The Guides to Social Policy Law is a collection of publications designed to assist decision makers administering social policy law. The information contained in this publication is intended only as a guide to relevant legislation/policy. The information is accurate as at the date listed at the bottom of the page, but may be subject to change. To discuss individual circumstances please contact Services Australia. Meeting priority needs under income management

How priority needs are met

In assessing which priority needs are to be met from a person's income managed funds, the delegate will seek the views of the person, prior to decisions being made about allocations from the person's income management account. While each person's and their family's circumstances will differ, the delegate, through a series of questions, will generally need to investigate how the following basic items are to be paid for:

  • food (which includes the school meals program where appropriate)
  • housing, e.g. rent, loan repayments
  • utilities, e.g. electricity, water, sewerage
  • clothing and footwear, and
  • medical needs (including basic personal hygiene and basic household items).

Note: This list is not hierarchical. A person should meet their priority needs on an as-needed basis, which may change from time to time.

When setting up income management allocations, the delegate and income managed person should consider whether the person has developed a budget to meet priority needs and whether direct debit or other deductions already set up to meet some priority needs.

The delegate should encourage the person to establish Centrepay from their discretionary, non-income managed payments to meet some priority needs and/or other regular expenses. The delegate should also refer the person to money management services.

It is generally appropriate, and necessary, for at least part of a person's income managed funds to be used for food, including school meals programs, if such programs are available. However, it is not mandatory for a person to have allocations made from their income management account for food, rent or utilities. Allocations will depend on the person's circumstances.

Note: For people who are subject to income management under the Child Protection Measure, the child protection worker provides rankings of the priority needs of the children in the notice given to Centrelink, indicating to the delegate specific needs to be considered in the allocation of income managed funds. While the delegate must ultimately decide how income managed funds should be applied to meet the children's and the person's priority needs, the advice from the child protection authority would generally strongly shape the structure of the disbursements.

Where a child protection worker indicates that neglect issues, relating to the child not receiving food or medical needs, are apparent, care should be taken to ensure that any shared expense arrangements between different household members function effectively to address this.

Example: Magnus and Myf live together and have a child. They are both income managed, and are paid in alternate weeks. Magnus and Myf find that it is easier for Magnus to pay the rent when he receives his income support payments, and Myf will buy the bulk of their groceries when she receives her payments. Therefore, the amounts allocated to food and rent will be different for Magnus and Myf.

Other priority items

All other priority items should be considered after the above priority needs are considered to be adequately covered.

Allocating income managed funds to other priority needs, (priority needs are outlined in SS(Admin)Act section 123TH) such as footwear, transport, rates and land tax, motor vehicle expenses, items for the person's employment, education and training and funeral costs should be considered. However, it is important to note that a person still has discretionary (non-income managed) funds available to meet some expenses.

Documentation of priority needs

It will be important for the delegate to document all priority needs discussed at interviews, ensuring that the person's circumstances have been recorded.

Incomplete interview

In some cases, a person may leave an interview before the assessment of their priority needs has been completed. When this happens, the non-contact provisions apply (11.1.8).

Excess funds

Where the delegate considers that the current, and reasonably foreseeable, priority needs of a person (and their dependants) are met, and there are still income managed funds available, the person should be advised that the funds may be available for other purposes (11.1.6). Alternatively, these excess funds may be retained in the person's income management account until required to meet future priority needs (e.g. the purchase of a washing machine or fridge, or payment of car registration and insurance).

Other information

The delegate may also provide the person with guidance on locally available mechanisms for allocating income managed funds, such as community stores.

To build skills and reinforce the person's experience and confidence in planning for future priority needs and budgeting, the delegate should involve the person as much as possible in identifying their future expenses and refer them to money management services for further budgeting education.

Action where priority needs have not been met

In some cases, the delegate may not be satisfied that a person's priority needs (or the priority needs of the person's partner or dependants) have been met. The person may need to demonstrate that the relevant priority needs can be met within the nominated amount, or how they are meeting these priority needs using funds from other sources.

Example: Rita is responsible for 4 children, but she only wishes to allocate $20 per fortnight to food. The onus is on Rita to demonstrate that she can actually meet her priority needs and those of her children, in relation to food, with $20 per fortnight.

If the delegate becomes aware of any unmet priority needs of the person or the person's partner or children, under SS(Admin)Act Part 3B Division 6 and section 123YA(2), the delegate MUST take appropriate action towards meeting those priority needs and must disburse some or all of the person's income managed funds to meet those needs.

In disbursing these funds the delegate must also have regard to the best interests of the person's children, under SS(Admin)Act section 123YB.

Note: This will apply to people on VIM, even though the person has volunteered for income management, the delegate remains the delegated decision maker in determining how income managed funds should be applied to meet the person's and their family's priority needs.

Act reference: SS(Admin)Act Part 3B Division 6 Debits from income management accounts, section 123YA(2) Priority needs, section 123YB Secretary must have regard to the best interests of children

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