Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Understanding the Social Security Amendment Bill, Part Two

The Social Security (Benefit  Categories and Work Focus) Amendment Bill 67-1:

This new, 191 page long, bill can be found under the following link:

The new proposed benefit regime is intended to come into force from 15 July 2013, and it contains legal provisions under which the OUTSOURCING of assessments on beneficiaries for work capacity, of “work preparation exercises” and of “administrative services” will be made possible to private non government agencies and service providers.

There are some obligations for ALL beneficiaries, incl. beneficiaries as parent(s) and/or caregiver(s):

A NEW section 60 GAG (by old section 39) of the Act is going to place obligations on beneficiaries to work with “service providers”;
● sanctions can be imposed under section 117 if clients fail to comply with this;
● the attendance of “work preparation exercises” can be expected under section 60Q;
● see also section 125A (amended) re contracts with “administration service providers”.

Sole Parent Support:
● This new, more restrictive benefit is covered by new sections 20A to 20H;
● already announced “social obligations” will be expected.

Supported Living Payment:
● The new benefit that can be granted on grounds of sickness, injury or disability, and which is supposed to replace the invalid’s benefit, is covered by sections 40A to 40K;
● Supporting living payment recipients are exempted from work assessment obligations ONLY if terminally ill, or if found to be suffering from conditions that are likely to deteriorate or “not improve”;

Consequential Amendments:
Re “supported living payment” benefit – see clause 88 re some changes in schedule 6 for present IB

Drug Testing Obligations:
● WINZ will place such obligations on job-seeker beneficiaries that are asked to have drug tests done on them for jobs where employers require this;
● A 50 per cent cut to the benefit can be imposed if a client/applicant fails such a drug;
● section 12J is to be amended to limit rights of appeals to the Appeal Authority if “medical” reasons are given (see sections 116C and 102B) for failing drug tests;
● WINZ will “compensate” employers for costs of drug tests where clients “fail” to pass them, and will then reclaim those costs from the clients (!);
● Beneficiaries who fail an initial drug test will also have to pay for re-compliance drug tests;

Social Obligations by beneficiary parents will include:
a) Enrol newborns with GP;
b) Participate in ECE;
c) Ensure attendance of school by children in their care
(There are at least in part NO such legal obligations for non-beneficiaries:  Discrimination!)
Stopping benefit payments for clients who face a warrant of arrest after 28 days of issue:
● if a warrant has been issued by the police, and once a 10 days notice has been given and not been acted on, then a “cut” of the benefit can and will be imposed;
● an immediate “stop” can and likely will be imposed, if a beneficiary - against whom a warrant has been issued - poses a “serious risk to the public”.

Disability Allowance changes and other “preferred supplier arrangements”:
● Possible “preferred supplier arrangements” for “procurement of goods and services” for welfare recipients in certain circumstances (see s 69C and also sections 125AA and 132AD);
● Under section 82 the C.E. can determine payment to a “preferred supplier” - or alternatively to a beneficiary, for goods or services required as advance or special assistance needs (see also section 125AA);
● See also section 124 (1BA) for further provisions re “special assistance”.

● Section 132AD provides for making regulations that can set harsher standards and criteria for how “disability allowance” funds paid to beneficiaries are to be used for “specified expenses”;
● Other sub-sections under section 132 provide for regulations to be made for covering the granting, expiry and re-granting of “specified benefits” and so forth.

Re the Application for Benefits:
● New sections 11E and 11H to be introduced for “job seeker support” (incl. sick, injured, disabled) applicants, setting out particular “pre benefit activities” expected of them; new sections 11G and 11H set out consequences for applicants “failing” to meet such “activities” (incl. their spouse/partner);
● All beneficiaries appear to have to re-apply for their specified benefits (after 12 months);
● See also new sections 80BE and 80 BF re the expiry, re-granting and so forth of benefits.

Work Ability Assessments:
Section 88F sets out job seeker obligations for seeking employment, and under 88F (2) the C.E. must determine the capacity to work for a job seeker - granted that support because of sickness, injury or disability; this basically allows the C.E. to “over rule” medical based assessments (in some forms)!  
● Hence a “deferral” for “job seekers” is to some degree discretionary and will be based on C.E.’s determinations;
● Section 88H (2) allows job seeker (with sickness, injury or disability) to “apply” for “deferral” (leaving it to the C.E. to decide upon the application put to her/him);
New sections 100B and 100C to require beneficiaries to attend and participate in work ability assessments (covers virtually ALL beneficiaries);
Section 100B (4) leaves it to the C.E. to determine the way such assessments are conducted;
Procedure(s) for doing this are determined by the C.E. or her/his staff (!!!)
Section 100C also leaves it up to the C.E. to determine appropriate times and frequencies of re-assessments!

The existing medical appeal rights to a ‘Medical Board’ will in future be covered by a new section 10B (re-enacting section 53A), it changed only a bit

● New sections 116B and 116C replace existing sections 115 and 116A for imposing sanctions of beneficiaries not meeting a range of obligations;
● Other sections address matters how other sanctions for non compliance are imposed;
● Section 116C (2) lists some exemptions from sanctions to be imposed for failing drug testing, like drug dependency, medication that is prescribed and needs to be taken by a client

A harsh abatement regime under section 88B (6) for jobseeker support (52 week earnings to benefit comparison); so if a person earns as much as she/he could get on a benefit within 52 weeks, that may mean, NO benefit, as a client/applicant may be expected to “save” and provide for unforeseen job-loss.

Section 88D penalises unemployed “job seeker” beneficiaries if “fellow workers” (of a union the client/applicant belongs to), caused industrial action (strikes) leading to resulting “unemployment”. This basically makes it yet more difficult to defend worker’s rights.

Appeal rights denied in certain cases:
When it comes to forms of certain payments of advances, of disability allowance costs and some other “special assistance”, there is NO right to appeal WINZ decisions!

These bits above are just some of the main points that can be spotted when studying the bill presented to Parliament on 17 Sept. 2012. Surely there are a few more “nasty” bits that will crystallise and be discussed in the coming weeks and months.

This bill is a also MONSTER bill, not only due to some controversial, excessively harsh provisions; it is so overly complex, it will be impossible to properly implement and apply in praxis. It further “over-amends” an old Act that has previously received endless amendments. The proposed changes make the Social Security Act extremely difficult to use and apply, as it is very difficult to do this already. Staff will face an administrative nightmare to use the law after all these changes. It would have been a better solution to bring in a whole new statute!

Ultimately all this will just re-enforce the reality we have already: That beneficiaries are second class, stigmatised and disowned citizens and residents in this country.

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