Community Affairs 24 February 2011
CHAIR—We will reconvene. We have questions from Senator Siewert.
Senator SIEWERT—I wanted to go to income management, but is it possible to ask some questions about the SSAT tribunal appeals process?
CHAIR—I may well have sent those officers home.
Ms Hogg—They have gone.
Senator SIEWERT—I will put those questions on notice. Last time we had estimates I was asking about letters and how the letters were sent out when we were rolling out income management across the rest of the NT. Again, I will acknowledge and thank the department for being part of the briefing that we had not long ago. At that briefing I was asking about how you are now contacting clients, and I understand that the letter that is going out to either new people or people that are being moved over from the old system to the new system has not been changed yet. Is that correct?
Ms Ramsey—The letter that has gone out this year on 4 February, or with the February date, is the letter that is going to people who are now coming off income management, so they are people who were under the old income management, the Northern Territory Emergency Response, and who are no longer on income management. We are writing to them. We have, in fact, written to 229 people saying to them that they are currently being income managed and that we have been paying expenses on their behalf but that income management for them will cease on 30 June 2011 and can they please come in and talk to us because we need to discuss how they will pay bills, what happens with their money and so on. Those letters are now going out to customers.
Senator SIEWERT—After we spoke at the end of October or beginning of November, did the letters change for those people who were moving on to the new system or being taking off?
Ms Ramsey—We have been basically market testing the letters that go out. There were two letters that we talked about at last estimates. Those letters have not changed, but we have been looking at redesigning them and actually going out and testing with customers as to what sorts of letters would be best understood. The main letter that is now going out is the letter for customers coming off income management. I can provide a copy to you if that would be useful.
Senator SIEWERT—Yes, if you could. How many were there?
Ms Ramsey—There were 229.
Senator SIEWERT—Is that the extent of the numbers? Ms Ramsey—No. That is the number of letters that we have currently sent out. Senator SIEWERT—You have sent those out already? Ms Ramsey—We sent those out in February this year. Senator SIEWERT—How many more do you anticipate are currently on income management who are still to come off or move on to the new system?
Ms Ramsey—In terms of new income management letters—this is dated from 11 February this year so these are current numbers—we have sent 5,094 letters to customers eligible for compulsory income management. They are people who were not previously income managed, but are under the new scheme. Regarding customers who were previously managed under the Northern Territory Emergency Response and are now subject to new income management, 9,323 letters have been sent to them. Then there are the 229 that have been sent out to customers who are no longer subject to income management.
Senator SIEWERT—As I understand it, there is a range of people that would no longer be subject to income management who have also been contacted?
Senator SIEWERT—As I understand it, there is a number that have gone on to voluntary income management.
Ms Ramsey—Yes. I can give you the voluntary income management figures, if you would like them.
Senator SIEWERT—Yes, if you could. I would like to get them on the record.
Ms Ramsey—This will include voluntary income management across the Northern Territory, Queensland,
South Australia and Western Australia. I can give you the separate numbers for each state, if you would like it, but in total there are 5,342 customers who are being voluntary income managed.
Senator BOYCE—It would be good to have that broken down by state, but not necessary now.
Ms Ramsey—I can provide that to you.
Senator SIEWERT—Is it possible to table it now? I think you are conscious of not taking up time.
Senator SIEWERT—Thank you.
Ms Ramsey—I have given away my other copy.
Senator SIEWERT—Maybe you should give it back until we finish. That is total voluntary. Can you tell us how many from the Northern Territory have voluntarily transitioned from income management in prescribed communities to the new system?
Ms Ramsey—From the Northern Territory there are 4,656 customers who are now on voluntary income management.
Senator SIEWERT—Is it possible to break that down to how many of those were on the old system and how many have now gone on to the new system?
Ms Ramsey—In the Northern Territory 4,523 have transitioned from the old NTER income management on to voluntary income management.
Senator SIEWERT—How many have come off?
Ms Ramsey—In the Northern Territory 3,318 have come off income management, and then from compulsory income management to customers who are exempt it is 105. The total number that has come off, either because they are exempt or because they have come off, is 3,423.
Senator SIEWERT—Is that in the NT?
Senator SIEWERT—So what was the 105 figure?
Ms Ramsey—There are 105 from compulsory income management who are now exempt.
Senator SIEWERT—So they have applied under the rules that we have talked about, in terms of their kids
demonstrating that they are going to school?
Ms Ramsey—Yes. There are 224 customers who are still to be transitioned, so we still need to make contact.
Senator SIEWERT—Now going to the new system, are there people that still meet the criteria for income management that are still to go on to income management?
Ms Ramsey—There are 224 still to be transitioned.
Senator SIEWERT—No. I should be clearer. They are the people who are still on income management. If they are being transitioned then they are still on income management.
Ms Ramsey—Yes. That is right.
Senator SIEWERT—So how many who would meet the criteria for income management that are not currently in prescribed communities, in other words, on the old system?
Mr Tidswell—Do you mean the customers that were not on the old system or were on the old system?
Senator SIEWERT—That were not on the old system.
Mr Tidswell—That were not on the old system that need to be transitioned or need to be put on to the new system. Is that the figure that you are after?
Senator SIEWERT—I was assuming that the 224 that you mentioned before were those that had been transitioned from the old income management system in prescribed communities to the new income management system, but of course income management applies all the way across the NT now. What I am asking is, effectively, have you finished rolling it out?
Ms Ramsey—Yes. I understand the question. There are 1,886 customers that are new income management customers in the Northern Territory that have come on to income management. I am unsure whether we have the number that are still to come on to income management that have never been on income management.
Ms Cartwright—As customers fall into an eligible category—and that is a disengaged youth or a long-term welfare payment recipient—when they have been on the payment for the required length of time, they are contacted, interviewed and income management is discussed with them. It is just a point in time. As they are eligible, they have the income management discussion.
Senator SIEWERT—Are all the people that were eligible when the process started now on?
Senator SIEWERT—So the rollout is complete except that new people are coming on?
Ms Cartwright—The rollout was completed on 9 October in all the four zones, so all customers in those zones have had a contact. Ms Ramsay was saying that we still have 224 customers who have stayed on the old income management, NTER, and we are in the process of contacting those.
Senator SIEWERT—Thank you. I am sorry it took me so long to ask that question. I asked FaHCSIA this morning around the number of people who had applied for an exemption and I asked for a breakdown between Indigenous and non-Indigenous. As I understand it, 24 per cent were non-Indigenous. Is that correct?
Ms Cartwright—I think it was 24 per cent; 26 per cent was quoted this morning from FaHCSIA.
Senator SIEWERT—Have all the people that have applied for an exemption had their applications dealt with? Are there any pending?
Ms Cartwright—As of 4 February we have 200 exemption claims awaiting information from the Northern Territory Department of Education and Training. The hold-up around that has been the confirmation of the attendance at the school, but the other exemptions have been processed.
Senator SIEWERT—How long on average have you been waiting to deal with those claims? I appreciate I am asking a difficult question.
Ms Cartwright—I will take that one on notice.
Senator SIEWERT—That would be appreciated. I realise that probably not all of the 200 would have been there for the same length of time.
Ms Ramsey—It has also been a matter of working with the Northern Territory Department of Education and Training and getting that system operating to get the information back. It will be different for different cases, but we can certainly give you the average.
Senator SIEWERT—I want to know whether people are having to wait eight weeks, four weeks or however long.
Senator SIEWERT—In terms of school attendance, you need to be able to demonstrate that your children are at school. Are you monitoring school attendance or is it the case that, for those that have been exempt, they are exempt and that is it?
Ms Cartwright—They are exempt for 12 months and then we will do a review.
Senator SIEWERT—Thank you. Can the people who have voluntarily stayed on come off in the same way as any of the other voluntary clients? Is the process the same for those that have transitioned from compulsory
income management to voluntary income management?
Ms Ramsey—It remains the same.
Senator SIEWERT—Can they decide they want to come off?
Senator SIEWERT—Among those who have gone to voluntary management in the NT—and I am now talking about those that have moved from compulsory income management to voluntary income management—have there been people wanting to come off already?
Ms Ramsey—I would need to take the numbers on notice, but I am aware that there are customers who have come back and wanted to have the conversation about coming off and they have come off. I do not have the numbers, but I can take that on notice.
Senator SIEWERT—That would be appreciated. I recall that we had a conversation a little while ago about people on voluntary income management in Western Australia, for example, where it is also being trialled—there has been a bit of churn in terms of people going on and coming off. Is that churn still evident? Is that still happening?
Ms Ramsey—I do not have that information before me.
Ms Cartwright—Can you repeat that question?
Senator SIEWERT—I think it was the estimates before last or maybe the one before that where we had a conversation around churn. People were going off and on voluntary income management quite a bit. I am just wondering whether that is still happening.
Ms Cartwright—The new income management had a time period set for voluntary income managed customers. When they enter into an agreement with Centrelink for voluntary income management, they need to stay on for 13 weeks from the date the customer commenced voluntary income management. That was to address that churning issue. As you might know, if the customers stay on voluntary income management for a certain period then they are eligible for a payment, which is called a voluntary income management incentive payment, and they can get that twice per year. It is an encouragement for people.
Senator SIEWERT—How long do you need to stay on?
Ms Cartwright—After 26 weeks you get a payment.
Senator SIEWERT—That is not quite the same answer.
Ms Ramsey—No. I am sorry, I have given you the wrong information. It is 13 weeks for the Northern
Senator SIEWERT—Is that just for the Northern Territory?
Ms Ramsey—That is my understanding, yes.
Senator SIEWERT—So it has not changed. I had not picked up on that. As soon as you said that I
remembered, but I did not think that it had changed for the people that were already on.
Ms Ramsey—For the Northern Territory it is 13 weeks.
Senator SIEWERT—For the others it is not?
Senator SIEWERT—Do they get a reminder at 13 weeks? What happens after 13 weeks? Do they have to
come in and sign another one or they can come off when they want to?
Ms Cartwright—They can come off when they want to. There is no end date. Senator SIEWERT—So it is only the first 13 weeks that you sign up for? Ms Cartwright—That is right. The incentive payment is $250 paid twice per year. Senator SIEWERT—It is $500 overall? Ms Cartwright—That is correct. Senator SIEWERT—So, with the 13 weeks, we will not be at that point yet with the first group. Ms Cartwright—No. We are getting close. The first rollout was 9 August of last year. If someone went on
that date then it would be 13 weeks from there.
Senator SIEWERT—I will ask next estimates how many people have received their $250.
Ms Cartwright—We have had some paid in Western Australia, because their period would have started
prior to the Northern Territory customers.
Senator SIEWERT—How many? You can take that on notice if you do not have those figures.
Ms Cartwright—I will take that one on notice.
Senator SIEWERT—I would like to move on to WA. I understand the trial finishes this year.
Senator SIEWERT—What happens from here?
Ms Cartwright—If Centrelink does not receive additional funding to continue with the measures in Western Australia, we will exit those customers as we would with the Northern Territory customers, so we would have an exit interview with those customers and discuss disbursements or other options to continue making payments through our Centrepay scheme if that was appropriate for the customer.
Senator SIEWERT—If people still want to do voluntary income management in Western Australia, will they be able to do that or will you need more funding to do that as well?
Ms Cartwright—They will not be able to do that, because the legislation will not be in that area and of course the funding will be an issue.
Senator SIEWERT—I am talking about voluntary.
Ms Cartwright—There is voluntary income management and child protection income management in Western Australia.
Senator SIEWERT—That is right. So they will both finish?
Ms Cartwright—They will both finish.
Senator SIEWERT—If that process were to continue in Western Australia, have you estimated how much that would cost?
Ms Cartwright—That is currently going through the costing process, so I do not have that figure with me at the moment.
Senator SIEWERT—In terms of the process of transition to date, can you tell me how much it has cost from the initiation of the new process to now?
Ms Cartwright—Can I take that one on notice.
Senator SIEWERT—Yes, that is fine.
Ms Ramsey—Is that for the Northern Territory?
Senator SIEWERT—It is for the new process, yes. I am sorry; I am jumping around here. I was about to make an assumption, but I probably should not. With the budget for the Western Australian trial, can you tell me how much you have spent against the budget?
Ms Cartwright—We could take that one on notice.
Mr Tidswell—Unfortunately I do not think we have that level of detail with us tonight.
Senator SIEWERT—I was about to make a gross assumption that there is a budget there and you would spend the budget, but I realise that is a very silly assumption. Going back to Western Australia, could you tell me the number of people on compulsory income management under the child protection measure?
Ms Cartwright—I have got child protection for Western Australia and the Northern Territory—216. Ms Ramsey—Yes, that is accurate. Senator SIEWERT—That is for WA and – Ms Ramsey—It is for Northern Territory and WA. We collect those stats together. Senator SIEWERT—So, you cannot break that down any further? Ms Cartwright—I can. It is 211. Senator SIEWERT—How does that— Ms Cartwright—That is child protection only in Western Australia—211. Senator SIEWERT—Yes. The breakdown of the voluntary income management is on that sheet, so I will
not go through that now. I will get to that in a second. That 211 is for the whole metropolitan area of the trial. What has been the total number of people under that measure over the period of the trial?
Ms Cartwright—I will take that one on notice, too. I do not have that data in front of me, I am sorry.
Senator SIEWERT—That is fine.
Ms Cartwright—It fluctuates, and so I would rather give you the most accurate figure than to make a guess by my calculations here if that is—
Ms Ramsey—Can I just clarify? You are looking for the number in total that have been on it or those who are currently on it?
Senator SIEWERT—No, those who have been on it. The trial was for, as I recall it, up to 1,000 people. What I am interested in knowing is how many people did end up having income management applied to them.
Mr Tidswell—We have a lot of data here and there are a lot of boxes, columns and material, but we just do not quite have all that information at our fingertips.
Senator SIEWERT—No, that is fine. I appreciate that. I must say, you do have a lot of information, so sometimes you may have it or you may not, and I appreciate that it is hard to second-guess everything that we might be asking for. Thank you. How many people in Cape York are subject to compulsory income management?
Mrs Ramsey—There are 177 in Cape York.