Work Bonus: a grey army recruit deserts

Article published 28 September 2022

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RECENTLY announced changes to Work Bonus are designed to encourage pensioners to earn more income from employment. But the Work Bonus income reporting requirements scared off one pensioner, who decided it was all too much and gave up her job.

Margaret is an Age Pensioner in her early seventies and was enticed by the $7,800 annual discount for employment income. She regarded it as a nice top-up to her Age Pension and a small superannuation pension she receives. She lined up a casual office job and off to work she went.

But then she found out that the employment income reporting system is stressful to negotiate.

The employment income reporting system is used mainly by people on unemployment benefits, who report on hours worked in jobs not paying enough to disqualify them for the JobSeeker Payment or the Youth Unemployment Benefit.

On behalf of successive governments, Centrelink has developed some very harsh rules for the unemployed and partially employed. These harsh rules extend to the Centrelink income reporting system. Margaret, an Age Pensioner, found them so onerous and punitive, she chucked her job.

The employment income reporting period for Work Bonus is usually 14 days, and Centrelink tells you when that period starts and ends. Pensioners who work must report the gross employment income amount they were paid in the most recent reporting period. This needs to happen on a date set by Centrelink by 5pm (and starting at 8am, according to Margaret). You can’t report before your reporting date.

So, if you happen to be away without taking your pay slip, if you are in hospital or if you simply forget to report because you are human, your pension payment is very likely to be delayed by as many days as you are late. Do it a few times, you may lose your pension altogether and then need to apply afresh.

Reporting is done exclusively online. If you’re not all that good with computers, this adds to your stress, as it did to Margaret’s, who decided to stay home on reporting days so that she wouldn’t stuff up her income reporting.

Margaret at least had the option to give Work Bonus a miss, although she forfeited her job and income from that job for it. She did that solely because of Centrelink’s punitive income reporting requirements. That’s pretty telling, so spare a thought for those on unemployment benefits, who don’t have the option to resign from their low-pay jobs.

Margaret has given up on work and on Work Bonus. Not even the announcement it would be increased by $4,000 will get her back.

Obviously, a scheme to make it attractive for pensioners to work should not do its utmost to scare them off through its income reporting system, but that’s what seems to be happening, at least for some people.

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