At a time of confusion, we bring clarity on the support available to sustain you through the COVID-19 pandemic.
I’m writing this on 5 April 2020 in Australia where, as of 6am this morning, there been 5,635 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Australia. We have been told to go out only to shop for what we need, to get medical care or drop off supplies to someone in need, to exercise outside or attend work or school, staying at least two steps or 1.5 metres away from each other. This is not about us as individuals but rather about ensuring that those around us, their loved ones and their neighbours are safe and remain healthy. It is a test of our compassion to support them by sacrificing our own wants for their needs.
In Australia, where we’ve had bushfires, floods, hail and now COVID-19 to respond to in 2020, many frontline response emergency workers and public servants delivering long-term solutions having been working non-stop. It’s only the start of April and yet it feels like a marathon.
When running Money Bites, I haven’t quit my day job so retain some sense of financial stability. What has been difficult is seeing friends who made a different choice, including those who took the leap from corporate jobs to start their own companies or revert to casual work in order to dedicate themselves in a creative field. They are being forced to make difficult decisions because COVID-19 has brought with it economic downturn, stemming in part from the social distancing rules which are in place to halt the spread of this virus.
How does a virus affect the economy?
Here’s what it looks like at your local coffee shop: Telling people not to go out for coffee with friends means less foot traffic in those businesses, a move which particularly impacts service industries. This means less revenue coming in to businesses, meaning that there are less hours available for staff as they are needed to work as much which impacts on their finances and their ability to pay the rent.
Everything is connected and we need to make sure that those who have been impacted by COVID-19 are able to get through this period so that we can recover as a community and shared economy.
With that in mind, here are the support payments currently available to those who have been impacted by COVID-19 in Australia:
- What help is available to me as a business owner?
The Job Keeper payment is available for businesses impacted the COVID-19 pandemic so that you can continue to pay your employees. The Job Keeper payment provides businesses with $1,500 per employee, which is help to pay your employees’ wages, which you can top up with additional money if you can afford to. You can register your business if you have a turnover of less than $1 billion and you’ve experienced a 30% drop in revenue since March 1 2020. This is popular scheme that was announced on a Monday and had more than 270,000 businesses registering their interest by late Tuesday.
- As an employee, how do I access the Job Keeper payment?
Your employer applies for the Job Keeper scheme on your behalf. It’s important however to point out that if you’re a casual worker, you are only eligible for this payment if you have been with your employer for 12 months or more. You also need to be an Australian citizen or meet other visa and residency requirements.
The $1,500 fortnightly payment might be a whole lot less than your normal salary in which case firstly congratulations and secondly, know that your employer can choose to top up this payment with additional money if they’re able to. And if you earn less than $1,500 a fortnightly typically? You receive the full payment anyway so if you don’t typically need that money, save it towards an emergency fund or donate it.
- I’m a sole trader, am I included in the Job Keeper payment?
You might be eligible to receive the Job Keeper payment if your turnover has reduced so that you can maintain your income and take care of your employees. If you’re a sole trader or self-employed, you can register your interest by getting in touch with the Australian Tax Office.
- What financial payments are available to me if I can’t access the Job Keeper scheme?
If you’ve lost your job, you’re able to access the Job Seeker payment. This was formally called the Newstart allowance and provides financial support for people who are able to work but aren’t currently employed. For the next 6 months, you’re also eligible for the Coronavirus Supplement of $550 per fortnight, which effectively doubles your payment. Depending on your circumstances, you might also be eligible for additional payments.
- What help is available to cover my rent?
Evictions in Australia will be on hold for the next 6 months if you’re not able to meet your financial payments due to COVID-19 impacting your income. This applies to both commercial and residential tenancies so where you live and where you work. It’s also been agreed to by both the Australian federal and state and territory governments so applies nation-wide. If you need to move back in with your parents as you’ve lost your job can no longer make your rental payments, this measure also gives you the ability to terminate your lease.
- Does that mean I can just not pay my rent?
This is a measure to help people – not an excuse to behave badly. Landlords and tenants who have not been significantly affected by coronavirus are expected to honour your lease and rental agreements. If you have been impacted, you’re encouraged to talk to your landlord upfront and agree on rent relief or temporary amendments to your lease. And I would encourage you to have this conversation as quickly as possible because it gives your landlord certainty and means that you’re more likely to have a good reference from them if you need to move in the future.
- If my landlord says that I need to withdraw money from my superannuation to pay them their rent, do I have to?
You don’t have to withdraw money from your superannuation unless you want to. ASIC, the corporate watchdog in Australia, wrote to real estate institutions in every state, making it clear that this isn’t acceptable. According to ASIC, a real estate agent who tells you to withdraw money from your superannuation could face a fine or jail time because they’re unlicensed financial advisers who are not working in your best interest and might be in breach of the Corporations Act.
- What support is available to help me meet my mortgage payments?
The big four banks in Australia, Commonwealth Bank, NAB, Westpac and ANZ have all announced that you will be able to pause your mortgage payments. If you need support right now, contact your bank to see what help they can provide. This could include deferring payments for 3-6 months, depending on what bank you’re with.
- Should I withdraw my money from the bank and hide it under the mattress?
Please do not do this because your money is much more secure in a bank. As an Australian, your savings here are guaranteed by the federal government under its Financial Claims Scheme. This protects money in your account up to 250,000 so should a bank happen to fail, the government guarantees your money.
- Do I need to go into a Centrelink office?
Given that the COVID-19 virus is spread from person to person, standing in line at a Centrelink office is likely to put you and the Centrelink staff at risk. To access Centrelink services, you can do this online by heading to mygov, creating a Centrelink account, linking your accounts and making a claim. Centrelink have waived their requirement to attend an office to prove your identity so that you’re able to manage this over the phone or online rather than putting yourself at risk.
- You mentioned that I could access my superannuation early?
Superannuation or super is the Australian version of a retirement fund or money that you can live off when you’re ready to retire. If you’ve been affected by COVID-19, you can choose to access up to $10,000 of your super in the 2019-20 financial year and a further $10,000 in 2020-21.
- Should I take money out of my super account?
This is a judgement call and I’m not going to judge you whatever you decide to do. I would recommend looking at your options before you act. In the midst of the Australian bushfires of 2019-20, we at Money Bites put together the Financial Literacy Hub to show you all the sources of financial literacy support and information across Australia.
There’s no single solution that works for all people and it’s important to know what’s out there so that you can find the support and information you need. This includes the National Debt Hotline, a not-for-profit confidential service which connects you with financial counsellors who will assess your situation and provide free advice. For those in financial stress, Good Shepherd Microfinance run the NILS (No Interest Loans Scheme) program to offer people on low incomes safe, fair and affordable loans. The point is there are different options available to you that are worth considering to ensure that you make the right choice for you.
The current COVID-19 pandemic means that we are in for a tough time.
But this is also a test of our compassion as a society in terms of how we’re able to sacrifice our want to continue as normal to protect those who don’t have that choice. We are also tested by our ability to provide a safety net for those who have needed and I’ve been impressed with Australia’s ability to create and deliver financial payments to those who need them. The market will always go up over time as a long-term trend so stay the course because it does get better.