Refugee Council of Australia
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An unnecessary penalty: Economic impact of SRSS changes

About this study

About this study

Service providers and community organisations in the RCOA network have shared concerns that individuals and families seeking asylum would be negatively impacted by the changes to SRSS. Given the limitations on available SRSS data described above, the purpose of this study was to better understand the economic impacts of the recent changes to SRSS on people seeking asylum, community organisations and states. This report details our findings and concludes with our overall assessment of the impacts of SRSS cuts, with recommendations for the federal government and the community sector.

An earlier report prepared by RCOA draws on the voices of people seeking asylum to discuss the impacts of forced destitution in terms of health, psychological strain, and the effects on children.

With empty hands


Researchers conducted a background literature review of existing publications about people seeking asylum, poverty, vulnerability and employment, with a focus on the Australian context. Scholarly literature on people seeking asylum and employment and welfare programs, both in Australia and overseas, was also consulted during this review.

RCOA collected primary data using a survey instrument. Respondents were representatives of community organisations providing support to people seeking asylum across Australia. These organisations are all non-SRSS providers and rely mostly on private donations, public fundraising and volunteers for their operations.

The survey asked respondents to:

  • provide estimates of total annual operational and salary budget
  • provide estimates of the AU$ value of volunteer support and donated goods annually
  • indicate from a predefined list which services were currently being provided, as well as an estimate of the proportion (%) of operational budget allocated to each of these areas
  • estimate the proportion of the caseload currently accessing services offered by other providers outside their organisation
  • indicate the current labour force status of the total caseload
  • make a subjective assessment of the ‘job readiness’ of the total caseload
  • indicate the proportion of the total caseload that would be at risk of homelessness and/or destitution if they were to lose SRSS income support

Representatives of 24 community organisations in six states and territories (ACT=1, NSW=5, QLD=1, SA=1, Vic=10, WA=2, not stated=4) responded to the survey, with a total estimated caseload of 19,100 people. The organisations range from large-budget service providers with thousands of clients, to small, volunteer-led organisations with a narrow service focus. Figure 1 below shows the distribution of budget totals (operational + salary expenditure) across the sample.

Column chart showing most responses from those smaller in size

We analysed the survey data to develop an understanding of the service use and employment situation of people seeking asylum accessing services in our sample. We used service uptake data to estimate the current demands on community organisations in our sample. This provides an indication of services likely to be impacted by this policy change.

We also estimated annual additional costs for state governments as a result of the cuts to the SRSS Program. This was achieved using baseline estimates derived from several recent cost offset studies of investment in homelessness services. The survey results show SRSS recipients are likely to be placed at significant risk of homelessness as a result of losing income support. These studies therefore provide the best basis for assessing the likely cost impositions on state governments.

More details of our methods for calculating these estimates are provided in the Findings and Appendices sections.

Study limitations

The main limitation of this report is a lack of reliable data on specific services provided to people seeking asylum. RCOA has therefore surveyed its member organisations that provide direct services to this cohort.

The available data from organisations that do not receive government funding is inconsistent across service providers and areas of support, may involve duplication as clients will seek services from multiple providers, and may involve different reporting periods. A further challenge is that many of the organisations are run by volunteers and do not have the resources for data collection and management.

It should be noted that use of multiple providers by people seeking asylum is the direct result of the lack of a dedicated caseworker. Dedicated caseworkers used to refer people to an organisation for targeted and specific support and were more likely to consider factors such as the capacity of that organisation and the eligibility criteria for the service. Through conversations with caseworkers, service providers used to gain good understanding of the needs of the new referral and other organisations involved in their support. In the absence of that support, the majority of the referrals are self-made and people are more likely to seek support from multiple organisations. This puts the organisations under added strain and creates additional costs. While some of the larger organisations may focus on coordination and proper documentation of the history and service use of their clients, many more have to dedicate their entire resources to frontline services (where the urgent need is).

Another limitation is that many people are housed and supported by contacts within their ethnic or local communities, and this support has not been included in our costings given the difficulties of assessing them.

While available data is limited, in the absence of reliable data from the Department, they provide good baseline estimates of impacts. We would therefore welcome the opportunity to develop more accurate costings through official data sources.

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