As more and more businesses are forced to temporarily shut in an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus, thousands of Australians have found themselves out of work and without an income.

Unemployment is a tricky situation to navigate at the best of times, but with the added stress of a global health crisis and the recent changes to the Newstart payment, it probably all seems like a bit too much to handle right now.

If this is the first time you’ve been faced with unemployment, you’re probably a little confused as to how it all works. But don’t stress because we’re done the leg work so you can know exactly what you could be entitled to when it comes to Centrelink.

How Much Could I Be Eligible For?

The JobSeeker Payment (Newstart) has been temporarily doubled as part of the government’s coronavirus stimulus package. New and existing recipients are now eligible for up to $1,100 per fortnight, up from $550 previously.

The extra $550/fortnight will come into effect on April 27 and will last at least six months.

How Do I Know If I’m Eligible For A JobSeeker Payment?

If you’ve lost your full time, casual or sole trader job as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, you should be eligible for some sort of payment.

“JobSeeker Payment and Youth Allowance JobSeeker criteria will provide payment access for permanent employees who are stood down or lose their employment; sole traders; the self-employed; casual workers; and contract workers who meet the income tests as a result of the economic downturn due to the coronavirus,” a government statement read.

According to Services Australia, you should be eligible for some sort of payment if your income is less than $1,086.50 per fortnight.

What About My Assets?

When applying for a JobSeeker payment, Centrelink usually assesses the value of any assets in your name. Previously, if you had over $263,250 as a homeowner, or $473,750 as a non-homeowner, your JobSeeker payments would be cancelled.

However, as part of the coronavirus stimulus package, asset limits have been temporarily waived. Basically, this means that you’re not going to be turned away from payments if you own your own home or have other assets that you could otherwise afford prior to the coronavirus situation.

What If I Haven’t Technically Lost My Job?

Perhaps the most difficult situation to be in right now is that weird limbo when your work has shut down or completely cut your hours, but you’re unsure if and when they’ll resume. For many retail and hospitality workers, you might find yourself “stood down without pay” until the situation is resolved. This means you’re not technically unemployed, but you’re not receiving a regular wage either.

So… are you employed? Unemployed? WTF are you supposed to do?

Thankfully, the application process has been simplified amid the coronavirus pandemic, which means that certain requirements are no longer needed to process your claim.

“If you are a casual and you still have some hours but your income has fallen below that $1,075 a fortnight you will get the supplement,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said.

Employment separation certificates are no longer required, in addition to rental agreements and verification of relationship status.

In theory, this means that you should still be eligible for financial assistance provided your fortnightly income fits the requirements.

What If I’m Self-Employed

The government is expanding the eligibility criteria for the JobSeeker Payment and Youth Allowance from April 27 2020 in an effort to help those impacted by the coronavirus outbreak.

As part of this expansion, sole traders and self-employed people will be eligible for the payment provided they can meet the “mutual obligation requirements” while continuing their businesses.

“We have waived the assets tests and waived the waiting period but there is still the income test so if you earn $1,075 a fortnight you will get that full $550 Coronavirus Supplement,” Mr Frydenberg said. “This is good news for a sole trader who is still in work but has seen the income reduce.”

Am I Eligible For A JobSeeker Payment While My Employer Is Paying Me Annual/Sick/Long Service Leave?

If you’ve found yourself out of full-time or part-time work, your employer might be paying you annual or sick leave during this time. Unfortunately, you can’t receive the coronavirus supplement payment at the same time as you’re accessing employer entitlements like annual leave.

Once you’ve exhausted your bank of annual leave hours, you will be eligible to apply for Centrelink’s JobSeeker payment.

What About Accessing My Superannuation Early?

To put it simply, this is an option but it should be your absolute last resort. Your superannuation is the money you’re going to retire with, so you’ll want to be careful with it.

If you absolutely need to, the government is allowing individuals who have been financially impacted by the coronavirus situation to access $10,000 of their superannuation this financial year, and a further $10,000 next financial year.

The withdrawn amount is tax-free, and won’t impact your current Centrelink or Veterans’ Affairs payments.

To be eligible for early release, you need to meet one or more of the requirements listed on the ATO website.

However, accessing your superannuation early can have some pretty huge long-term impacts on your financial future. If possible, talk to someone with financial expertise before touching your superannuation account.

Everyone is anxious right now. If you can avoid looking at your superannuation, you probably should. But if you need to use it, just make sure you’ve done your research first.

How Long Is This Going To Take?

The government has reduced waiting times and is attempting to speed up the claims process as much as possible in an effort to get payments out ASAP,

New applicants can make their claims online or through the mobile app, thus limiting the insane queues outside your local Centrelink office.

Thankfully, you’ll soon be able to verify your identity over the phone, making the whole process a little easier for everyone.

“From April 2020, Services Australia will allow new applicants to call to verify their identity to reduce the need to visit a Services Australia office,” the statement said.

“To claim online, people who do not already deal with Services Australia will need to set up their myGov account, call to verify their identity and get a link to their Centrelink online account.”

However, Centrelink centres across the country were rammed on Monday, with hundreds of people lining up for hours; in some centres people were turned away entirely.

So, it’s probably going to be a bit of a wait for most of us while the Centrelink staff try to cope with the massive influx of requests.

Remember: the people at Centrelink are trying their best to help you. They’re stressed too, so please don’t be a dick to them.

It’s going to be a rough couple of months for everyone, so let’s all try our best to be as kind and understanding as possible to each other. Whether it’s the person at your local Woolies or the woman on the phone at Centrelink, exercise patience and compassion wherever you can. We’ll get through this together.

Any more questions? Hit me up at lavender.baj@pedestriangroup.com.au and I’ll see if I can sort them out.

Image: AAP Images / DAN PELED