The Guides to Social Policy Law is a collection of publications designed to assist decision makers administering social policy law. TheĀ 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. Assessment of SpB claims


The delegate must consider the following factors when making a decision about SpB:

  • the intention of the SpB legislation
  • ability to earn a sufficient livelihood
  • circumstances which have led to the hardship
  • other reasonable means of support (1.1.R.40)
  • social worker involvement
  • the available funds test, and
  • the income test.

These points are explained in more detail in the rest of this topic, or in the referenced topics.

Policy reference: SS Guide Special benefit (SpB) - description, Short & long term categories of SpB, Determining the rate of SpB

Insufficient livelihood (1.1.I.160)

For payment of SpB, it is not enough that a person is not earning a sufficient livelihood - they must be UNABLE to obtain or earn a sufficient livelihood because of:

  • age, OR
  • physical or mental disability, OR
  • domestic circumstances, OR
  • any other reason.

The amount of earnings needed to gain a sufficient livelihood depends on the individual circumstances of a person and the amount of resources available to them. Factors that may be taken into account to determine whether an amount is sufficient may include:

  • the rate of benefit or pension which would be paid to the person if a pension or benefit were payable
  • the physical and mental well-being of the person
  • outstanding debts
  • caring or other responsibilities, and/or
  • any other income or support being provided to the person.

Explanation: In some cases, people who are not attracting wages could still have a sufficient livelihood because of income derived from other sources or alternative types of support that are provided.

Assessing insufficient livelihood

The delegate will need to carefully examine the person's circumstances to determine whether:

  • they are unable to earn a sufficient livelihood, AND
  • their inability to earn a sufficient livelihood is unavoidable, in which case another benefit or pension may be appropriate, AND
  • they have a lump sum invested that does not attract enough interest to support them, but itself would provide the person with a means of support for a period of time.

Act reference: SSAct section 729(2)(e) the Secretary is satisfied that the person is unable to earn a sufficient livelihood ā€¦

Circumstances leading to hardship

SpB is only payable where a person is unable to earn sufficient livelihood. The person's circumstances must be carefully considered to determine whether their inability to earn a sufficient livelihood was unavoidable or reasonable or whether they have placed themselves in financial hardship by:

  • persevering with an unprofitable business venture
  • spending their money on unnecessary items, or
  • disposing of money, by gifting or other means without adequate return.

SpB should NOT be paid if the delegate believes the person could have avoided the situation of financial hardship.

Example: A self-employed person whose business is continuing to run at a loss and who is ineligible to be paid JSP because he or she is not unemployed should NOT be paid SpB if the person has contributed to their financial hardship by persevering with an unprofitable business.

Example: A person serving an IMP for another income support payment should generally NOT be paid SpB if the person's financial hardship was neither unavoidable nor reasonable.

Explanation: The delegate must be satisfied that an IMP cannot be waived before an SpB claim can be considered. In assessing whether an IMP can be waived, the delegate, exercising their discretion, disregards any costs that they determine are unavoidable or reasonable expenditure in relation to the person's circumstances. If the delegate is not satisfied that the person has incurred unavoidable or reasonable expenditure leading to financial hardship for the purposes of waiving the IMP, then the delegate should regard the amount of expenditure that was neither unavoidable nor reasonable as deemed available funds under the relevant SpB available funds test. See Deemed available funds.

Deemed available funds

The amount of expenditure that was neither unavoidable nor reasonable should be deemed to be available funds and the delegate should include the deemed amount when applying the relevant available funds test.

Example: If a person unnecessarily spends $3,000, leaving them with $2,500 in available funds, then the amount of available funds held by the person should be deemed to be $5,500.

Exception: The delegate may choose not to deem all or a portion of a person's expenditure that was neither unavoidable nor reasonable as available funds if there are compelling reasons to exclude this expenditure taking into account the individual circumstances of the person.

Example: A person is in financial hardship because their judgment and decision making capacity, relating to management of their finances, is severely impaired due to a diagnosed medical condition.

Reasonable means of support

A claim for SpB CANNOT be granted until all the domestic and social circumstances of the person are considered. In cases involving couples, the partner's circumstances must also be considered. Although it is not possible in all cases, if practical the person should try to make alternative arrangements to change the situation which has led to the need for income support.

SpB should NOT be granted if the person:

  • is receiving, or able to receive support from other sources (see Example 1), OR
  • has reasonable means readily available by which they can obtain support (see Example 2), OR
  • has a partner who is engaged in a non-profit business or salary sacrifice scheme, and that scheme is the dominant reason for the person's hardship, OR
  • can obtain funds from a country of origin or another country where they have had a significant working life (see Example 3).

Example 1: The person may be receiving in kind support on a regular basis, to the extent that its value is sufficient to be regarded as obtaining or earning a sufficient livelihood or not causing immediate hardship. This might include payment of bills, spousal maintenance and provision of accommodation, food and/or clothing.

Example 2:

  • any accrued annual leave, maternity leave or long service leave which has not been utilised
  • payments available through other departments, agencies, or state governments, such as ABSTUDY and DVA service pension
  • if the person lives with their family or other relatives, someone who can provide adequate support
  • if the person is a newly arrived resident and can obtain support from their sponsor (1.1.S.290), or
  • in a situation where a government or non-government body provides assistance on a long term or indefinite basis.

Example 3: The person may be able to seek an overseas pension.

Policy reference: SS Guide 7.3 Comparable foreign payments

Social worker involvement

Social worker assessment is often essential in determining whether a person qualifies for payment and whether other assistance is required. Information provided by a social worker can contribute to a decision about qualification for SpB, but the delegate, NOT the social worker, makes the decision about qualification.

Policy reference: SS Guide Social Worker Involvement - Specific Payments

Last reviewed: