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'What if I can't pay rent?': Your financial questions on how to get through COVID-19, answered.

You’ve probably seen the footage. Lines snaking through the streets around Centrelink offices across Australia, as those hardest-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic look for support.

The shutdown measures imposed by the state and federal governments are essential to limit the spread of the virus, but they’ve left thousands of Australians facing weeks, even months, without work.

Watch: The Quicky’s Claire Murphy answers your questions about COVID-19.

Video by Mamamia

If you’re among those wondering how you’ll get by, know that there is support available to you, both financially and emotionally (services like Lifeline and Beyond Blue, for example, are ready to take your call if you need someone to lean on).

Here, we answer some of the most pressing financial questions people have about COVID-19.

I no longer have an income because of coronavirus. What financial support is available?

Income support payments.

For the next six months, the eligibility criteria for Centrelink income support has been expanded to include people affected by COVID-19.

That means the Jobseeker Payment and Youth Allowance Jobseeker are now open to:

  • permanent employees who have been stood down or lost their job; and
  • sole traders, self-employed, casual or contract workers whose income has reduced.

That could include people caring for someone who’s affected by the novel coronavirus.

To receive the Jobseeker Payment or Youth Allowance Jobseeker, you can claim online through myGov using a Centrelink online account,  call Services Australia or visit a Centrelink office. (Expect long wait times if you phone or apply in person. The myGov website is also experiencing issues due to traffic, so if you can’t get on, check back later.)

The ‘Coronavirus Supplement’ and Support Payment.

If approved for Jobseeker or Youth Allowance Job Seeker, you will be among those eligible to receive a ‘Coronavirus Supplement’ of $550 a fortnight on top of your payments.

The supplement will be paid to eligible welfare recipients for six months from April 27. The payment will be automatic; you don’t need to do anything to receive it.

You will also automatically receive a single $750 ‘support payment’, which will be made from March 31. (A second payment will be made to other welfare recipients who aren’t eligible for the Coronavirus Supplement.)

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Crisis Payment.

If you’re in severe financial hardship, an additional one-off Crisis Payment is available to those eligible for income support.

It’s equal to a week’s pay of your existing income support payment. Visit the Services Australia website for more information.

For more information on all of the above, including who’s eligible for the Supplement and Support payments, see our previous article: Has COVID-19 left you out of work? Here’s what financial help is available and how to access it.

Can I access my super early?

Yes, some of it.

Normally, you can only access your superannuation once you turn 65 or when you retire.

But the Federal Government is now allowing individuals affected by COVID-19 to access up to $10,000 of their superannuation in 2019-20 and a further $10,000 in 2020-21.

Listen: From Italy to London; what COVID-19 lockdown is like around the world, according to women living it.

You are eligible if:

  • you are unemployed; or
  • you are eligible to receive a Jobseeker payment, Youth Allowance Jobseekers, Parenting Payment, Special Benefit or Farm Household Allowance; or
  • on or after 1 January 2020:
    • you were made redundant, or
    • your working hours were reduced by 20 per cent or more; or
    • if you are a sole trader, your business was suspended or there was a reduction in your turnover of 20 per cent or more.

You will not need to pay tax on amounts released and the money you withdraw will not affect your eligibility for Centrelink payments.

You can apply for this early super access to the ATO through the myGov website starting mid-April. (An exact date is yet to be announced.)

Can I ask for reduced rent?

If you are experiencing financial hardship during this pandemic, you can attempt to negotiate with your landlord about temporarily reducing or suspending your rent.

As the Tenants’ Union of New South Wales notes, “This may be in their interests because it may be much more difficult and expensive to replace you than give some reprieve. Some landlords will be more willing to do this, especially if their mortgage costs are not excessive.”

Landlords are not legally obligated to give you leniency — after all, many have mortgage repayments to meet. But if you’re struggling, it’s worthwhile contacting them or your leasing agent.

Can I get evicted during a pandemic?

Technically, yes. Which is why there are loud calls for the government to impose a temporary halt on evictions.

The risks of forcing people into crowded crisis accommodation or the homes of friends/relatives in the middle of a pandemic… well, they seem obvious.

If you’re struggling financially, check whether you’re eligible for government income support and approach your leasing agent/landlord to enquire about possible leniency (see above).

For free advice on your rights and responsibilities, contact the tenancy union or authority in your state. Details here.

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Can I put a freeze on my mortgage repayments?

That depends on which bank your loan is with.

The ‘big four’ — ANZ, CommBank, Westpac, NAB — have all announced they will allow existing home loan customers experiencing COVID-19-related financial hardship to defer their repayments for between three and six months.

This doesn’t mean you just get those months wiped off your loan, though.

The big four, and other lenders offering similar reprieve, are typically allowing customers to defer payments with ‘interest capitalised’. That means that, while you don’t have to make any repayments for the 3-6 month support period, interest will still apply — it’ll just be added to your loan balance once the period is over.

So while you get a so-called “mortgage holiday”, you’ll have a bit more to pay off at the end of it. That means one of two things: either your repayments will be increased, or your repayments will stay the same and the term of your loan will be extended.

Contact your lender for more information.

What if I can’t pay my gas and electricity bills?

That depends on your energy provider. Most have existing financial hardship programs in place for customers struggling to pay their bills, including payment extensions and tailored payment plans.

A number have also introduced special/expanded measures for those impacted by COVID-19, including temporarily not disconnecting customers who can’t pay their bills.

Visit your provider’s website or contact them for details.

If you’re struggling with the emotional impact of COVID-19 and need someone to talk to, support is available.

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636

Read more about COVID-19:

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The Australian Government Department of Health advises that the only people who will be tested for COVID-19 are those with symptoms who have either returned from overseas in the past 14 days or been in close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case in the past 14 days.

If you are sick and believe you have symptoms of COVID-19, call your GP ahead of time to book an appointment. Or call the national Coronavirus Health Information Line for advice on 1800 020 080. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

To keep up to date with the latest information, please visit the Department of Health website.

The current situation around COVID-19 might be making you feel scared or uncertain. It’s okay to feel this way, but it’s also important to learn how to manage feelings of anxiety during this time. To download the free PDF: Anxiety & Coronavirus – How to Manage Feelings of Anxiety click here.

Feature image: Getty.

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