How to access Covid-19 cash, your super, and mortgage relief

People queue outside an Australian government welfare centre, Centrelink, in Melbourne on March 23, 2020. (Photo by William WEST / AFP) (Photo by WILLIAM WEST/AFP via Getty Images)

If you find yourself in financial strife because of our government (and others) essentially hitting the pause button on capitalism as we collectively fight coronavirus, there are now many options to access emergency cash. 

Note: this cash is not for people who are able to maintain income and livelihood… and nor should it be. 

Often casuals and sole traders slip through the cracks of rescue package measures. But this time regardless of circumstances there is a degree of safety net. 

How to get the income safety net 

The first elements of the packages are to secure income. This is being done two ways: by potentially two cash payments of $750 and via a boosted JobSeeker Allowance (the renamed Newstart). 

You don’t have to do anything to get a cash handout if you’re eligible. The first cash handout will go to anyone on welfare, including people in receipt of family tax benefits and concession card holders… landing in bank accounts from end-March to mid-April. 

The second payment, which will be made in July, will go to all of the above, except people who are now eligible for a new coronavirus supplement, which will be those on new and existing JobSeeker Payments, Youth Allowances, Parenting Payments, Farm Household Allowances and Special Benefits. As of March 24, it looks like it will also be on Austudy and Abstudy.

The coronavirus supplement is a $550 boost each fortnight, payable for the next six months, that effectively doubles JobSeeker Allowance. 

The Allowance will also be paid now without a waiting period and without any assets test. So you don’t have to run down – or out – any savings or investments to get it.  

What’s more, you’re now eligible even if you’re still working but your wages fall below $1086.50 a fortnight.

And if the income you are still earning means you only qualify for a small benefit, you’ll get the full $550 a fortnight regardless.

You could also receive rental assistance of up to $139.60f/n for those with no children and $185.36f/n with three+ children, energy supplement, pharmaceutical allowance and family tax benefits.

So how do you apply?

Absolutely nothing if you already receive some welfare, benefits or have a concession card.

But if you newly need income support, DON’T go to or call Centrelink offices either. Instead, here’s the NEW system to make a claim (and I’d hate to be in Centrelink’s IT department):

  • Step 1: Go to (or set up) your myGov account (you probably have one from filing your tax return or accessing Medicare).

  • Step 2: Click on the “Have you been affected by the Coronavirus” button.

  • Step 3: Fill out the new “Intent to Claim” form.

  • Step 4: Wait for a Centrelink officer to contact you.

As so many people haven’t been able to get through, JobSeeker payments will be backdated and be backdated to the day you apply.

You’ve got nothing to lose by applying and Centrelink insiders tell me the rules are way more relaxed than they previously were.

Access your super as a last resort

Now I don’t love this; modelling shows a $20,000 withdrawal in your 20s becomes $80,000 less in your fund at retirement. And right now, you may well be selling at an historic low. 

So please access your super as a last resort… if the above income floor, concessions from your landlord or lender (below), utilities leniency and a probable dramatic fall in your entertainment spend don’t keep you above water. 

But desperate times may call for desperate measures. 

You will be able to get at your retirement funds from mid-April via a simple form on the ATO’s website. You’ll qualify if your income falls by 20 percent or more. 

Withdrawals will be capped at $10,000 this tax year and $10,000 next tax year and the money will be tax-free.   

Just watch that you can make two withdrawals only – so if you draw less in either of the years, say $7000, you won’t then be able to go an extra time to get the remaining $3000 allowed. 

How to secure mortgage relief

Lenders have either committed to six-month repayment holidays or said they are wide open to discussion and making hardship allowances. And the Australian Bankers Association has confirmed as much.

But don’t miss that either a ‘holiday’, debt consolidation or loan reset, where you cut your repayments by spreading them over a fresh 25 or 30 years, will all end up costing you considerably more in interest. 

So the banks are only being generous to a point. 

In any case, you secure these arrangements by simply phoning your lender and explaining your income predicament. 

Just be aware that some lenders are declining to extend offers to people who are ahead on their repayments, instead suggesting they use money they have accrued in a redraw facility to meet their repayments. 

I’d be interested to hear if anyone has similarly been refused, because they have money sitting in a separate but linked offset account, a strategy I have long advocated for.

Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon is the author of How to Get Mortgage-Free Like Me, available at www.nicolessmartmoney.com. Follow Nicole on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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