policy process.