Over the past 25 years, people have been supported while seeking asylum through a basic living allowance and limited casework. These support programs were designed so that people can more effectively resolve their claims for protection. In the past few years, and especially since August 2017, the Australian Government has been making it harder for people to access these support programs.]Changes to the current support program, the Status Resolution Support Services (SRSS), have left many people seeking asylum unable to access support and forced vulnerable men, women and children into destitution. More drastic changes coming in 2018 are likely to drive thousands more into destitution.
Early programs of support were developed by the Australian Government to assist people seeking asylum where they were unable to access any other form of Government-funded support. These programs assisted those who were unable meet their basic needs while waiting for their visa application to be finalised. In 2014 the current program of support, called the Status Resolution Support Services (SRSS), replaced the previous programs. SRSS provides six different levels of support (‘Bands’), depending on the circumstances of the person on the program. Under most Bands, people receive a basic living allowance, casework support, access to torture and trauma counselling and subsidised medication. For people who are not eligible for Medicare, the cost of healthcare in line with Medicare may be covered. The Department of Home Affairs (previously the Department of Immigration) determines the criteria for accessing support, and the level of support people get in each Band. It also approves or refers a person to receive support through these programs and determines their support Band. There is no external process of review or appeal from these decisions. Changes to Government policies over the years have created inconsistencies in the application of support programs for people seeking asylum. These inconsistencies have forced many people into destitution by creating:
- Difficulties with renewing bridging visas, meaning an inconsistent grant of work rights and more people being forced to leave work;
- Challenges with renewing Medicare healthcare cover, requiring many to go without cover and without Government support for purchasing medication;
- A lack of support for those transitioning out of community detention;
- Compliance based casework systems, which deprived clients of their dedicated caseworker.
The most significant changes however were those made to the SRSS in August 2017, which set out that:
- People who are studying full-time are no longer eligible and have been exited from the program on this ground;
- People who have transferred more than $1000 to a domestic or overseas bank account over a 12-month period are no longer eligible.
- People on other types of visas (for example students or visitor visas) are no longer eligible while their other (‘substantive’) visa is valid (this can often be years).
It remains unclear how many people were removed from the program by these changes. There also continues to be cases where people have been refused access to SRSS after losing their jobs because they transferred money overseas, even though it remains the only practical assistance people can offer to their loved ones while reunion is denied. People who are going to be affected by these changes are already living on the margins of society. They have no government-funded support other than SRSS. Many with chronic and life-threatening illness will be left on their own to survive, with no access to subsidised healthcare and medication. Imminent changes to the design of the SRSS program will see eligibility for the program further restricted and the number of people able to access support under SRSS further reduced. Over the next few months the SRSS providers and the Department will assess the current vulnerability of all SRSS recipients.
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