As the novel coronavirus spreads through Australia, thousands of workers face the prospect of lost income or unemployment.
Although some industries are more susceptible to the direct effects of the coronavirus lockdown, the damage it has caused to consumer confidence means almost every business will feel some pressure.
Economists at Westpac bank predict the disruption will claim 814,000 jobs by the end of June.
Fortunately, Australia has a number of support and relief agencies ready to provide much-needed relief and help workers stretch their money a little bit further.
Australians have access to a range of different support services to assist with their finances.
Australia’s at-times controversial social security network, Centrelink, will be crucial to many workers whose income is affected by the coronavirus.
Workers who lose their jobs during the crisis will have access to the ‘Jobseeker Payment‘ (formerly known as Newstart), in addition to a temporary coronavirus supplement of $550 a fortnight from April 27.
The supplement will be paid to new and existing recipients of qualifying Centrelink payments for the next six months.
The government has waived the payment’s asset test and waiting period, and expanded its eligibility to include full-time employees and sole traders who have been temporarily stood down or lost significant amounts of income.
An income test of $1075 a fortnight will apply – meaning that workers earning below this threshold will be eligible for the full $550 supplement.
Australians who are already on income support will automatically receive the new supplement and need not apply for it.
But those who don’t already have a Services Australia customer service number will need to call them on 132 850 to get one, before applying for the payment online through their MyGov account.
Casual workers over the age of 22 can also apply for the Sickness Allowance.
And existing welfare recipients who don’t qualify for the coronavirus supplement will receive a second payment of $750 directly into their bank accounts.
Australia’s major banks have offered to defer home loan repayments for six months in the event of financial hardship.
Home owners should contact their banks if they believe they will have trouble meeting their repayments.
It’s worth noting, though, that the interest owed on your loan will continue accruing during this repayment holiday – meaning you will have more debt to pay off once the pause is lifted.
Households struggling to meet utility costs should also contact their energy providers.
Early access to super
New measures will allow workers under financial stress to access $20,000 from their superannuation savings.
Workers or sole traders who have lost at least 20 per cent of their hours or income will be able to access their super.
As will unemployed Australians and those already receiving certain benefits.
From mid-April, eligible individuals will be able to apply for early access through the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).
They will be able to access the first $10,000 before July 1, and the next $10,000 for three months after that date.
Fund managers, however, have cautioned members against using the scheme as it involves crystallising losses by selling shares into a crashing market.
National Debt Helpline
The National Debt Helpline provides financial counselling to Australians.
These financial counsellors provide a range of useful services – from budgeting tips to negotiating payment plans with creditors.
Kasy Chambers, executive director of Anglicare Australia, added the presence of a counsellor helps workers negotiate payment plans with their banks, phone companies and others.
“Banks, landlords, credit agencies and utilities companies are much more open to working with someone who has a financial counsellor around,” she said.
“It shows the banks that that person is serious about doing something.”
The Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) is hardly the first point of call for workers facing hard times.
But for workers who can’t get their insurance company to honour a claim, or who have been treated unfairly by a bank, the organisation provides mediation and can take legal action if necessary.
AFCA has already received several complaints about insurance companies following the coronavirus outbreak, and have provided guidance for customers on their website.
For some, the financial support on offer might not be enough.
In other cases, affected workers might not qualify for payments large enough to cover their expenses.
Food relief networks
In addition to these large-scale providers, many local community groups provide similar services.
These can be found by searching the Department of Social Services’ website.
Ms Chambers told The New Daily this type of support is especially important because it frees up money to spend on other essential services, such as rent.
Community Facebook groups
It’s not just charities and government services providing help to those who need it.
The grand Australian tradition of mateship is alive and well on the internet, Ms Chambers said.
Many neighbourhoods have Facebook groups dedicated to lending a helping hand to local residents.
These groups are typically named after the neighbourhood to which they belong, and are sometimes called ‘buy nothing’ groups or ‘good karma networks’.
Members of the community use them to share excess food with one another, or to ask for small favours without money changing hands.