Refugee Council of Australia
Charcoal drawing of open hands

With empty hands: How the Australian Government is forcing people seeking asylum into destitution

How we have supported people seeking asylum

The latest threat to these people is a drastic reduction to their access to a government-funded program that provides them with income and casework support while they are waiting for the Government’s decision on their refugee claims. This section explains this program and how it supports people seeking asylum.

Why people need support

People seeking asylum have often fled decades of war, persecution and displacement. They have endured extraordinary hardship to reach Australia. As discussed above, many have been detained by Australia (including on Nauru and Manus Island) and have waited in limbo for years for their claims to be processed. Many live in daily fear of being returned and of never being able to see their loved ones again. The effects of these events on people’s mental health make it difficult for many to work, navigate the complex process of seeking asylum, or cope with the daily struggle of living on the margins.

A short history of asylum support

A program to support people seeking asylum, called the Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme (ASAS), was first established in July 1992. People could only access the scheme if they were waiting for their application for protection to be decided, and could not meet their most basic healthcare and living needs. The program was established as this very vulnerable group could not access any other form of Government-funded support, including social security and Medicare.

Another program, the Community Care Pilot (later changed to the ‘Community Assistance Support’ or CAS program), was established in 2005. This was for people who became vulnerable during their migration journey (including forced migration), and could not meet their basic needs while waiting for their visa application to be finalised.

These support programs provide a cheaper and more humane alternative to immigration detention with a higher compliance rate. They are cited internationally as good practice for other countries to follow.

In the same year, community detention was introduced. As discussed earlier, the Minister for Immigration was given the power to make a ‘residence determination’ for a person in immigration detention. This meant the person could live in a specified residence in the community.

While the name and eligibility criteria of these programs have changed over the years, they exist only in departmental policy. There is no legislation that governs these programs.


In 2014, both the ASAS and CAS programs were replaced by the current support program, called Status Resolution Support Services (SRSS). It has six different levels of support (‘Bands’), depending on the circumstances of the person on the program.

People on most Bands receive a basic living allowance (typically 89% of Newstart allowance, currently $243 per week for a single person with no children), 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 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 for these decisions.

Those Bands and the number of people on them at 28 February 2018 are: [table id=98 /] People can also seek support under Band 6 through an SRSS service provider. If the person is considered eligible, the provider will help them to complete and submit an application for the Department to decide whether the person can access support. However, people who are waiting for a court decision on their visa application cannot access support through Band 6.

SRSS is not merely about income support. The casework support it offers (even though it has become limited in the past few years) helps people navigate complex systems such as the rental market and services such as health and education. On many occasions, caseworkers have identified and supported clients in situations of workplace exploitation, domestic violence and child abuse.

Those in Band 5 usually have more complex needs and receive more intensive casework support. Those in community detention (now either ‘Band 2’ or ‘Band 3’ depending on the age and family status of the recipient) receive more limited financial support because they are provided with housing. They receive healthcare support from International Health and Medical Services (IHMS).

Service providers

For many years, Australian Red Cross was the only provider of these support programs. However, in recent years (mainly from 2012), the Department has contracted more service providers across the country.

Australian Red Cross was the only national provider with offices in all states and territories. As of 1 July 2018, Australian Red Cross and Marist 180 (who used to operate in NSW) will not have their contracts renewed. The other service providers will continue delivering the program, and clients of Australian Red Cross and Marist 180 will be transferred to them.

Service providers delivering the program after 1 July 2018 are: Australian Capital Territory: Life Without Barriers New South Wales: Settlement Services International (SSI), Life Without Barriers Victoria: AMES Australia, Life Without Barriers Queensland: Access Community Services, Multicultural Development Association (MDA) South Australia Life: Without Barriers, Australian Migrant Resource Centre Western Australia: Mercycare Northern Territory: Life Without Barriers Tasmania: CatholicCare Tasmania

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