1.1.M.160 Mutual obligation requirements


Mutual obligation requirements refer to the general principle that it is fair and reasonable to expect unemployed people receiving activity tested income support to do their best to find work, undertake activities that will improve their skills and increase their employment prospects and, in some circumstances, contribute something to their community in return for receiving income support.

Mutual obligation requirements are referred to as activity test and participation requirements under social security law.


Mutual obligation requirements include a range of requirements a job seeker can be compelled to undertake under social security law, such as attending employment service provider appointments or appointments with relevant third party specialist organisations, undertaking job search and acting on referrals to specific jobs, attending job interviews with prospective employers, accepting and commencing in any offers of suitable work, undertaking an annual activity requirement (for those job seekers participating in jobactive or CDP) and participating in any other activity which is relevant to their personal circumstances and that will help the job seeker improve their employment prospects.

The activities that a person must undertake to meet their mutual obligation requirements will be included in their Job Plan (1.1.J.25).

Mutual obligation requirements for job seekers

A job seeker's mutual obligation requirements are generally determined by:

  • their age,
  • their assessed work capacity, and
  • whether they have the primary responsibility for the care of a dependent child.

Job seekers must satisfy their mutual obligation requirements in return for activity tested income support payments.

Refusal to satisfy mutual obligation requirements provides grounds for disqualification from payment

It is a basic qualification provision that all job seekers must be willing and able to satisfy their mutual obligation requirements. For this reason, where it is clear that a person who is claiming an allowance does not intend to meet their requirements, payment should not be granted. If a job seeker receiving income support indicates that they no longer intend to meet their requirements, their payment should be cancelled until the delegate is satisfied that the job seeker intends to meet their requirements. The compliance provisions also allow penalties to be imposed on job seekers who fail to meet specific mutual obligation requirements without having a reasonable excuse.

Example: A person who expresses an intention to limit their job search in some way or who refuses to register with an employment services provider should have their claim rejected or their payment cancelled.

Actively seeking suitable work

Actively seeking suitable work generally means full-time work but a job seeker who is capable of full-time work should seek and be willing to accept any sort of suitable work (not just work the job seeker prefers to do or is specifically qualified for), including part-time and casual work and work that is not the job seeker's preferred work.

Job seekers who are not able to work full-time or are restricted to a limited range of duties because of incapacity are expected to look for work to their capacity. If a person in this situation is undertaking work up to their capacity they are considered to be satisfying their mutual obligation requirements while their incapacity remains unchanged. The level of the person's capacity must be confirmed by an ESAt/JCA or medical evidence. If the person's level of incapacity changes their mutual obligation requirements will be amended to reflect the change in capacity.

Act reference: SSAct section 601 Activity test (NSA), section 603AA Relief from activity test - people 55 and over…, section 603AB Relief from the activity test - certain principal carers…, section 541 Activity test (YA), section 544DA(4) YA Employment Pathway Plans - early school leavers, section 541(2)(aa) Requirement to undertake paid work

Policy reference: SS Guide Who Do Mutual Obligation Requirements Apply to?, 3.2.8 Mutual Obligation Requirements for NSA/YA Job Seekers, 3.2.9 Mutual Obligation Requirements for NSA/YA Job Seekers - Suitable Activities, 3.2.11 Mutual obligation requirements for NSA/YA - exemptions

Last reviewed: 3 January 2017