Chapter 3

Issues in implementation

…we are focusing more on compliance than the actual purpose of the ParentsNext program.1
3.1
Throughout the inquiry, the committee heard how the implementation of the ParentsNext program, particularly since the national rollout, had negatively impacted the capacity of the program to meet its stated aims.
3.2
Providers who had delivered ParentsNext during the trial phase described how the program had been flexible, supportive and allowed providers to help participants develop participation plans that supported their education and employment goals.2
3.3
However, many providers and advocates submitted that changes to the program's administration, particularly the introduction of the Targeted Compliance Framework (TCF), have caused a fundamental shift in the nature of the program from one of flexible support to one of strict compliance.3
3.4
Additionally, the committee has received extensive evidence of issues with communication between government agencies, providers and participants; the way in which referrals to, and exemptions and exits from the program are handled by government agencies and providers; and the behaviour of providers towards participants. This chapter outlines these concerns.

Use of the Targeted Compliance Framework

3.5
During the ParentsNext trial, payment suspensions were not automatic for non-compliance with participation plans. Instead, providers had discretion to lodge a compliance report to the Department of Human Services (DHS) for any parents who did not meet their requirements, and DHS would investigate and determine whether to issue a temporary payment suspension until a parent agreed to re-engage. During the trial, 22 per cent of participants received a compliance report, but only 9.1 per cent were actually subject to a payment suspension.4
3.6
The TCF was introduced as part of the national rollout of ParentsNext on 1 July 2018. Between the introduction of the TCF and 31 January 2019, 23 507 participants (approximately 31 per cent of all participants) received a payment suspension. Of those who had received a payment suspension, 98.5 per cent re-engaged with their provider.5
3.7
The Department of Jobs and Small Business submitted that the TCF has created greater consistency in regard to compliance action and that the TCF treats parents equally, regardless of their provider.6 However, service providers told the committee that the TCF acted as a blunt instrument and that since its introduction, providers had seen both their role and their relationship with participants change.7

Lack of justification for TCF

3.8
As discussed in Chapter 2, a number of submitters and witnesses informed the committee that the evaluation of the ParentsNext trial did not recommend or provide any justification for the introduction of the TCF and that it was unclear why it had been introduced at the national rollout stage.8
3.9
In light of this, several service providers queried the appropriateness of imposing the TCF, a compliance mechanism which was developed for the jobactive employment program, on a pre-employment program such as ParentsNext.9
3.10
YFS, a provider operating in Logan, Queensland, submitted that the TCF is not an appropriate compliance mechanism for ParentsNext:
Parents are not jobseekers. They are not required to apply for jobs or to take up work unless they choose to do so. The Targeted Compliance Framework is designed for jobactive. Using it for parents is a clumsy attempt to impose mutual obligation monitoring on parents using a system targeting a different cohort.10
3.11
Mission Australia noted that participants of the Department of Jobs and Small Business' Transition to Work, another pre-employment program, are exempt from the TCF. The Transition to Work program targets young people aged 15–21 years old who face barriers to entering the workforce and aims to equip participants with practical skills and connect them to education and training opportunities. Mission Australia observed that as the Transition to Work program is a pre-employment program like ParentsNext, it appears inconsistent that participants in ParentsNext are subject to the TCF.11

Impact of TCF on providers

3.12
The TCF includes more stringent and time-consuming administration requirements for both participants and providers in order to demonstrate compliance with a participation plan than were required during the ParentsNext trial.12
3.13
Several service providers informed the committee that the introduction of the TCF had greatly increased the administrative burden on providers.13 The Brotherhood of St Laurence explained that a significant amount of their staff's time was spent resolving issues with the TCF:
Our staff's time is being spent dealing with issues around TCF and participants' reporting, and they are not able to make those strong connections within the community and have a good understanding of what other services and programs are available for participants.14
3.14
Mission Australia agreed that the administrative burden created by the TCF was an inefficient use of their staff's expertise:
We are hearing from staff that they are now feeling that they are forced to be administrators, not case managers. It's not a good use of their skills and expertise to be undertaking a range of administrative tasks to comply with the requirements of the targeted compliance framework rather than letting them do what they do best, which is to work with vulnerable people to get them to re-engage with the community and to be ready for work at the appropriate time.15
3.15
YFS suggested to the committee that the 'clunky' nature of the TCF had changed provider's behaviour to the extent that participation activities were chosen on the basis of whether they could be easily reported, rather than what would actually assist the parent.16
3.16
As noted in the ParentsNext guidelines, providers are expected to build rapport with their participants, however the committee heard that the punitive nature of the TCF had a negative impact on the ability of providers to maintain a positive relationship with participants.17 The National Employment Services Association explained:
…there's the administrative component, but there is also the impact on the nature of the relationship between the individual and the provider. It goes from one of being engaging and supportive to one of being the cop on the beat, so to speak. That's not what is optimal for supporting people who are disadvantaged in their journey back into the labour market.18
3.17
The Brotherhood of St Laurence agreed, noting its ParentsNext providers had seen participants who were enjoying the program experiencing compliance issues with the TCF then returning to the provider angry, the relationship between the participant and the provider completely changed.19
3.18
The committee also received reports that the eroding of productive relationships between participants and providers since the introduction of the TCF had seen a decrease in job satisfaction amongst employees of providers and in some cases had caused staff to leave providers:
We have actually had staff leave because they felt that it's now a policing role rather than a supportive role and that the balance between administration and actually working in a strength based and supportive way with vulnerable people has shifted. They're spending so much of their time on the administrative work of doing the reporting that they're not able to best use their skills in supporting the participants.20

Impact of TCF on participants

3.19
A common concern amongst participants, advocates and providers was the negative impact of the TCF on ParentsNext participants. In particular submitters and witnesses were concerned that the TCF was having a punitive effect on parents who were already vulnerable.
3.20
The automatic nature of the TCF means that a payment suspension is automatically triggered if a participant does not report their attendance at a meeting with their provider or a compulsory activity included in their participation plan.21 When a payment is suspended, the participant receives a text message notifying them of the reason for the payment suspension and advises participants to contact their provider in order have the payment restored.22
3.21
The Brotherhood of St Laurence submitted that for parents of young children, the requirement to attend all provider appointments and compulsory activities and self-report through the TCF before 9.00pm that same day to avoid a payment suspension was particularly challenging.23
3.22
An advocate explained that, for parents looking after young children, circumstances can often change within a matter of hours and the TCF does not have the flexibility to account for this:
Anything can happen, especially with young children. The child could be sick; the child could have gastro. The way the current system is set up is: if you don't check in, even if you've been at your activity and for some reason the computer system is down or you can't get your phone to work, you'll receive a penalty. This is taking food out of people's mouths, especially at a time when they might have a sick child on their hands. Children's health can change within hours let alone days, and to penalise women because their child has a cold or shouldn't be leaving the house because they're contagious is not helping the child or the parent or our society in general.24
3.23
In some instances providers assist parents who cannot self-report and instead report attendance at activities on behalf of participants. However, as outlined in Chapter 1, the committee heard some participants have received payment suspensions due to errors where the provider has failed to enter a report on time.25
3.24
The Department of Jobs and Small Business advised the committee that payment suspensions under the TCF are intend to encourage participants to re-engage with their provider, with 75 per cent of payment suspensions lifted within two business days. Parents do not lose any of their parenting payment as a result of a payment suspension, as back-pay will be provided as soon as the participant re-engages with their provider and suspension is lifted.26
3.25
However, advocates and service providers explained to the committee that for participants who are on a low income, and have already been identified as vulnerable or disadvantaged through their inclusion in the ParentsNext program, the possibility of not receiving the full amount of their income support payment on time has a significant effect on their budget.27 The stress of potentially not being able to pay rent or feed their children due to a payment suspension is having a detrimental effect on participants' wellbeing and their ability to parent their children.28
3.26
An Australian study, referenced by submitters, found that 45 per cent of people who had been subject to compliance policies also experienced very high levels of psychological distress, which interferes with their capacity for long-term planning and effective engagement with employment,29 while another study of single mothers participating in jobactive, which also uses the TCF, found that these women 'were anxious and hypervigilant' and that 'they self-policed their behaviour as they were afraid of payments being cut suddenly if they stepped out of line'.30
3.27
These results align with extensive evidence received by the committee about how parents have experienced psychological and financial distress after being referred to ParentsNext, with many experiencing significant fears about compliance actions being taken against them.31 The Brotherhood of St Laurence noted that:
Preoccupation with compliance diverts them from benefiting fully from the program. Parents experience constant stress, fearing they will inadvertently fail to meet rigid requirements:
One participant arriving at her appointment with her school-aged child explained she had to ration their petrol: her choice was either to take her child to school or to come to this appointment. She feared losing the payment so didn't take her child to school to make it to the appointment.32
3.28
Another advocate also told the committee how the threat of a payment suspension doesn't just effect participants, but also their children:
This not only affects the parents in these situations; it also affects the children. The children pick up on their mum's stress levels. The children are affected by having limited food, because they need to make sure it's going to be stretched far enough. Children should not have to be involved in this.33
3.29
Due to its negative impact on both providers and participants, the vast majority of submitters recommended to the committee that the TCF be removed from the ParentsNext program.34

Committee view

3.30
The committee notes the considerable evidence that the TCF is causing great harm to participants and their families, creates an unnecessary administrative burden, and is affecting the capacity to develop a positive rapport between participants and their providers.
3.31
The committee questions the appropriateness of an ongoing punitive compliance framework like the TCF, which was designed for jobseekers in employment programs, to be used to force participation in a pre-employment program such as ParentsNext.

Referral of participants to ParentsNext

3.32
The committee received extensive evidence during the inquiry that raised concerns about the referral process for parents found to be eligible for ParentsNext, in particular communication with participants during the referrals process and the processes for exempting or exiting participants from ParentsNext.

Communication with participants

3.33
As at 29 June 2018, 278 000 parents with a child aged six years old or under were in receipt of Parenting Payment. Of those, more than 75 000 were referred to the ParentsNext program as at 31 December 2018.35
3.34
Parents eligible for ParentsNext are identified by DHS using administrative data which is held by DHS through their role providing Parenting Payment and other income support payments.36
3.35
According to Australian Government guidelines, recipients of Parenting Payment who are identified as eligible for ParentsNext undergo an initial interview, either face-to-face or over the phone, with Centrelink to confirm their eligibility.37
3.36
DHS, through Centrelink, sends correspondence to parents notifying them of their eligibility, or potential eligibility, for the ParentsNext program. The correspondence advises the recipient of a phone appointment time with Centrelink to conduct their initial interview and an information brochure on the Parents Next program.38
3.37
During the initial interview, a questionnaire known as the Job Seeker Classification Instrument (JSCI) is conducted to determine whether a parent is 'highly disadvantaged', one of the referral criteria for ParentsNext.39 The JSCI is designed to indicate a person's relative level of disadvantage based on their expected difficulty in finding employment due to their personal circumstances and labour market skills.40
3.38
Once a parent is identified as a compulsory participant, they are referred by Centrelink to a ParentsNext Provider for an initial appointment, unless an exemption to the program has been identified which may delay their referral.41 The process to receive an exemption from ParentsNext is discussed later in this section.
3.39
The committee received evidence that many participants did not understand what ParentsNext was or how the referral process would work after their initial interview with Centrelink, which caused unnecessary stress and confusion for participants.42 The National Social Security Rights Network submitted that some parents did not understand why they were being interviewed by Centrelink or that a JSCI was being conducted and that they felt there was 'no context' to the questions they were being asked.43
3.40
Several service providers told the committee that participants they had worked with did not receive information about ParentsNext when they were referred by Centrelink, with a number reporting that parents were attending their initial meetings with providers out of fear of their payments being suspended rather than with an understanding of the program.44 The Benevolent Society submitted that its staff had reported:
… frustrated parents attending their services with little or no information about why they have been asked to attend, except the threat that they will lose their benefits.45
3.41
Detailed information about the ParentsNext program, including the Service Guarantee, is given to parents at their first meeting with their provider.46 The Service Guarantee outlines what participants can expect from providers, what is expected from participants, what to do if a participant cannot attend an appointment or activity and the complaints process.47
3.42
However, a number of service providers told the committee that due to the lack of information, or misinformation, provided to parents before their initial appointment, participants arrive at their first interview stressed and confused and that this negatively impacts on the provider's ability to build a productive relationship with participants.48
3.43
Providers have also reported situations where information which was provided by the participant to Centrelink, particularly relating to their eligibility for exemption, was not then communicated to the provider by Centrelink or the Department of Jobs and Small Business, which further impacts on their relationships with participants.49

Processing exemptions and exits from the program

3.44
As noted in Chapter 1, there have been a number of reports that parents are being referred to ParentsNext as compulsory participants even if they do not meet the criteria for participation or have circumstances which should make them exempt. These participants have described the difficult and lengthy processes they face to have their exemption or removal from the program recognised or processed by Centrelink and/or their ParentsNext provider.50
3.45
While some exemptions from ParentsNext, such as for situations of major personal crisis or disruption, domestic violence, or late pregnancy and post-childbirth, may be granted directly by Centrelink, most exemptions are applied on a case-by-case basis by service providers after a parent has been referred.51
3.46
According to the Australian Government guideline, when an exemption is granted by a provider, the participant is suspended from ParentsNext and is not required to meet any participation requirements, nor be subject to the Targeted Compliance Framework, until the end of the exemption period.52
3.47
The maximum duration of an exemption period can range from six weeks to 52 weeks, depending on the circumstance, but is limited to the period of time that the circumstance is expected to exist. For example, temporary medical incapacity exemptions may be granted for up to 13 weeks in total, but the exemption may only be granted to a participant for the amount of time indicated that person is unfit to participate as stated on a medical certificate.53
3.48
In the first six months of the national ParentsNext program, 12 798 participants received temporary exemptions from the program. Of these exemptions, the most common were for large families (39 per cent), late pregnancy/childbirth (15 per cent), temporary medical incapacity (12 per cent), caring responsibilities (6 per cent), serious illness (4 per cent) and domestic violence/relationship breakdown (4 per cent).54
3.49
The committee is concerned about the number of reports it received which suggest that some providers are not using their discretion and are failing to grant appropriate exemptions to participants.55 For example, the committee has received reports that participants:
receive inconsistent information from providers about grounds for exemption and what proof they are required to give;56
are not being informed of their eligibility for some of the longer-term exemptions such as for large families (more than four children) or home schooling;57 and
have found difficulties in seeking extension or renewal of existing exemptions.58
3.50
Alarmingly, one staff member working for a ParentsNext provider reported to the Australian Unemployed Workers Union that:
… provider workers were pressured to 'read-between-the-lines' and to use their discretionary powers of exemption extremely sparingly, in favour of keeping participants 'on the books' and in the program.59
3.51
The committee also received evidence that some ParentsNext providers are unsure how to action an exemption when it has been processed by Centrelink. The National Social Security Rights Network described the following situation:
…our member centre in Queensland assisted a mother who told us that she called ParentsNext and asked if they received her exemption. She told us that the ParentsNext provider could see that an exemption was granted but were unsure what to do. The mother then told us that she contacted the Department of Jobs and Small Businesses but was told that they were unsure what an exemption meant. The single mother told us that she spent hours on the phone trying to ensure that her exemption would be acknowledged. However, it was not until our member centre in Queensland contacted Centrelink on her behalf that DHS corrected their database and she was exempted from participating.60
3.52
Several submitters have noted that, during the trial program, there was a dedicated ParentsNext team in Centrelink which had the capacity to respond quickly to issues such as these with a high level of subject matter expertise, but it was abolished before the national expansion of the program.61
3.53
Where exemptions are successfully granted, many advocates and some providers have described that the periods allowed under the ParentsNext guidelines are often not sufficient to meet the needs of parents.62 For example, ParentsNext provider yourtown described how exemptions of only a few months may be insufficient for people with 'longstanding, chronic issues that require long-term healing'.63
3.54
Some submitters recommended that longer term exemptions should be considered more broadly,64 with Mission Australia recommending that exemptions for participants experiencing 'complex and diverse challenges such as domestic and family violence, drug and alcohol issues, mental health and risks of homelessness' should be a minimum of 52 weeks with the option to allow participants to join the program when their issues have been resolved.65
3.55
As discussed in Chapter 2, a significant number of participants are experiencing or have experienced domestic and family violence, but the number of exemptions granted for this cohort is low and many providers do not have expertise in this area to assess whether a participant requires this exemption.66 Advocates have recommended that participants who are still experiencing trauma related to domestic and family violence be automatically exempted from compulsory participation, rather than needing to prove their need for an exemption to providers who may not have expertise in this area.67
3.56
There are also a high number of reports about parents being incorrectly referred to the program, despite not meeting the eligibility criteria, and being unable to exit from the program.68 For example, Mission Australia submitted that its ParentsNext sites had been referred a number of parents who were self-employed or working part time, and therefore should have been ineligible for the program as they had received income in the past six months. However, despite the incorrect referral, these participants could not be exited from the program, under the stable employment exit criteria, until they had participated for 12 weeks.69
3.57
Submitters and witnesses have recommended that, should ParentsNext continue as a compulsory program, the existing processes around both exemption and exit from the program should be revised to be straightforward and easier to administer for all parties involved, and that parents should be clearly informed of their rights to exemptions.70
3.58
Jobs Australia further recommended to the committee that there should be mechanisms to exit parents from the program where they have be found eligible by Centrelink but are deemed by their ParentsNext provider to not require pre-employment support.71

Committee view

3.59
There appear to be serious issues in the quality, consistency and timeliness of communication with parents referred to ParentsNext. The committee is concerned by the department's advice that detailed information about the ParentsNext program is not provided to participants until they attend their first appointment with a ParentsNext provider.
3.60
The committee is concerned about the processes for exempting parents from the program when they have legitimate reasons for not participating and was disturbed to hear reports from participants and their advocates about providers not using their discretion and failing to grant appropriate exemptions.
3.61
The committee is also concerned by the number of reports of parents being incorrectly referred to the program, despite not meeting the eligibility criteria, and being unable to exit from the program.
3.62
It appears that many of these issues stem from the ongoing compulsory nature of ParentsNext, its strict eligibility and exit criteria, and the inability of providers or Centrelink to apply discretion in either making referrals or managing the exit of participants.
3.63
The committee understands that the lack of information provided to participants, the confusion around exemptions and the inability to be exited from the program is causing unnecessary stress and anxiety for many parents and is deleterious to them establishing productive relationships with their providers.

Behaviour of providers towards participants

3.64
Evidence received by the committee has shown that some participants are experiencing concerning or inappropriate behaviour from their ParentsNext providers, particularly in relation to the development of participation plans and the collection and use of personal information.

Development of participation plans

3.65
Under the ParentsNext Guidelines, participants who have commenced the ParentsNext program enter a 20 business day 'initial period'.72 During the initial period, a provider must:
discuss with the participant their short-term and long-term goals, taking the participant's circumstances into account;
assist the participant to identify appropriate activities;
assist the participant to identify local support services they may require and facilitate referrals where appropriate;
begin to prepare or update the participant's participation plan; and
conduct a JSCI assessment, if the participant has not had one completed within the past six months.73
3.66
The participant's participation plan must be developed by the provider and provided to the participant within the 20 day initial period. A participant then has 10 business days to consider the participation plan developed by the provider and agree to the plan.74
3.67
However, as noted in Chapter 1, the committee received evidence that parents are not informed that they have 10 days to consider the plan and that participants feel pressured to agree to the participation plan immediately.75
3.68
The survey of ParentsNext participants conducted by the National Council of Single Mothers and their Children and the Council of Single Mothers and their Children (Victoria) (NCSMC/CSMC Survey) found that 85 per cent of respondents were not aware that participants had 10 days to consider the participation plan prepared by their provider.76 The National Council of Single Mothers and their Children explained to the committee that participants feel pressured to agree to their participation plans due to the power imbalance between participants and their provider:
…they would sign it in that meeting, and they would sign it because they were so compliant because the person they were sitting in front of had the power to affect their life, in terms of their payment but also in terms of their commitments.77
3.69
One participant submitted to the committee that they signed a participation plan which did not meet their needs due to the stress they felt in attending an appointment with their provider:
Post interview I signed feeling in state of stress because my daughter was running around the offices. I did not feel the interviewer took on board any of the information I provided and that I was given a generic plan.78
3.70
Other participants and their advocates told the committee that the activities included in participation plans by providers are not meeting the individual needs of parents. In one instance, a parent refused to sign their participation plan, despite feeling pressured by the provider, as the plan did not take into account the parent's physical disabilities, or caring responsibilities for their child with disabilities.79
3.71
Participants also reported being assigned activities which seemed irrelevant to their education needs or pre-employment goals, such as parenting programs, or activities for their child including swimming lessons, story time or attending medical appointments.80
3.72
Jobs Australia told the committee that while providers should negotiate appropriate activities with participants, 'it sounds like it doesn't always happen'.81
3.73
The National Social Security Rights Network submitted to the committee that some providers have limited resources and can only link parents with employers and industries they have existing relationships with, rather than customising participation plans to meet the needs and goals of parents.82
3.74
However, the committee also received evidence that suggests that some providers are linking parents to third party activities, such as playgroups and library programs, without contacting the third party organisations in advance.83 Playgroup Australia, the peak body for playgroup organisations, submitted that:
Playgroup Australia has had no contact with providers regarding the appropriateness of playgroups for ParentsNext participants prior to referral. Ensuring that participants are directed to appropriate playgroups would ensure maximum benefit to participants. For ParentsNext participants to gain the most from attending community playgroups and other such community activities, the ParentsNext approved providers should have agreements with the community organisations to which they refer. We are aware that this is a requirement in the guidelines for providers but agreements have not been sought with playgroup organisations.84
3.75
The Australian Library and Information Association submitted that, following their similar complaints that library services are being used by ParentsNext providers without contacting the libraries involved, the Department of Jobs and Small Business wrote to ParentsNext providers in late January to 'remind them of the need to establish a relationship with services such as libraries before referring participants'.85

Privacy waiver

3.76
Participants in the ParentsNext program are asked to sign a Privacy Notification and Consent form (commonly referred to as a privacy waiver) at their initial appointment with their provider.86 The privacy waiver provides consent for providers to collect personal and sensitive information from participants and provide the information to third parties in order to arrange activities for the participant.87
3.77
ParentsNext providers are required to comply with the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) and the Australian Privacy Principles when requesting and using participant's personal and sensitive information.88
3.78
Noting that participants are not required to sign the privacy waiver, Good Shepherd raised concerns that the form does not explicitly state that signing the privacy waiver is optional.89
3.79
While parents are not required to sign the privacy waiver in order to participate in the ParentsNext program, the privacy waiver notes:
If you do not provide some or all of your personal information, the Department may not be able to provide you with appropriate services and assistance.90
3.80
However, the committee received reports (detailed in Chapter 1) that participants were told that it was mandatory to sign the privacy waiver and that participants felt coerced to sign following advice from the provider that their payment would be suspended if they did not sign the waiver.91
3.81
Submitters noted that victims of domestic and family violence were particularly fearful that information about their whereabouts, their current address or children's school could be accessed by third parties if they sign the privacy waiver.92 The National Council of Single Mothers and their Children provided an example of a participant who had ongoing concerns for her safety:
The ParentsNext program she described as a 'private provider in a small location'. She did not want to tell the provider her children's names or her children's school. She was fearful that her ex-partner, who was still stalking her, would find that information out…She was also told that if she did not sign the privacy waiver, she would be breached.93
3.82
The Australian Human Rights Commission expressed concern at reports that participants are forced to sign privacy waivers and questioned whether this interference with privacy was lawful, and whether adequate measures were being taken to ensure that providers are appropriately collecting, using, disclosing and storing the personal information of participants.94
3.83
The Department of Jobs and Small Business informed the committee that it had written to all providers to reiterate that parents are not required to sign the privacy waiver in order to participate in the ParentsNext program, and told the committee it is 'unacceptable' that parents continue to feel pressured to sign the privacy waiver.95
3.84
The Department of Jobs and Small Business advised that it had received two complaints regarding parents feeling pressured to sign privacy waivers.96 This however does reflect the level of concern expressed to the committee that a high number of parents are forced to sign privacy waivers.

Complaints process

3.85
This chapter has identified a number of concerns with both the behaviour of ParentsNext providers, and the program itself. The committee understands that participants in the ParentsNext program can identify concerns or raise complaints in two ways: firstly through their provider, and secondly by phoning the Department of Jobs and Small Business' National Customer Service Line.97
3.86
However, the committee heard that parents are unlikely to raise concerns with providers in the first instance.98 The National Council of Single Mothers and their Children attributed this to the power imbalance which exists in the relationship between participants and their providers:
If the participant disagrees with the breach, the person who umpires that is the provider—they decide whether they have operated appropriately or not. There is not one independent body that manages or oversees that process. So that is why women are compliant—they're in this, and it's like they've gone down this slippery slope into hell and the only way they can come out is if they sign and do what's required. They won't upset a provider.99
3.87
Furthermore, 73 per cent of respondents to the NCSMC/CSMC Survey agreed, or strongly agreed, with the statement 'the possibility of payment suspension makes you less willing to speak your mind with the ParentsNext provider'. The survey also found that only 19 per cent of respondents knew that if they had concerns they could contact the National Customer Service Line, suggesting a severe lack of awareness of the complaints process among participants.100
3.88
The Department of Jobs and Small Business advised the committee that it had received a total of 221 complaints between 1 July 2018 and 31 January 2019 relating to the ParentsNext program. The most common complaints were issues relating to provider service.101
3.89
National Customer Service Line complaints are often finalised during the initial telephone conversation, but are also referred to the provider with the participant's permission for resolution. The Department of Jobs and Small Business allows providers five business days to make contact with the participant, attempt to resolve the complaints, and report back to the National Customer Service Line.102

Committee view

3.90
The committee is concerned by reports that ParentsNext providers are developing participation plans which do not meet the needs or goals of parents, as this appears to be in direct contravention of the stated aims and objectives of ParentsNext.
3.91
The committee notes the number of reports about providers not informing participants of their rights in the program, such as their right to 10 business days of 'thinking time' to consider their participation plan, or their right to withhold consent for providers to collect their personal and sensitive information. The committee is concerned that some providers appear to have coerced or pressured participants into agreeing to participation plans and signing privacy waivers.
3.92
The committee acknowledges that many parents who have been subjected to this behaviour from their providers do not feel comfortable raising concerns with the provider or through the customer service line due to fears of retribution in the form of payment suspension.
3.93
The committee is of the strong belief that the threat of payment suspension should not be used by ParentsNext providers as a way to intimidate parents into ongoing participation in the program, especially if this 'participation' does not reflect parents' education and employment goals or take into account their personal situation.

  • 1
    Brotherhood of St Laurence, Submission 63, p. 11.
  • 2
    YFS Ltd, Submission 5, [p. 1]; Brotherhood of St Laurence, Submission 63, p. 8; Mission Australia, Submission 60, p. 1; National Employment Services Association, Submission 30, p. 9; CatholicCare Sandhurst, Submission 24, [p. 2]; Settlement Services International, Submission 31, p. 4.
  • 3
    Uniting Vic.Tas, Submission 7, [p. 1]; Logan Together, Submission 10, [p. 1]; Settlement Services International, Submission 31, p. 4; Uniting SA, Submission 18, p. 6; National Employment Services Association, Submission 30, p. 9; Goodstart Early Learning, Submission 58, [p. 3]; Mission Australia, Submission 60, pp. 1, 12; CatholicCare Sandhurst, Submission 24, [p. 2]; Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia, Submission 59, p. 1; Anglicare Australia, Submission 33, p. 4.
  • 4
    Department of Jobs and Small Business, ParentsNext Evaluation Report, 2018, p. 14; Department of Jobs and Small Business, Submission 67, p. 13.
  • 5
    Department of Jobs and Small Business, answers to written questions on notice (received 14 March 2019).
  • 6
    Department of Jobs and Small Business, Submission 67, p. 13.
  • 7
    See, for example: Ms Sally Sinclair, Chief Executive Officer, National Employment Services Association, Committee Hansard, 27 February 2019, p. 39; YFS, Submission 5, [p. 2], Uniting Vic.Tas, Submission 7, [p. 1]; Logan Together, Submission 10, [p. 1]; Settlement Services International, Submission 31, p. 4; Uniting SA, Submission 18, p. 6; National Employment Services Association, Submission 30, p. 9; Goodstart Early Learning, Submission 58, [p. 3]; Mission Australia, Submission 60, pp. 1, 12; CatholicCare Sandhurst, Submission 24, [p. 2]; Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia, Submission 59, p. 1; Anglicare Australia, Submission 33, p. 4.
  • 8
    See for example: Ms Karen Bevan, Settlement Services International, Committee Hansard,
    27 February 2019, p. 47; Mission Australia, Submission 60, p. 11; Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare, Submission 23, p. 6.
  • 9
    See, for example: Mission Australia, Submission 60, pp. 11–12; Brotherhood of St Laurence, Submission 63, pp. 3, 9; Accountable Income Management Network, Submission 37, [p. 5].
  • 10
    YFS, Submission 5, [p. 2].
  • 11
    Mission Australia, Submission 67, p. 12.
  • 12
    Ms Bevan, Settlement Services International, Committee Hansard, 27 February 2019, p. 47.
  • 13
    See, for example: YFS, Submission 5, [p. 2]; Roseberry Qld, Submission 17, [p. 2]; National Employment Services Association, Submission 30, p. 12; Settlement Services International, Submission 31, p. 7.
  • 14
    Ms Victoria Haggerston, ParentsNext Program Manager, Brotherhood of St Laurence, Committee Hansard, 27 February 2019, p. 31.
  • 15
    Ms Marion Bennett, Executive—Practice, Quality and Performance, Mission Australia Committee Hansard, 27 February 2019, p. 32.
  • 16
    YFS, Submission 5, [p. 2]. See also: The Hive Mount Druitt, Submission 34, p. 8.
  • 17
    See, for example: YFS, Submission 5, [p. 2]; Uniting Vic.Tas, Submission 7, [p. 1]; Logan Together, Submission 10, [p. 1]; Settlement Services International, Submission 31, p. 4; Uniting SA, Submission 18, p. 6; National Employment Services Association, Submission 30, p. 9.
  • 18
    Ms Sinclair, National Employment Services Association, Committee Hansard, 27 February 2019, p. 39.
  • 19
    Ms Haggerston, Brotherhood of St Laurence, Committee Hansard, 27 February 2019, p. 33.
  • 20
    Ms Bennett, Mission Australia, Committee Hansard, 27 February 2019, p. 33. See also: Ms Haggerston, Brotherhood of St Laurence, Committee Hansard, 27 February 2019, p. 31; Ms Sinclair, National Employment Services Association, Committee Hansard, 27 February 2019, p. 43.
  • 21
    Department of Jobs and Small Business, Submission 67, pp. 12–13. See also: Jobs Australia, Submission 35, pp. 8–9.
  • 22
    Department of Jobs and Small Business, answers to written questions on notice (received 14 March 2019).
  • 23
    Brotherhood of St Laurence, Submission 63, p. 3.
  • 24
    Ms Kym Mercer, Centrelink and Other Info, Committee Hansard, 27 February 2019, p. 17.
  • 25
    Ms Terese Edwards, Chief Executive Officer, National Council of Single Mothers and their Children, Committee Hansard, 27 February 2019, p. 11.
  • 26
    Department of Jobs and Small Business, Submission 67, p. 12.
  • 27
    See, for example: Brotherhood of St Laurence, Submission 63, p. 3.
  • 28
    Ms Jenny Davidson, Chief Executive Officer, Council of Single Mothers and their Children, Committee Hansard, 27 February 2019, p. 11.
  • 29
    E Helmes and MA Fudge, 'Psychological distress among Australian welfare recipient job seekers', Australian Journal of Psychology, vol. 69, no. 2, pp. 106–111. Cited in: Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand, Submission 15, p. 29.
  • 30
    Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand, Submission 15, p. 29.
  • 31
    See, for example: Logan Together, Submission 10, [p. 2]; Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand, Submission 15, p. 26; Roseberry Qld, Submission 17, [p. 1]; National Council of Single Mothers and their Children, Submission 20, p. 14; Council of Single Mothers and their Children, Submission 25, p. 14; The Hive Mount Druitt, Submission 34, p. 3.
  • 32
    Brotherhood of St Laurence, Submission 63, p. 10.
  • 33
    Ms Mercer, Centrelink and Other Info, Committee Hansard, 27 February 2019, p. 16.
  • 34
    See, for example: Brotherhood of St Laurence, Submission 63, p. 5; Australian Unemployed Workers Union, Submission 70, p. 6; YFS Ltd, Submission 5, [p. 3]; National Social Security Rights Network, Submission 14, p. 2; Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand, Submission 15, pp. 6–7; Australian Human Rights Commission, Submission 16, p. 4; National Council of Single Mothers and their Children, Submission 20, p. 3; CatholicCare Sandhurst, Submission 24, [p. 3]; Council of Single Mothers and their Children, Submission 25, p. 4; HLRC/SNAICC/NFVPLS, Submission 29, p. 6; Settlement Services International, Submission 31, p. 1; Anglicare Australia, Submission 33, p. 5; Jobs Australia, Submission 35, p. 4; Australian Council of Social Service, Submission 38, p. 4; Volunteering Australia, Submission 39, p. 2; Ms Ella Buckland, Submission 52, p. 2; Goodstart Early Learning, Submission 58, [p. 3]; Mission Australia, Submission 60, p. 2.
  • 35
    Department of Jobs and Small Business, Submission 67, p. 5.
  • 36
    Department of Jobs and Small Business, Submission 67, p. 5.
  • 37
    Australian Government, ParentsNext: Eligibility, Referrals, Commencement and Caseload Guidelines, p. 5.
  • 38
    Department of Jobs and Small Business, Submission 67, p. 5, and Attachments A and B.
  • 39
    Australian Government, ParentsNext: Eligibility, Referrals, Commencement and Caseload Guidelines, pp. 3, 5.
  • 40
    Department of Jobs and Small Business, Submission 67, p. 4.
  • 41
    Australian Government, ParentsNext: Eligibility, Referrals, Commencement and Caseload Guidelines, p. 5.
  • 42
    Roseberry Qld, Submission 17, [p. 1]. See also: Ms Bevan, Settlement Services International, Committee Hansard, 27 February 2019, p. 48.
  • 43
    National Social Security Rights Network, Submission 14, p. 5.
  • 44
    See, for example: Settlement Services International, Submission 31; Jobs Australia, Submission 35; Wesley Mission, Submission 12; Mission Australia, Submission 60; Roseberry Qld, Submission 17.
  • 45
    Benevolent Society, Submission 19, [p. 3].
  • 46
    Department of Jobs and Small Business, Submission 67, p. 5.
  • 47
    Department of Jobs and Small Business, Submission 67, Attachment 3.
  • 48
    See, for example: Settlement Services International, Submission 31, p. 5; Wesley Mission, Submission 12, [p. 6].
  • 49
    See, for example: National Social Security Rights Network, Submission 14, p. 7.
  • 50
    See Chapter 1, paras. 1.29–1.36.
  • 51
    Department of Jobs and Small Business, Submission 67, p. 14; Australian Government, ParentsNext: Exemptions and Suspensions Guideline, p. 3.
  • 52
    Australian Government, ParentsNext: Exemptions and Suspensions Guideline, p. 14.
  • 53
    Australian Government, ParentsNext: Exemptions and Suspensions Guideline, pp. 6–7.
  • 54
    Department of Jobs and Small Business, Submission 67, p. 14.
  • 55
    See, for example: Australian Unemployed Workers Union, Submission 70, p. 4.
  • 56
    Logan Together, Submission 10, [p. 1]; National Council of Single Mothers and their Children and Council of Single Mothers and their Children (Victoria) (NCSMC/CSMC), ParentsNext Survey, January 2019, p. 7; Domestic Violence Victoria, Submission 21; [pp. 2–3]; Council of Single Mothers and their Children, Submission 25, p. 11 and Appendix 1. See also: National Council of Single Mothers and their Children, Submission 20, pp. 9–10.
  • 57
    Australian Unemployed Workers Union, Submission 70, p. 8. See also: National Council of Single Mothers and their Children, Submission 20, pp. 9–10.
  • 58
    See, for example: Ms Mercer, Centrelink and Other Info, Committee Hansard, 27 February 2019, p. 20; NCSMC/CSMC, ParentsNext Survey, January 2019, p. 6.
  • 59
    Australian Unemployed Workers Union, Submission 70, p. 8.
  • 60
    National Social Security Rights Network, Submission 14, p. 7.
  • 61
    National Employment Services Association, Submission 30, p. 9; Wesley Mission, Submission 12, [p. 6].
  • 62
    See, for example: Equality Rights Alliance, Submission 36, [p. 5]; Anglicare Victoria, Submission 7, p. 3; National Council of Single Mothers and their Children, Submission 20, pp. 9–10.
  • 63
    Ms Laura Clarke, Advocacy and Policy Lead, yourtown, Committee Hansard, 27 February 2019, p. 46.
  • 64
    See, for example: Anglicare Victoria, Submission 7, p. 3.
  • 65
    Mission Australia, Submission 60, p. 2. As noted in Chapter 2, people who have been identified by Centrelink as compulsory participants can only be exited from ParentsNext if they achieve stable employment of 15 hours per week or 30 hours per fortnight for at least 12 weeks, which a provider expects to be ongoing.
  • 66
    See Chapter 2, paras. 2.73–2.75.
  • 67
    National Council of Single Mothers and their Children, Submission 20, p. 3; Australian Unemployed Workers Union, Submission 70, pp. 8, 13; Domestic Violence Victoria, Submission 21; [pp. 2–3]. See also: Anglicare Australia, Submission 33, p. 5; Women's Legal Service NSW, Submission 66, pp. 6–7.
  • 68
    See, for example: Ms Mercer, Centrelink and Other Info, Committee Hansard, 27 February 2019, p. 16; NCSMC/CSMC, ParentsNext Survey, January 2019, p. 7; National Council of Single Mothers and their Children, Submission 20, p. 3; Council of Single Mothers and their Children, Submission 25, p. 5.
  • 69
    Mission Australia, Submission 60, p. 17. See also: Australian Government, ParentsNext: Transfers and Exits Guideline, pp. 6–7.
  • 70
    Australian Unemployed Workers Union, Submission 70, pp. 8, 13; Logan Together, Submission 10, [p. 2]; Council of Single Mothers and their Children, Submission 25, p. 5.
  • 71
    Jobs Australia, Submission 35, p. 5.
  • 72
    Australian Government, ParentsNext: Eligibility, Referrals, Commencement and Caseload Guidelines, p. 7.
  • 73
    Australian Government, ParentsNext: Eligibility, Referrals, Commencement and Caseload Guidelines, p. 7.
  • 74
    Department of Jobs and Small Business, Submission 67, p. 6.
  • 75
    See Chapter 1, para. 1.43.
  • 76
    NCSMC/CSMC, ParentsNext Survey, January 2019, p. 4.
  • 77
    Ms Edwards, National Council of Single Mothers and their Children, Committee Hansard, 27 February 2019, p. 12.
  • 78
    Name withheld, Submission 45, [p. 2].
  • 79
    National Social Security Rights Network, Submission 14, p. 6.
  • 80
    See, for example: National Social Security Rights Network, Submission 14, p. 6; FamilyCare, Submission 65, p. 7; Ms Stella Avramopoulos, Chief Executive Officer, Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand Committee Hansard, 27 February 2019, p. 4; Ms Edwards, National Council of Single Mothers and their Children, Committee Hansard, 27 February 2019, p. 6; Ms Mercer, Centrelink and Other Info, Committee Hansard, 27 February 2019, pp. 16, 19.
  • 81
    Mr Peter Defteros, Acting Senior Policy Manager, Jobs Australia, Committee Hansard, 27 February 2019, p. 44.
  • 82
    National Social Security Rights Network, Submission 14, p. 5.
  • 83
    Australian Library and Information Association, Submission 11, p. 2; Playgroups Australia, Submission 13, [p. 5].
  • 84
    Playgroups Australia, Submission 13, [p. 5].
  • 85
    Australian Library and Information Association, Submission 11, pp. 2–3.
  • 86
    Department of Jobs and Small Business, Submission 67, p. 8.
  • 87
    Australian Government, Employment Services Guideline: Privacy Guideline, Attachment D – ParentsNext Privacy Notification and Consent Form, https://docs.jobs.gov.au/documents/privacy-guideline (accessed 21 March 2019).
  • 88
    Department of Jobs and Small Business, Submission 67, p. 8.
  • 89
    Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand, Submission 15, p. 30.
  • 90
    Australian Government, Employment Services Guideline: Privacy Guideline, Attachment D – ParentsNext Privacy Notification and Consent Form, https://docs.jobs.gov.au/documents/privacy-guideline (accessed 21 March 2019). See, also: Department of Jobs and Small Business, Submission 67, p. 8.
  • 91
    See, for example: Australian Income Management Network, Submission 37, p. 8. NCSMC/CSMC, ParentsNext Survey, January 2019, p. 16 (emphasis in original). See also: Chapter 1, paras. 1.37–1.39.
  • 92
    Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand, Submission 15, p. 30.
  • 93
    Ms Edwards, National Council of Single Mothers and their Children, Committee Hansard,
    27 February 2019, p. 5.
  • 94
    Australian Human Rights Commission, Submission 16, p. 18.
  • 95
    Mr Greg Manning, Group Manager, Youth and Programs Group, Department of Jobs and Small Business, Committee Hansard, 27 February 2019, p. 68.
  • 96
    Mr Manning, Department of Jobs and Small Business, Committee Hansard, 27 February 2019, p. 68.
  • 97
    Department of Jobs and Small Business, Submission 67, pp. 15–16; Department of Jobs and Small Business, ParentsNext Complaints, Compliments and Suggestions, 21 September 2018, https://www.jobs.gov.au/complaints-compliments-and-suggestions-0 (accessed 26 March 2019).
  • 98
    Ms Davidson, Council of Single Mothers and their Children, Committee Hansard, 27 February 2019, p. 12.
  • 99
    Ms Edwards, National Council of Single Mothers and their Children, Committee Hansard, 27 February 2019, p. 12.
  • 100
    NCSMC/CSMC, ParentsNext Survey, January 2019, p. 5.
  • 101
    Department of Jobs and Small Business, answers to questions on notice, 27 February 2019 (received 20 March 2019).
  • 102
    Department of Jobs and Small Business, answers to questions on notice, 27 February 2019 (received 20 March 2019).

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