The $922-a-fortnight handout I left unclaimed – but you shouldn’t

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I have been solo parenting my two young children, sharing custody with their wonderful dad, for almost exactly two years.

I swear it wasn’t deliberate, but this business journo’s official separation date was July 2 – nearly a neat, new financial year.

The government has increased the eligibility period for the parenting payment.Credit: Peter Braig

That’s about the only thing that made the life overhaul easier and for those past two financial years, I have been madly working to make sure my kids are happy and well-adjusted, and/or madly working: writing or talking on TV and radio about how to be (or maybe get) money smart.

I’ve got this, I kept telling myself. I am independent and self-sufficient. For goodness’ sake, I’m a finance expert – I don’t ask for help from the government.

Except it was available. And I should have.

You see, along with dropping from a dual- to single-salary household, I had thrown in a bit of cancer for extra income-curbing effect.

(Thrilled to say I am clear and – slowly – getting fit again.)

Last week’s budget upped the ante for solo parents – and I’d just bet the pandemic and past few years are creating a lot more of us – in an important way.

I don’t qualify because, now that my money-writing-and-talking output is high again, so too are my earnings.

But for the months I was healing, physically and emotionally, I could have collected the $922.10 a fortnight Parenting Payment (Single).

One of the many pre-budget announcements was that this benefit will be paid no longer just until children turn eight, but all the way until 14. It has previously been 16 but most pundits believe 14 is a happy, kids-need-less-intensive-caring medium.

From September, pending the legislation passing parliament, solo parent families earning under $227.50 a fortnight will get the full amount, but they will also get a portion all the way up to an income of $2646.95 (thresholds are for two kids).

That annualises to $5907 a year for the whole whack up to a cut-off of $68,820.

The budget announcement reads: “Around 57,000 single principal carers, including 52,000 women, and around 110,000 children will benefit.”

Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon and her two children.

Until now, to qualify, there has been an onerous check-in program called ParentNext, designed to get you work-ready.

But a recent parliamentary inquiry deemed the mutual obligations were “akin to coercive control” and it’s being phased out to a voluntary scheme as of July 1, 2024 (the existing supplier contracts need to run their course). You’re not docked any money for missing an activity or appointment anymore.

On the benefits front for parents, there is also the potential for Family Tax Benefits.

These are paid (again with two kids, aged 0-12) up to an annual income of $93,148 for Family Tax Benefit A and to $104,432 for Family Tax Benefit B. 

The rates for both are lower than Parenting Payment, but even at $90,000 a year, a solo parent or couple with one low-earning spouse may still qualify for an extra $100 a fortnight or more. Solo parents can get Family Tax Benefit B until their child turns 18 and partnered parents, until 13.

Please put up your hand and ask for help if you need it. There’s no shame in admitting it.

Don’t forget that you could get Commonwealth Rent Assistance, too, if you are in receipt of some Centrelink payments, which is set to also increase by 15 per cent post-budget. This is the biggest increase in more than 30 years.

But getting back to the Parenting Payment (Single), if you have kids between eight and 14 and qualify, you should soon all of a sudden be a fair bit more flush.

But what about when your kids hit 14 and the payment stops? If you are unable to work or find work, or earning very little, at that stage there is always JobSeeker.

This goes up too, from September, although the planned new $52.37 base day rate (single no children) is well below that for the $65.68 Parenting Payment (Single) day rate.

Just a reality check before anyone has a thought Why would people actually work?”: according to the Henderson poverty line, income below $87.32 a day is wholly inadequate. It’s poverty.

The budget papers said: “The government recognises single parents experience higher rates of financial hardship and extra barriers to employment.”

The addition of six more years of being able to claim parenting payment, until age 14, will put a huge amount more in single parent’s pockets, allowing them to continue to meet their kids’ needs and even study for higher income in the future.

So do I regret not claiming the payment for the short, personally challenging period I could? No. I am independent and self-sufficient.

I also had savings – what I call a Holy Shit fund of preferably six months’ worth of your income, is a vital central plank in a sound money strategy for when shit happens. Like sometimes it does … as it did for me.

Besides, focusing my energies on getting back to income speed meant this solo parent was able to get approval for the new small mortgage required to keep the former family home for my kids – and myself.

But please put up your hand and ask for help if you need it. There’s no shame in admitting it. And it might just buy you the time you need to forge a reimagined financially secure future.

  • Advice given in this article is general in nature and is not intended to influence readers’ decisions about investing or financial products. They should always seek their own professional advice that takes into account their own personal circumstances before making any financial decisions.

Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon is the author of How to Get Mortgage-Free Like Me. Follow Nicole on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

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