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Income Management - Trial Sites

Income Management - Community Affairs 02/06/2011

Senator SIEWERT:  I would like to go to the new processes that will be part of the new trial sites, if that is possible. During estimates I have been following up on the new welfare reform processes and the new trial sites.

Ms Campbell:  The pay space locations, senator?
Senator SIEWERT:  Yes. 
Ms Campbell:  Mr Sandison will be able to assist with this one.
Senator SIEWERT:  I understand there has been quite a lot of money allocated to Centrelink for some extra staff, particularly social workers and people to work in these 10 locations?
Mr Sandison:  That is correct.
Senator SIEWERT:  In terms of the amount of resources that you have been given for these 10 sites, are you able to break that down? Have you broken it down per site yet?
Mr Sandison:  I can talk you through some of that. Obviously there is a range of the national initiatives and the local based ones in the 10 locations—
Senator SIEWERT:  Yes, I understand the five and five.
Mr Sandison:  But the national initiatives will cover off resource changes for our portfolio and they will also be in those 10 locations. In terms of the specifics, there was the $38 million that was provided for the 10 locations that was in this portfolio’s budget statements, and that is to cover the community innovation through collaboration, I think is the one you would be referring to. Within that it is funding that provides for 10 Commonwealth coordinators, and they would be public servants employed by this portfolio. There is funding for community facilitators and that would be used flexibly, but again it would be funding for approximately 10 and they would be in the community. 
Senator SIEWERT:  Ten communities facilities.
Mr Sandison:  The critical issue is that will depend on the needs of the local organisations and the local communities. As you would be aware, there are a lot of other organisations, networks, advisory bodies already out there. One such example would be Communities for Children in the FaHCSIA space. They have very strong local networks already. One of the critical things was not to go over the top of what is already there. The funding is there for those 10 facilitators, but we would have to engage with communities to work out what their needs are on the ground. They are the first two.
Senator SIEWERT:  As to community facilitators, when you say they are going to be in the community do you mean based in a community—
Mr Sandison:  Employed by a community organisation, yes.
Senator SIEWERT:  Will you tender those out?
Mr Sandison:  We have not established a mechanism by which it would actually identify which organisation might be the one where we would employ them, because again it depends on what is happening in that local area. There might already be a pre-established organisation. There is nothing set in concrete so that we can respond to community need.
Senator SIEWERT:  Will the Commonwealth coordinators be located in Centrelink offices?
Mr Sandison:  That is correct; in one of the portfolio offices within those areas.
Senator SIEWERT:  I am sorry, I interrupted you.
Mr Sandison:  Then the final part is the $25 million, which is the innovation fund. Obviously that is not staff related. That is to go to communities. That is $25 million over the four years of the estimates. Then separately across the different initiatives there are resources built into the various things—teen parents, jobless families and income management—that will require staff across the network. Some will be in those locations. Others will be not necessarily in specific locations, but it might be helped with other parts of our services, but with the aim of looking after the processes required of us by the policy departments.
Senator SIEWERT:  Have you a figure for those resources?
Mr Sandison:  I do not think we have a figure across-the-board. They are across the 15 to 20 different initiatives and then there is support staff and others. There might be a figure for the totality, but it is in effect against our budget figures, which is right across all of the budget initiatives for this year in our PBS.
Senator SIEWERT:  As I understand it, there is both the team program, the jobless families program, for example. Both are going to require—and the DSP initiatives for that matter—extra contact with Centrelink. As I understand it, you are putting on new, for example, social workers in those locations for those initiatives; is that right?
Mr Sandison:  For any of those we do costings where there is a high level of engagement. For example, the teen parents, the jobless families where they are required to come in for those more regular engagements right through, and that is a cost to our network in terms of the number of staff needed for those engagements. That is additional staffing to those two groups of 10 that I spoke about.
Senator SIEWERT:  To the officers in each of those two groups of 10 locations?
Mr Sandison:  Yes.
Senator SIEWERT:  Over the number of initiatives, how many additional staff will you be putting into those 10 locations to deal with these initiatives?
Mr Sandison:  I think we would have to take it on notice, because I would not want to bet that they will be in those locations, because they are responding to a range of issues. As you know, everything feeds through. If there is higher engagement there are different reviews, social workers, there might be appeals processes, and so everything is a distribution of resources. It could not be a statement that in each location there would be another 3.3 people just to look after teen parents. If there were that amount of staffing it would be distributed by the organisation in the different areas of effort needed by call centre staff. There would be an effort in call centre to respond to the calls from different groups that are engaged.
Senator SIEWERT:  I appreciate what you are saying. What I want to know—
Mr Sandison:  To the extent that we can as to what is in the local area, we can try to find that out for you.
Senator SIEWERT:  If you could. I am interested to know how many people are going to be frontline people that will be assisting with the particular qualifications that are needed to deal with the sorts of barriers that we are talking about, because we are talking about significant barriers to disadvantage. I want to know about the qualifications, the quality of the people that you are going to be getting to actually make a difference if this is going to work.
Mr Sandison:  To the level of detail that we have we can take that on notice.
Senator SIEWERT:  We had a bit of a discussion, which I am sure you have at least heard some of yesterday, with FaHCSIA around vulnerability criteria, because you are going to have to be operating this process now.
Mr Sandison:  Yes.
Senator SIEWERT:  I want to go into examples of the vulnerability process being used in the Northern Territory and how it is going to operate now in these other trial sites?
Mr Sandison:  Are you talking about the income management component and the vulnerability as to what are the three issues that would trigger the income management?
Senator SIEWERT:  Yes, because presumably there is now going to be not only through the teen parents initiative or teen mum’s initiative and the jobless families initiative but also through this process there is going to be increased contact with those identified as vulnerable. How do you envisage that process happening?
Mr Sandison:  I can ask my colleague. My understanding is that the income management will start with the same premise as the vulnerability indicator used in the Northern Territory.
Senator SIEWERT:  I understand there is consideration of a risk of homelessness?
Mr Sandison:  Yes, there was one specific one. The three were the voluntary income management, as you know, the vulnerability one and the child protection. The specific one mentioned in relation to vulnerability in some of the documentation was about a link to state housing, and a reference to vulnerability through housing or instability in the housing area. That was a specific one that was referenced. The others were the general issues that a Centrelink officer would deem to be a vulnerability, and I believe that is in line with the Northern Territory.
Senator SIEWERT:  Which is where I want to go to for examples. For those that have now been identified as vulnerable in the Northern Territory how has that occurred in terms of identifying the people that you think are vulnerable already? I will have to go to my list, because I cannot remember off the top of my head how many are identified now. I think it was the day before yesterday that we were doing that. Was it only yesterday? As to
vulnerable, we have around 220. How did you go through the process of identifying those vulnerable income support recipients and how do you see that process now operating in these new locations?
Mr Tidswell:  In order to assess whether a customer should be placed on to income management for vulnerability, a Centrelink social worker considers the following—
Senator SIEWERT:  I know the list. I want to know how you arrive at the list.
Mr Tidswell:  So, we would apply a similar sort of approach.
Senator SIEWERT:  If I am on income support and I live in one of these locations, are you going to bring everybody in and have an interview with them?
Mr Tidswell:  As you know, and we have been through this a lot of times—
Senator SIEWERT:  We have been through this in the Northern Territory.
Mr Tidswell:  Correct.
Senator SIEWERT:  You were rolling it out on 76 already, moving it out from 73—
Mr Tidswell:  And in Western Australia and—
Senator SIEWERT:  You do not do vulnerable in Western Australia. That is what I am asking about—
Mr Tidswell:  But it is a similar process by which we go forward in terms of assessing vulnerability. The factors that are in play in terms of financial hardship, financial exploitation, failure to maintain personal wellbeing, the sense of not being able to meet priority needs, et cetera—they are the sorts of factors that we would consider and we are still working through those factors as you know with FaHCSIA.
Senator SIEWERT:  With all due respect, you did not answer my question. In the Northern Territory most of the people in vulnerable are those transitioned from NTER communities, where you already had them on income management and you had to bring them in to transition them. How are going to do it? You have got less than 20 vulnerable customers that are not in the Northern Territory that were not transitioned customers.
Mr Tidswell:  I think the approach that we have used is, as you say, interviewing people, assessing their circumstances.
Senator SIEWERT:  You will be bringing everybody on income support in those areas in for an interview?
Mr Tidswell:  There is a process here still being worked through to determine who is in the mix for the various initiatives that Mr Sandison has talked about, and then we would apply a similar approach to testing vulnerability. We do that already. I think we have already said it here in this committee previously, about the work we generally do for people who are vulnerable, whether it is income management or not income management. Our social work staff and other staff often do a lot of this work and look at payments, services and supports for people right across the country. This is not like something brand-new for us. Obviously income management outside of the territory and outside other places is different. But we built up this approach over many years.
Senator SIEWERT:  You have not built it up over many years, because you have not had this initiative other than now.
Mr Tidswell:  But we were often involved in providing people with extra support and extra guidance, talking to non-government service providers, looking at a range of options and opportunities for people.
Senator SIEWERT:  How will you know whether someone is under financial hardship?
Mr Tidswell:  We will talk to them and we will assess. We might talk to third parties.
Senator SIEWERT:  If I think I am going to be income managed I am not going to tell you because you will be taking half my income. It is not going to take long to get around the community that is what is going to happen so why would I go to you and tell you that I am in financial hardship?
Mr Tidswell:  These are the sorts of things we would work through. In the early days as you know in the year zero with income management in the territory we did not know how to do it. Then bit by bit we worked our way through. We have probably had more conversations in this committee on this topic than on just about anything else.
Senator SIEWERT:  In the early days of income management you did not have to work through it because everybody was on it.
Mr Tidswell:  The process of putting people on income management and working out the circumstances, working out how much money will go here and how much money would go there.
Senator SIEWERT:  That is not what I am interested in at the moment. We have been through that a lot. You are exactly right. What I am interested in is what process are you going to use to identify vulnerable people in these communities?
Mr Sandison:  I think you are talking about the engagement model rather than the principle of the actual assessment process. Because of the target groups that are in there, there are still elements to be worked out with FaHCSIA as the policy agency to guide us. But I think the starting principle would be that it is not the wholesale as you were aware from the Northern Territory where everyone had to be reviewed. This is as and when people engage with the organisation across our different offices that there would be a consideration about vulnerability. Separately is obviously the child protection issue. The assessment of vulnerability would be as and when they engage with us. That is all we would be able to do, but because of the target groups of jobless families and teen parents obviously their level of engagement is going to be very different from a family that had no need to engage with us because they are on income support and/or family tax benefit. They do not come in nearly as often. The engagement will be when they are required to come to us or when they have a need of our services that consideration would take place.
Senator SIEWERT:  Under the new process it is all automatic now that there will be an extra level of engagement, isn’t there?
Mr Sandison:  That is correct. With teen parents and jobless families there is far more of a call to come in and discuss the—
Senator SIEWERT:  Is it every 12 months for jobless families, six months for teen parents?
Mr Sandison:  Teen parents is more often.
Ms Hay:  Depending on the age of the child. In the early stages when a child is, say, one under the teen parents it is 12-monthly. Then as the child gets older that frequency increases to six-monthly and it is the same with the jobless families.
Senator SIEWERT:  Is it anticipated that jobless families will therefore qualify for vulnerability?
Mr Sandison:  We are not anticipating anything. There will be the consideration by the officers on the ground, local circumstances, engagement with local organisations to actually make that determination. We are not working on an expectation for any particular group.
Senator SIEWERT:  I note that for the teen parents initiative it is a bit more difficult. But presumably you have an idea through the process you have undertaken to identify these areas through the various datasets that you have how many additional Centrelink staff in terms of the social workers you will need in each of these areas?
Mr Sandison:  That is correct. We had to make a judgement call when the policy was being developed about the level of staffing across different levels. It is not all social workers. We have a very experienced staff obviously that are not social workers that will be able to manage a lot of this work, but it is a spread across different levels for different purposes.

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