MyGov website down as Aussies flock to sign up for COVID-19 income support

The government's myGov website has crashed, forcing many to ignore social distancing rules as they brave Centrelink shopfronts to determine if they qualify for income support.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor
Screenshot: Asha Barbaschow/ZDNet

The federal government's online service portal MyGov crashed on Monday morning, with many Australians trying to determine if they qualify for support from the country's Centrelink scheme.

The government is making AU$189 billion available in a bid to "keep Australians in work and businesses in business" as the country battles the global COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday announced that all non-essential businesses will be closed from midday on Monday, rendering many without income.

An estimated AU$14.1 billion will be used to support workers and households through a coronavirus supplement.

Morrison said eligibility to income support payments would be temporarily expanded, and that the government will establish a new, time-limited coronavirus supplement to be paid at a rate of AU$550 per fortnight. 

This will be paid to both existing and new recipients of the JobSeeker Payment, Youth Allowance jobseeker, Parenting Payment, Farm Household Allowance, and Special Benefit.

"The coronavirus supplement will be paid for the next six months," Morrison said. "Eligible income support recipients will receive the full amount of the AU$550 coronavirus supplement on top of their payment each fortnight."

After already announcing a AU$750 stimulus payment earlier this month for eligible households, a further AU$750 payment to social security and veteran income support recipients and eligible concession card holders, will also be available.

Those who receive an income support payment and are eligible to receive the coronavirus supplement will not receive the AU$750, however.

"To ensure timely access to payments, new applicants are encouraged to claim through on-line and mobile channels," Centrelink's fact sheet [PDF] details.

"If applicants do not have internet access, they can claim over the phone."

Previously, new Centrelink applicants needed to visit a shopfront to have their identity verified.

Image: Australian Labor Party

Around the nation, there are queues around the block at Centrelink offices, as first-time social security recipients are, according to a statement from Labor, still told they can only get a Customer Reference Number by going into shopfronts in person.

See also: Services Australia used Home Affairs face-matching database for bushfire relief

"From April 2020, Services Australia will allow new applicants to call to verify their identity to reduce the need to visit a Services Australia office," the fact sheet continues.

To claim online, however, a myGov account is required.

Services Australia, the department charged with delivering the Centrelink scheme and this new AU$4 billion package, will receive up to 5,000 more staff to help with the new measures.

"Many families, workers, and business owners who have never accessed social security before are being forced to by the financial effects of the coronavirus," the joint statement from former opposition leader cum Shadow Minister for Government Services Bill Shorten and Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services Linda Burney said.

"People should not have to wait weeks to access these vital payments. But at this hour of need Australians are having to grapple with inadequate service, online glitches, and a lack of planning to deal with demand at Centrelink shopfronts."

Shorten and Burney called the current pressure on myGov "entirely foreseeable".

"Government Services Minister Stuart Robert must do better," the pair said. "He must ensure Centrelink services -- online and in person -- are working now when Australians need them most."

In a post made on Facebook, Services Australia has asked people not to visit shopfronts and to begin their claim online or over the phone.

"Please consider the health and safety of our customers and staff and do not visit our service centres unless there's a critical need for you to be there," it wrote. 

MyGov has been touted as a secure way to access services online with one login and one password.

Currently, users can link Australian JobSearch, Australian Taxation Office (ATO), Centrelink, Child Support, Department of Health Applications Portal, Department of Veterans' Affairs, HousingVic Online Services, Medicare, My Aged Care, National Disability Insurance Scheme, National Redress Scheme, State Revenue Office Victoria, and My Health Record services to their myGov.

Services Australia previously claimed it has a "mature incident management process" in place when dealing with outages, such as those experienced by myGov last year.

With myGov being down on 12, 13, and 20 July 2019, the department was probed during October's round of Senate Estimates probed on what the underlying causes were for the outages.

"There was a significant increase in user demand on myGov services in July 2019, above forecasted demand predicted for the end of the financial year period," it wrote in response to questions on notice published in December.

"This led to some performance issues with the myGov services."

It said it worked quickly to restore services when the incidents were identified.

"The department has a mature Incident Management Process in place that encompasses the restoration, review, and implementation of recommendations, ensuring incidents are not replicated," it continued.

The details of individual incidents, Services Australia said, remain "confidential to maintain the operational security of our systems".

The department also claimed immunity from having to share major incident review reports on the three outages.

See also: Canberra coughs up AU$2.4b health package to fight COVID-19

Elsewhere in the coronavirus support package announced by Morrison, is support for small and medium-sized enterprises (SME).

The government is providing up to AU$100,000, to eligible businesses, with a minimum payment of AU$20,000 for non-profits and charities, to keep the lights on.

Under the scheme, employers will receive a payment equal to 100% of their salary and wages withheld to incentivise staff retention.

It is expected around 690,000 businesses employing around 7.8 million people and around 30,000 non-profits will receive part of the aid package set to cost AU$31.9 billion.

There's also the Coronavirus SME Guarantee Scheme, which aims to support SMEs (Small and medium-sized enterprises) in getting access to working capital. Under the scheme, the government will guarantee 50% of new loans issued by eligible lenders to SMEs.

Building on previous announcements, Morrison said the government will guarantee up to AU$20 billion to support AU$40 billion in SME loans.

The government is also temporarily increasing the threshold at which creditors can issue a statutory demand on a company and the time companies have to respond to statutory demands they receive.

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