The Main Centrelink Student Payments
The three main fortnightly Centrelink payments for full time students:
For Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander students
For students 25 and over (at the time of application)
Youth Allowance (YA)
For students under 25 years old. There are 2 types of Youth Allowance:
‘Independent’ if you are 22 years old and over, or you satisfy another ‘independence’ criteria.
‘Dependent’ if you are under 22 years of age and do not satisfy any ‘independence’ criteria.
Centrelink Start Up Scholarships and Loans – Warning
The student ‘Start Up Loan’ of $1,035 per semester replaced the ‘Start Up Scholarship’ of $1,035 per semester for students who began receiving Youth Allowance, Austudy or Abstudy on or after January 1st, 2016.
From the 1st July 2017 the Student Start Up Scholarship will no longer be offered. The Student Start Up Loan will replace the Student Start Up Scholarship.
Consider carefully whether you take out this repayable HECS style loan, and seek advice if you have any questions.
Centrelink Relocation Scholarship
Certain students relocating from or to a regional area for study purposes can receive $4 376 in the first year and lesser amounts in later years. Seek advice.
To receive any Abstudy, Austudy or Youth Allowance you must ‘qualify’ and be ‘payable’ each fortnight. When in doubt apply to test your eligibility.
To apply for a student payment you first need to lodge an ‘intent to claim’ with Centrelink via their call centre (132 490), your local Centrelink office or their website (www.centrelink.gov.au).
If you get your application and all the associated paperwork into a Centrelink office within 14 days and your claim is approved then you will normally be back-paid to the day you lodged your intention to claim.
You may face delays in payments due to ‘Waiting’ or ‘Penalty Periods’. If you have $5,500 or more in cash, trust funds, shares etc, you need to serve a Liquid Assets Waiting Period. The waiting period is one week for $5,500, plus another week for every additional $500. The maximum period of time you will wait is 13 weeks. There are some exceptions, including if you have immediate expenses for study. (See the SRC’s How Savings Affect Centrelink Payments leaflet)
Do You ‘Qualify’?
You qualify for a student payment if you satisfy ALL of the following conditions:
- Citizen, or an ‘Australian Resident’ for 2 years or more, and in Australia when you claim; and
- Studying an ‘Approved Course’ (i.e. most undergraduate courses at Uni); and
- Have not previously ‘completed’ a Doctorate (Austudy only); and
- Are making ‘satisfactory progress’. (Generally that means that you have not exceeded the minimum time it takes to complete your current course, plus one semester. Austudy rules also look at study in past degrees. Exemptions apply.
- Studying ‘full-time’ – a minimum of 0.375 HECS load (18 credit points) per semester. There are some exceptions – see a SRC Caseworker for more info.
Maximum Fortnightly rates
There are two rates of payment:
The ‘At Home’ rate (called the ‘Accommodated’ rate if on Austudy),
If you live in your parent’s home the maximum amount payable is $288.10 per fortnight
The ‘Away from Home’ rate
If you live away from your parent’s home the maximum you will receive is $437.50 per fortnight.
If you are ‘independent’ (see below) you automatically get this higher rate.
If you are ‘dependent’ you need to establish that you need to move out of home to study to get this rate. A common criteria for this is that it takes more than 90 minutes on public transport to get from the family home to university. If you do not meet the criteria you get the lower at home rate even if you have moved out.
If you get the ‘away from home’ rate you may also be eligible for an additional rent assistance payment of $87.07 (if sharing) or $130.60 (if alone).
These maximum rates may be reduced by income tests. Which income test applies to you will depend on whether you are ‘dependent’, ‘independent’ or have a partner.
No Payment When Overseas on Holiday
You will not be paid Youth Allowance or Austudy payment when you leave Australia, for a temporary period. In the past, up to 6 weeks absence for any reason (including holidays) was permitted.
Certain approved exemptions still exist: for acute family or medical or other crises. Contact Centrelink if such circumstances require you to leave Australia.
You can also be paid for the period you are studying full time overseas, but only if it counts for your Australian university degree. Contact Centrelink before you go and provide them with documentation from the university.
You can also be paid for a short period of travel to get to and from the course. Check with Centrelink about this. The maximum travel time may be as short as 10 days.
When in doubt seek advice from Centrelink about any other consequences of any time overseas when you won’t be paid.
‘Independent or Dependent’ Youth Allowance & Abstudy?
What does ‘Independent’ mean?
Being ‘independent’ for Centrelink means you are not subject to a parent’s income test in determining your payability for Youth Allowance. If ‘independent’ they will only look at your own income and assets (and your partner’s, if you have one) when determining whether you can receive a payment.
You are considered ‘independent’ if:
1. You are 22 years of age or over (if you are 25 or over then you would apply for Austudy); or
2. It is ‘Unreasonable’ for you to live at home because the relationship with your parent/s or other family member has broken down and/or you cannot live in the parental home due to extreme circumstances, including physical, emotional and sexual violence.
3. You have worked at least 30 hours a week on average over 18 months in a 2 year period; or
4. You are an inner regional, outer regional, remote or very remote student, who has either:
– earnt over $24 042 from paid employment over any consecutive 18 month period since you left school (assumes you left school after 1 July 2016, the amount may increase over time), or
– worked at least 15 hours per week for at least 2 years since leaving school.
Your parent/s must also have earnt less than $150 000 in the last tax year and you have to leave the family home to study at university because it is more than 90 minutes away by public transport (or there is another reason why it is not possible to study at home).
5. You are or have been married or in a registered or de-facto relationship (same-sex or opposite-sex) for more than 12 months (6 months for ABSTUDY). In special circumstances, Youth Allowance independence may be granted after 6 months. e.g. the relationship ended due to death or domestic violence. (see SRC Relationships & Centrelink leaflet for more information)
Other ways of being YA ‘independent’:
• you are a refugee, orphan or have been in state care
• your parent/s cannot exercise their responsibilities
• you have/had a dependent child
Additional ways of being ABSTUDY ‘independent’:
• For more information, search online for: Australian Government Abstudy Manual
What does ‘Dependent’ mean?
If you do not fit the criteria for ‘independence’ then you will be treated as financially ‘dependent’ even if you are not getting any support from your parent/s. This means you will be subject to a parental income test. They will also look at your income. Note: if the Personal Income Test has a greater effect on your payment it will be considered instead.
Are you payable? Income and Asset tests
Parental Tests: ‘Dependent’
Centrelink will assess your parental income in the last financial year. Income can include combined parental taxable income, income from overseas, adjusted fringe benefits, maintenance payments from a former partner and net passive business losses.
Note: Centrelink will NOT look at parental income if one parent receives a designated income support payment from Centrelink or holds a Low Income Health Care Card.
If your parents are separated you are only considered ‘dependent’ on the parent you live with, plus any new partner they may have. If you don’t live with either parent, Centrelink ordinarily assesses the parent you last lived with. Come and speak to SRC HELP if you need help.
The Parental Income Test : ‘Dependent’
If combined parental income is less than $51 903 a year, you can receive the full payment (assuming no deductions for your part-time work). If parental income is above this you can receive a reduced rate of payment until your parental income hits the threshold. The threshold varies according to your family situation.
|Family situation||Parental income threshold|
|1 child 18+ yrs at home||$89,356|
|1 child 18+ yrs away from home||$108,778|
|If there are more siblings these thresholds increase significantly.|
|2 child 18+ yrs at home||$126,809|
|1 child 18+ yrs at home, and one away from home||$146,231|
|2 child 18+ yrs away from home||$165,653|
You and your sibling both need to apply to get the benefit of this ‘sharing’ of the income test.
If you want to check the current Parental Income Test cut off point that applies to you:
- Find the current maximum fortnightly rate for each dependent child over 16
but under 22 [$288.10 at home or $437.50 away]
- If there is more than one, add these amounts
- Then multiply that by 130
- Then add the current parental cut in point [$51,093]
Changes in parental income or assets
If parental income in the current tax year changes ‘substantially’ (e.g. by 25% in either direction), Centrelink can use an estimate for the current year. A drop in income needs to be long term – likely to continue for at least 2 years (e.g. Due to retirement, although retirement benefits count as income). Make sure it is a realistic estimate as you are liable for any overpayments caused by underestimating.
Personal Income Test: ‘Independent’, Austudy, and ‘Dependent’
NOTE: Only applies to ‘dependent’ if the Personal Income Test has a greater reduction than the parental income test.
Your payment is reduced by $0.50 for every dollar that your pre-tax income exceeds $437.00 per fortnight plus a further reduction of $0.60 for every dollar above $524.00 per fortnight.
The ‘cut out’ point when payment stops is $939.34 per fortnight (‘at home’), and $1,192.34
(‘Away from Home’) or higher if you get Rent Assistance.
However a mechanism called the Student Income Bank is also used to average out your income for this income test (see the SRC’s How Income Affects Payments leaflet). Remember though that you must report to Centrelink any changes to your income each fortnight
Partner Income Test: Only ‘Independent’ and Austudy
If you have a partner your payment is reduced by $0.60 for every dollar your partner’s income in the fortnight goes over a set point. This amount is $1 014 per fortnight. This figure could be higher (see the SRC’s Relationships leaflet to determine if Centrelink may consider you have a partner). The reduction from this is on top of any reduction from the personal income test.
If you are ‘Independent’ there is a personal assets test. The threshold is $250 000 for home owners and $450, 000 for non home owners.
If you go over these thresholds you cease to qualify for any payment.
Centrelink will look at the value of personal, business and farm assets based on how much you would receive if you sold them, minus any debts or mortgages owed. A 75% discount applies to business and farm assets. Assets include cars, boats, furniture, investments, money and real estate etc, but NOT the family home.
Other Centrelink benefits
Incidentals Allowance: Abstudy
Abstudy students receive an Incidentals Allowance to help pay for general course expenses. The amount depends on the length of the course and whether you are boarding. Incidentals Allowance is paid at the beginning of your studies for the year. The Incidentals Allowance is NOT means tested.
You can receive Fares Allowance if you get Youth Allowance ‘Dependent Away Rate’, Abstudy, Austudy or the Pensioner Education Supplement. Centrelink will pay for the cheapest single fare (whether this is how you travel or not) from your parental home (in Australia) to Sydney and back again at the end of the year, as well as one return trip during the year. You usually claim Fares Allowance after you have made the journey. You can claim up until April 1 the following year. Remember to keep proof of your travel.
The Fares Allowance claim form and more information is available on the Centrelink web site.
Health Care Card (HCC)
You can qualify if you get a Centrelink payment or because you are a low-income earner earning earn less than an average of $537 per week. Centrelink does not look at parental income or your assets for the HCC. As a low-income earner you must re-qualify every 3 months, and every 6 months if you are on a Centrelink payment. You may lose qualification for the card if your income increases more than 25%.
The benefits of a Health Care Card include: reduced price on most pharmaceuticals, free ambulance cover within NSW, access to a free dental hospital (waiting list may be long; eg: a couple of years), access to special range of free spectacle lenses and frames, discounted mail redirection through Australia Post and reduced energy and electricity bills.
Some recipients may be eligible for more benefits. Go to www.centrelink.gov.au and search for “Health Care Card” for more information and an application form.
Help with rental bond
Help paying your bond: RENTSTART
The NSW Department of Housing may be able to give you an interest-free loan for up to 75% of your bond. You will normally pay the loan back in fortnightly installments.
To be eligible you must:
- be an Australian permanent resident or citizen,
- be a low-income earner (at the beginning of 2016 this is $585 or less per week)
- have less than $3 000 in cash assets
- not be planning to spend more than half your income on rent per week (50% of allowance + 100% rent assistance)
You are not eligible if you have been living at your rental property for more than 28 days and/or have lodged the bond with the Rental Bond Board.
For more info use the words: “Rentstart NSW bond loan” in a web browser.
University financial assistance
Sydney University’s Scholarships & Financial Support Service
It offers students bursaries which are non repayable grants (though beneficiaries are encouraged to pay them back later if they can) and interest-free loans to students in financial difficulty. If you can demonstrate that you need assistance to pay living and study expenses, the service may be able to help. These are one off payments that do not provide a regular source of income. See the service’s details at :
Sydney University also provides a large range of general and specialist scholarships and prizes. It is well worth having a detailed look at their website:
Need Help? Contact a SRC Caseworker
Information and figures current at March 1, 2017. (CL-HOM 27.4.17)
Important Notice and Disclaimer:
This information does not constitute legal advice. Check with a caseworker for the most up-to-date information. Do not accept verbal advice by itself from any source including Centrelink. Get a decision in writing. Without this subsequent appeals or backdating are at risk.