New restrictions on disability pensioners travelling overseas
Posted 26/08/2014 by Michael Klapdor
In the midst of heated debate over the Budget’s welfare reforms some significant measures have escaped the headlines, including new restrictions on Disability Support Pension (DSP) recipients travelling overseas. The measures, proposed by the Social Services and Other Legislation (2014 Budget Measures No. 2) Bill 2014, will reduce the time disability pensioners can spend overseas from six-weeks at a time to four weeks in a 12-month period. A number of submissions to the Senate committee inquiry into the Bill, from individual DSP recipients and from welfare groups, took issue with the changes suggesting that DSP was being unfairly targeted and that the measures would increase red tape.
Eligibility to continue receiving an income support payment overseas is referred to as ‘portability’. For most payments, portability applies to a person who is overseas only during a temporary absence and payment is made for a short period—mostly up to six weeks at time. There are a few payments that can be paid where a person leaves Australia permanently to reside overseas (Age Pension, Wife Pension and DSP (in special circumstances)). Some payments, such as Newstart Allowance are not payable while the recipient is overseas (except in exceptional circumstances). Portability provisions allow income support recipients to take short trips overseas while continuing to receive financial support, meaning that they can visit family overseas without penalty and without having to reapply for their payment after a short absence.
Currently, DSP can be paid during a temporary absence from Australia of up to six weeks. The absence can be for any reason. Some of the submissions to the Senate inquiry were from DSP recipients who used the general portability provisions to visit close family members overseas. There are some exceptions to the six-week rule. DSP recipients with a severe and permanent impairment and no future capacity to work may also be eligible for unlimited portability. Also, severely disabled DSP recipients who are in the terminal phase of a terminal illness can have unlimited portability if they are departing permanently to their country of origin, or to be with, or near, a family member.
Recent and proposed changes to the portability rules
The previous Government reduced the temporary portability periods for a significant number of working-age payments from 13 weeks to six weeks through a 2012–13 Budget measure.
The Bill currently before the Senate proposes two key changes to the DSP portability rules. Firstly, it proposes to reduce the temporary absence period from six weeks down to 28 days. It also proposes that only a cumulative period of 28 days can be taken over a 12 month period. Currently, the temporary absence period for DSP is six weeks, but more than one six week period can be taken in any 12 month period. New provisions will allow for temporary absences of four weeks for particular purposes: to seek eligible medical treatment, to attend to an acute family crisis or for a humanitarian purpose. Allowable absences for these reasons will not be cumulative. The Bill makes no changes to the unlimited portability of DSP which only applies in special circumstances.
According to the Statement of Compatibility with Human Rights for the Bill, the change is intended:
… to strengthen the residence basis of Australia’s social security system by requiring most DSP recipients to be present in Australia for the great majority of the year and, where they have the capacity to do so, engage in activities that will assist them to participate socially and economically.
The changes may also reflect concerns expressed by the Minister for Social Services, Kevin Andrews, regarding DSP recipients who were effectively living overseas but returning to Australia for short stays in order to continue qualifying for their payment.
Targeting DSP recipients
The proposed changes will place restrictions on DSP that will not apply to similar payments such as Carer Payment. For example, the Bill proposes to limit the discretion of DHS to only suspend payments if a DSP recipient exceeds the allowable time-limit overseas. Currently, DHS can choose to either suspend or cancel a person’s income support payment if an overseas absence occurs after the end of the allowable portability period. The changes will mean that DHS must cancel a person’s DSP payment in such circumstances. Other payments allow for a greater level of discretion in terms of determining whether a payment should be suspended or cancelled.
The new rules restricting DSP recipients to a cumulative portability period of 28-days in any 12-month period will also not apply to other payments with time-limited portability.
It is unclear why DSP recipients will be subject to the cancellation obligations and cumulative portability period limit but other payments with time-limited portability will not.
The Bills Digest for the Social Services and Other Legislation (2014 Budget Measures No. 2) Bill 2014 provides further analysis of the changes and a number of other important social security changes.
5/05/2015 10:43 AM
Thanks for your comments.
Re: kb’s comment—the exemptions from the new rules only covered travel booked before 14 May 2014—that is, before the Budget night announcement of the policy on 13 May 2014. Overseas absences for approved medical treatments can count towards the 28 days allowed in a 12 month period. Additional temporary absences for medical treatment (or for acute family crises or for a defined humanitarian purpose) can be granted but you would need to apply to DHS.
Re: Steve’s comment—the portability rules only apply to absences outside Australia and only the period outside of Australia’s territorial sea should be considered as the temporary absence period. I have to suggest contacting DHS for authoritative information in regards to your question as they are the ones who interpret the legislation and make a decision in regards to your trip. DHS will have a record of your previous absences and could advise you on how many days you have accrued in the previous 12 months but I do not know whether they will provide this information via your online account or whether it will require calling them.
6/04/2015 9:26 PM
My wife and I have booked on a cruise later this year which includes one overseas port. We depart Brisbane and, I expect, pass through Immigration. We then cruise around the top of Australia calling in to several Australian ports before departing a Western Australian port for a quick trip to one Indonesian port. We return to another couple of Australian ports finishing the cruise in Fremantle, where I expect we go through Immigration again. Total days for the cruise is 15 with most time spent in Australian waters. So my first question is how many days will we be "pinged" for our one day in an international port? Second question is where can we check up on how many days of overseas travel we have accrued? Please don't just say to contact DHS, because they really have not provided any answers.
9/02/2015 10:42 AM
Re: comments by Kevina and Bill
It is best to check with the Department of Human Services regarding your personal situation and plans.
For someone living overseas with their partner, they will need to meet the requirements for unlimited portability - otherwise their payment qualification may be affected by long overseas absences (and by the new rules).
Travel booked before 13 May 2014 (and concluding before 1 January 2016) will be subject to the old six-week general portability rule. Trips booked after the budget announcement and occurring after 1 January 2015 are subject to the new rules.
It should be noted that the new rules, as eventually passed by the Parliament, mean that DHS will not automatically cancel a person's payment if they stay overseas for longer that the four-week general portability period. Payments may be suspended for the period over the 28-day limit and cancelled if the person remains overseas for 13-weeks. This is a siginificant change from the measure as first proposed (described in the post above) and has meant that the new rules will no longer result in budget savings - see R Morton, 'Blunder adds up to $30m DSP policy blowout', The Australian, 29 January 2015.
20/01/2015 2:22 PM
In regards to your comment Phil, it is best to check with the Department of Human Services (Centrelink) in regards to your personal circumstances. As noted above, there are different rules for travel for particular reasons (such as medical treatment, family crises and travel for humanitarian purposes) and other exceptions might apply. Also, the changes do not affect those who qualify for unlimited portability.
Trips overseas before 1 January 2015 will not count towards the cumulative total of overseas absences which start after that date, and the new rules will not apply to travel booked before 14 May 2014 (where the individual returns to Australia before 1 January 2016).
Outside of all these exceptions and special circumstances, the basic rule for DSP pensioners going overseas is - only 28 days absence allowed in any 12-month period. So a person who has an overseas trip for four weeks in November 2015 might have their payment cancelled or suspended if they go overseas again in February 2016.
7/01/2015 10:26 PM
I think that a study would show that the Government saves a considerable amount by a DSP recipient living abroad.
For example, the Pension Supplement is reduced, and there are no energy rebates paid. While overseas the disabled person is not seeing an Australian doctor on Bulk Billing once a week or more - that alone at around $30 a visit twice a week is over $3,000. There are no discounted pharmaceuticals - some of mine were reduced from $45 to $7, the pensioner is not travelling on public transport at discounted rates. That adds up to a substantial saving for the government, while at the same time allowing the pensioner to live where the cost of living is so much less. Here in India I pay $3 to see a doctor, I pay $2 for Ibuprofen, $1 for Prednisolone, $245 for a root canal with ceramic crown, $12 for a filling... Physiotherapy is $3 for an hour.
I am on DSP for several interrelated conditions, and on average saw my doctor twice a week, physiotherapy a few times a year and received discounted pharmaceuticals weekly. I received an energy supplement as well as other benefits which are not paid while abroad.
Has anybody ever calculated the other costs, apart from Centrelink payments, associated with a person on DSP inside Australia? Costs that no longer apply once the person is outside Australia?
I suspect the savings are considerable, but not particularly visible.
2/01/2015 11:37 AM
when is a pension not a pension ? when it is for a disabled person. like many disability pensioners, i have made myself useful in australia, and in other countries, helping people even less advantaged. i already lost the chance to volunteer and participate in the last paralympic games because of the restrictions already placed on us. now there is no chance. 4 weeks is just ridiculous, with a number of days needed just to get anywhere and get back. i now have to write to a number of orphanages, and disabled groups, and tell them that i must choose one visit to one group each 12 months. and the rest must miss out. a pity i am not a few years older...i could live overseas almost full time, on the age pension, at the taxpayer expense.
1/12/2014 12:15 PM
Thanks for your comment Colin. In regards to your example, the restriction is for temporary absences of 28-days in any 12-month period. From the February following their December trip, the person in the example would be allowed a temporary absence of up to five days as it is longer than 12-months since the trip in the previous January.
The measures in the social services budget Bills were split up and reintroduced in four separate Bills. The Bill containing this particular measure (the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (2014 Budget Measures No. 6) Bill 2014) passed the Parliament on 17 November 2014 so the new rules will take effect from 1 January 2015.
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