The main payments to students are Youth Allowance (for those under 25 years of age), Austudy or ABSTUDY living allowance. The two main extra payments received are Commonwealth Rent Assistance and the Energy Supplement. For simplicity, we will examine only the rate for a single person, living independently, without dependants. The maximum rate of benefit is used in each instance.

 

 

 

Youth Allowance & Austudy (Basic)

ABSTUDY (under 22yrs)

Austudy for previously long-term unemployed

ABSTUDY

(22 yrs or older) for Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander students

Commonwealth Rent Assistance

Energy Supplement

Total

(Basic)

Henderson Poverty Line Sept Quarter 2017

Rate per fortnight

$445.80

$541.70

$545.80

$134.80

$8.80

$589.40

$1,023.50

Rate per day

$31.84

$38.69

$38.99

$9.63

$0.63c

$42.10

$73.11

 

To receive the maximum rate of Commonwealth Rent Assistance you would need to be paying $299.93 a fortnight in rent, which means that you would still have to pay $165.13 out of the Youth Allowance or Austudy for rent or more if your rent was higher. This would leave you $289.47 per fortnight for other living expenses or $20.68 per day (calculated from the basic rate.)

Students receiving allowances would generally be eligible for a Low Income Health Care Card. The benefits of the card include cheaper medicine under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, bulk billed doctor visits, though this is up to the doctor, and a bigger refund for medical costs when the Medicare Safety Net is reached.

Some other payments that students might receive include:

  • Education Entry Payment:$208 on entry to a course
  • Pensioner Education Supplement: Either $62.40 or $31.20 per fortnight, depending on study load. Principally for students who are on a Disability Support Pension or who are carers of a person with a disability.
  • Relocation Scholarship: For students moving to or from a regional or remote area to study. $4,459 in the first year, and then either $2,231 in second or third years, or $1,115 for subsequent years. (Bills before the Parliament would see the above three payments slashed or access reduced.)
  • Fares Allowance: Either one or two return trips from your place of study. Available for students living away from home to study or who are studying a distance or online course and don’t usually study on campus.
  • Low Income Health Card.
  • Additional payments and benefits associated with the ABSTUDY living allowance: ABSTUDY Incidental Allowance (maximum of $599.30 for a year) is paid automatically. Other payments are paid depending on circumstances. See https://www.humanservices.gov.au/individuals/enablers/payment-rates-abstudy#a2    

A small number of students on allowances also receive the mobility allowance. However, this payment is only available for students who cannot use public transport without a lot of help, have a disability, illness or injury, and need to travel for study. 

The verdict

In summary, yes there are extra payments and supplements for students receiving allowances, but they do not increase the overall payments received to an adequate level. Most extra payments are tied to extra costs that some students will accrue due to their studies. Furthermore, the main extra payment, the Commonwealth Rent Allowance would need to be substantially increased if it were to realistically offset the cost of private rental accommodation. For income to just reach the Henderson Poverty Line for a student on basic Austudy, either the allowances or extras would need to be increased by a further $31.01 per day.

One of the reasons governments have given for having the rate of allowances for students so low is that students can earn more in a paying job before their allowances start to be reduced.

There are two types of problem with this approach. Firstly, many students simply cannot find consistent part time work, and must depend entirely on the allowance. Secondly, many students who are employed are increasingly working long hours in order to complete their study. This has resulted in students being overtired, skipping classes and not fully engaging in their studies, and in many cases delaying courses or dropping out altogether.

There is now a growing body of evidence pointing to the negative impacts of a lack of financial support on the lives and study experience of students in Australia because of the low and declining levels of financial support. See for instance the Universities Australia report on student finances and the Australian Association of Social Workers report on student social workers. Despite this growing evidence and the low levels of financial support, the poverty of students is often overlooked because there is still a common perception that students only come from affluent families. This has changed over the last 30 years, but perceptions have not caught up. Now students from low income families are among the least financially assisted of people who are receiving allowances or pensions. Currently the basic rate for students receiving Austudy, Youth Allowance or Abstudy (for students under 22yrs) is only 83 percent of the Newstart Allowance or 55 percent of the Aged Pension rate.