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Missing out

By David Baker - posted Tuesday, 8 June 2010

“Welfare cheat” stories have become a staple for tabloid current affairs programs in Australia. We regularly hear about the scourge of dole bludgers and those in the community who are claiming benefits but appear to be healthy. In fact, the recent Budget announced a crackdown on the disability support pension by overhauling the impairment test. The tax office is quick to pursue people for minor amounts of unpaid tax and Centrelink will recover any money that may have been incorrectly paid because of a change of personal details.

Fair enough. But where is the obligation for Centrelink to ensure that those Australians who are entitled to receive government assistance actually receive it? The short answer is there is no obligation. Centrelink’s guide to payments states that: “It is your responsibility to decide if you wish to apply for a payment and to make the application, having regard to your particular circumstances”. Put bluntly, it is up to you.

Did you know that in the unfortunate event of your partner dying you may qualify for a bereavement allowance to assist you through this difficult time? Or, if you provide daily care to some one with “substantial functional impairment” you may qualify for the standard allowance paid to carers?


While the government does offer assistance to Australians doing it tough, it does not go out of its way to promote the availability of this assistance or make it simple to apply.

The result is people are missing out on assistance they qualify for, assistance that is designed to support a more equitable society.

The government’s own 2004 estimate is that 1.3 million Australians miss out on assistance.

More recent analysis by The Australia Institute found that more than 168,000 Australians are missing out on assistance worth $623 million across just four payments for parents, widows, carers and the disabled. That is an average of $3,707 per person. Multiply that by the government’s own figure and the IOU bill quickly stacks up.

In contrast, everyone is aware of the need to pay tax on the money they earn. In fact, the tax office and the government are making it easier for us to comply with the requirement to pay the tax it deems we owe. For example, the tax office offers online tax forms that are already partially filled in making the lodgement of a tax return easier.

For the government’s part, the recent Budget included a standard $500 deduction for work-related expenses that can be claimed without sending in each dry cleaning receipt.


Then there is the tax office’s annual awareness campaign to promote the tax pack for individuals lodging their own tax return which began airing in May, two months before the end of the tax year.

And if understanding every question or correctly filling in the form still seems daunting you can opt to let an accountant do the tedious work for you.

It is in the government’s interest to make lodging a tax return as easy, straight forward and hassle free as possible. There is money to be collected at the end.

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David Baker's paper Missing out: Unclaimed government assistance and concession benefits is available here.

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About the Author

David Baker is a Research Fellow at The Australia Institute, a Canberra-based think tank, and is co-author of the report Reining it in: executive pay in Australia available at

Other articles by this Author

All articles by David Baker

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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