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Rural and Remote Education Inquiry Briefing Paper

Rural and Remote

Education Inquiry Briefing Paper

Assistance for Isolated Children

Summarised from Centrelink's

Assistance for Isolated Children 1999 Information Book and Centrelink's



of Centrelink's Assistance for Isolated Children 1999 Information Book



Families of primary,

secondary and under 16 year old tertiary students who do not have reasonable

daily access to an appropriate government school primarily because of

geographic isolation can receive assistance under the AIC scheme.

AIC provides four

types of allowances

  1. Distance Education

    Allowance (primary and secondary rates)

  2. Second Home Allowance
  3. Boarding Allowance

    (basic and additional)

  4. AIC Pensioner

    Education Supplement (for eligible pensioner students).

The AIC Scheme does

not provide assistance for students who live at home and travel to school

daily, or for travel costs between the family home and a boarding institution.

AIC cannot be paid

for a student at the same time as benefits from another Commonwealth education

or training assistance scheme, such as Youth Allowance or ABSTUDY.

Education assistance

from other sources, such as state or territory governments, does not affect

AIC eligibility.

No AIC allowances

are taxable.


is eligible for AIC?

AIC is paid to a

student's parent or guardian. The student must be under 19 years of age

at 1 January the year in question. Benefits may be paid for an extra year

in circumstances where it can be demonstrated that the student's educational

progress has been seriously disrupted, for example because of illness

or language difficulties.

AIC is available

for tertiary students (including TAFE students) under 16. Students 16

and over may apply for Youth Allowance or ABSTUDY.

A student who is

receiving a Disability Support Pension or Parenting Payment (single) and

studying at primary level, may be eligible for the AIC Pensioner Education

Supplement (PES) up to age 21.


studies - The student must undertake a full-time workload in an

approved course in Australia offered by an approved institution, either

  • primary, secondary

    or ungraded (eg living skills) studies or

  • be under 16 and

    undertaking tertiary studies (including TAFE). Such students must be

    geographically isolated from secondary schooling in their grade or year

    as well as isolated from the tertiary course they are attending.

AIC cannot be paid

for a student who is in a custodial institution (such as prison, detention,

remand or training centre) or State authorised care which is financed

wholly or substantially by the State or Territory government.


isolation - Geographic isolation is normally determined in terms

of the distance or travel circumstances between the principal family home

and the nearest appropriate school. In addition, there are a few specific

circumstances where a student may be deemed isolated. (For details refer

to the Centrelink Assistance for Isolated Children 1999 Information

Book, page 8.)

The 'nearest appropriate

government school' is normally the nearest government school offering

tuition at the grade or year in which the student is qualified to enrol.

Exceptions are

  1. Where the student

    requires a special school program or special facilities due to a health

    related condition or special educational needs, the 'nearest appropriate

    government school' is the nearest government school providing the required

    program or facilities.

  2. Where the application

    is for an under 16 year old tertiary student, the 'nearest appropriate

    government school' is the nearest government school offering the appropriate

    grade of secondary tuition for the student had he or she continued to

    study at a secondary school.

  3. Where there is

    more than one appropriate government school within 56 kilometres of

    the principal family home, the 'nearest appropriate government school'

    is the one with a transport service pick-up point nearest to the principal

    family home.

A student may be

regarded as geographically isolated from schooling if

  • the distance between

    the principal family home and the nearest appropriate government school

    is at least 56 kilometres or

  • the distance between

    the principal family home and the nearest appropriate government school

    is at least 16 kilometres AND the distance between the principal family

    home and the nearest available transport service to an appropriate government

    school is at least 4.5 kilometres or

  • the student does

    not have reasonable access to an appropriate government school for at

    least 20 days of the school year because of adverse travel conditions

    or other circumstances beyond the family's control.

Relatively strict

rules apply as to the evidence required. Refer to Centrelink's Assistance

for Isolated Children 1999 Information Book, page 6, for details.

In addition, the

principal family home must be geographically isolated from the school

the student actually attends unless the student is living in a special


AIC benefits are

not available for reasons such as

  • factors within

    the family's control such as choice of lifestyle or work commitments

    make it inconvenient or difficult to transport the student to and from


  • the local school

    does not offer particular subjects that the student wants to study

  • certain subjects

    are not available by traditional face-to-face teaching but are available

    through distance education methods or

  • the student wishes

    to attend a specialist or selective school, or one which the parents

    believe will maximise his or her academic potential or career prospects.

Under certain circumstances

a student may be eligible for AIC without meeting the distance or travel

circumstances rules outlined. This might be the case where

  • the student is

    living in a special institution

  • the student was

    previously eligible for AIC

  • the student is

    living in a second home with a geographically isolated sibling

  • the student's

    parent(s) have an occupation which involves frequent moves.

Refer to Centrelink's

Assistance for Isolated Children 1999 Information Book, page 8,

for further details.



AIC provides four

types of allowances.

Only Additional Boarding

Allowance is subject to a parental income test. All other types of AIC

allowances are free of income and assets tests.


Education Allowance - The Distance Education Allowance is for

isolated families whose student children are living at home and studying

by State or Territory approved distance education methods (eg School of

the Air). In 1999 the primary rate (less than 13 years old) is $1,000

a year and the secondary rate (greater than 13 years old) is $1,500 a



Home Allowance - The Second Home Allowance is for isolated families

who maintain a second home so that their student children can attend school

daily. The rate for 1999 is $2,500 a year for each eligible student (up

to a maximum of three) living in the second home and attending school.

Conditions apply

  • at least one student

    living in the secondary home must meet the eligibility conditions under

    'Geographic isolation' or 'Circumstances where the student need not

    be geographically isolated' and be eligible to receive AIC or be a secondary

    student eligible to receive Youth Allowance or ABSTUDY, and

  • the second home

    must be maintained primarily to provide a student with a daily access

    to an appropriate school, and

  • the principle

    home must be capable of providing adequate accommodation for the student

    and his or her family, and

  • the family must

    not receive income or other benefit from another person or persons living

    in the principal home during the school year, and

  • normally, at least

    one parent must be residing and/or working full-time at the principal

    home. If not, it will be necessary to prove that the home claimed as

    the principal home is in fact the family's main residence and the centre

    of the family's employment or business activity.


Allowance - The Boarding Allowance is for students who board away

from home in order to attend school daily. The student must board at a

boarding institution (such as school or hostel) or privately. The Boarding

Allowance consists of two components

  1. Basic Boarding

    Allowance, which is not means tested.

  2. Additional Boarding

    Allowance, which is subject to parental income and the student's actual

    boarding costs.

The 1999 maximum

rates (Basic + Additional) are $167.88 per fortnight ($4,377 per year).

The Basic Boarding

Allowance is $3,500 a year.

Basic Boarding Allowance

is payable regardless of parental income and student's boarding costs.

Entitlement to Additional Boarding Allowance is, however, subject to both

parental income and the student's boarding costs. In 1999 the maximum

Boarding Allowance (Basic + Additional) is payable if the adjusted parental

income is no higher than $23,550. The maximum allowance payable for a

student drops by $1 for each $4 by which the adjusted parental income

exceeds $23,550. Once the adjusted parental income exceeds $27,057, only

the Basic Boarding Allowance is payable.

For details about

calculating the adjusted parental income see Centrelink's Assistance

for Isolated Children 1999 Information Book, page 13.

In rare cases students

may qualify for Additional Boarding Allowance without income testing.

For details see Centrelink's Assistance for Isolated Children 1999

Information Book, page 12.


for AIC

Claim forms are available

from any Centrelink office and can be lodged at any Centrelink office.

Claim forms should be lodged by 31 March the year in question. According

to Centrelink claims normally take three weeks to process.


of information


The information available

on the Internet through Centrelink's

homepage is fairly comprehensive and easy to understand. However,

the rules are complicated and the information on the Internet is insufficient

in order to determine whether one is eligible for AIC. The Assistance

for Isolated Children 1999 Information Book is also available on the



for Isolated Children 1999 Information Book

The 17 page Information

Book offers more detailed information than the homepage. In most cases

the Information Book will provide sufficient information to determine

whether one is eligible for any of the AIC allowances. Customers are advised

to contact Centrelink for full details of any entitlements and services

for which one may be eligible. It is difficult and time consuming to reach

Centrelink on the phone as one has to wait for a very long time.



The Claim Form is

comprehensive and is supplemented by The Notes to the Claim Form. This

is a document explaining how to fill in the Claim Form correctly. In some

cases the documents the applicant has to provide are numerous, and this

might cause some difficulty to some applicants. However, all required

documents seem relevant and reasonable to require.


and evidence received

The NSW Branch of

the Isolated Children's Parents' Association submitted:

"The Federal

Assistance for Isolated Children (AIC) is payable for these students,

who are geographically isolated and need to board away from home, to access

school on a daily basis. Primary students in NSW are no eligible for the

NSW Living Away from Home Allowance although they may be in receipt of

the Federal AIC.

"Parents do not

willingly choose to send their children away, especially at Primary

age but there is no consideration given, in NSW, for the problems that

may be faced by the parents who cannot cope with Distance Education.

They cannot access the NSW Living Away from Home Allowance, even if

they meet the adjusted family income requirement.

"For some families

this means they are placed in a very difficult financial position trying

to access an appropriate education for their children.

"The guidelines

set down in 'Assistance for Isolated Children Information Booklet' for

approving Serious Educational Disadvantage are very prescriptive.

"ICPA supports

the eligibility of students, with significant disabilities or learning

difficulties, to receive the AIC Allowance if they cannot receive an

appropriate education and support at their local school. It seems ironical,

however, that students of outstanding ability whose reasonable expectations

cannot be met locally do not receive recognition by the NSW Education

and Training Department of their need to bypass."

The submission

from the Isolated Children's Parents' Association (Aust) states, among

other things,

"The AIC

was originally set at 55% of the average boarding fee in 1973 and has

only been at that level once since 1991. At present it is slightly below

the 55% and with anticipated increases of at least 5% in boarding fees

next year, unless there is a corresponding increase in the AIC, this allowance

will erode once again and many isolated rural and remote families will

have difficulty in coping with the added financial costs of getting their

children to the school gate." (Isolated Children's Parents' Association,


Submission #18 from

South Australia explains how the income support schemes AIC and Austudy

prevent regional and rural students from attending tertiary education.

The main problems are that AIC is not available for tertiary students

and that Austudy (now Youth Allowance) is income and means tested.

"We do not

want handouts. Justice and equality in access to education will only be

reached when all students who must live away from home for the purpose

of education are given the difference in cost, between living at home

- and away.. In effect, the current policy says that the Government considers

our rural children should be limited to careers and futures for which

only a secondary school education is required."

Submission #21 from

Queensland explains how the families in Quilpie are disadvantaged by the

rules of the Assistance for Isolated Children Scheme. In her opinion the

distance rules are out of touch with reality. Quilpie is situated 200kms

from the nearest town to the east and 1,000kms west of the capital. The

town population is 700 and there is a similar number in the surrounding

rural area.


of our geographical isolation, people have sent their children to boarding

schools or hostels in order to obtain a Secondary Education, one that

puts them on par with their city cousins. Financial assistance from both

the state and federal governments lightened the burden considerably. However

for the past 4 yrs, this situation has changed. Five years ago, the State

Government Education Department decided, with information that was misleading

and facts that were misinterpreted, to upgrade the local school to a P

- 10 (which is a small secondary department attached to the Primary School),

thereby disrupting a system that was working well and one that satisfied

everyone's educational needs. This spelt the end of any form of financial

assistance to those people living within a 16km radius of the school.

Prior to having this system established, there was a Correspondence System

for Secondary Students through the School of Distance Education in Brisbane


"The enrolments

never reached the predictions, in fact within 6 mths of the status change,

families were beginning to see that, what was promised, was not delivered,

and started to look elsewhere, only then finding that they had eliminated

their choice that existed before ..." "Many of the families have since

left town, others have split, with the father staying here to work,

and others have tightened their belts and still sent their kids away

despite the expense, all in search of a more equitable education for

their isolated children ."

"The criteria

for the I.C.P.A-instigated A.I.C. (Federal) and L.A.F.H.A.S. (state)

allowances is such that it was set out many years ago (some 27 yrs.

ago) when cars and roads were nowhere near the standards that they are

now. The criteria states that if you live more than 16kms. from a school

or 4.5kms from a bus stop, you are eligible for these allowances. With

4 wheel drives and bitumen roads, 16kms can be covered in a very short

space of time ..." "Some people who live within an hour's drive of the

capital or a large provincial city find themselves eligible for these

allowances which are called Assistance for Isolated Children - what

a joke! Our children surely come into this category, but are ineligible

because they live in a town with High Top (small Secondary dept. attached

to a Primary School). Whilst I do not wish to jeopardise any child's

education, I do believe that our children are being discriminated against

- they too are isolated!"

Public meeting in

Boulia Qld, 4 October 1999:

"A lot of

parents pull their children out of school after Year 10 because they can

no longer afford to educate their children, even with the Government assistance

that is currently available. This is especially the case with families

on properties who need the children at home to help run the property."

Dr Evan Arthur, DETYA,

Canberra hearing, 26 October 1999:

"The claims

are processed by Centrelink. The Centrelink system records the results

of the claim but not the reasons, so that in 98 there were 12,979 AIC

claims and 592 (4.6%) were not approved."

"There is certainly

the issue of the definition of "appropriate" in the AIC guidelines.

It's a subject of continual close examination in the Commonwealth. As

an issue which is continually brought to our attention, so it receives

ongoing scrutiny. The application of the definition is of course by

state government departments. The ... applications are processed by

Centrelink offices, not by DETYA. For that particular element to be

satisfied, there has to be a determination by the state government department

that the nearest school is not appropriate.

"The reason for

that is perfectly straightforward. It would be ... inappropriate for

a Commonwealth government department to make a decision as to whether

or not a particular school run by another government was or was not

appropriate ... State governments have responsibility for education

and, with that responsibility, have an obligation, the primary obligation,

to deliver our international human rights obligations concerning education

and children.



on the definition of "appropriate", the policy guideline is based on

the assumption that it is appropriate to step in and pay that form of

income support where there is no appropriate education in the sense

of fulfilling the basic requirements of education. It is not the intention

of the payment to ensure that the education provided is the full education

which an individual might desire. It is designed to be responding to

certain requirements for an appropriate education in the sense of an

education which takes a person through to the completion of secondary

school and the acquisition of an appropriate qualification at the end

of secondary school. Therefore, the position that's explicit in the

guidelines and is based on the underlying policy decision of governments

is that where there are particular subjects that a student may wish

to take, . that is not considered to be something which would justify

the payment of a Commonwealth income support payment.

"The guidelines

contain an overall definition of "appropriate" which essentially goes

to that there must be a full range of subjects which allow the acquisition

of a secondary certificate ... [The Guidelines are] not intended, as

I say, to deal with circumstances where students wish to take a particular

type of subject which may or may not be available. It's not that it's

not appropriate for them to do so, but that in that circumstance it's

not appropriate to take the further step of providing a Commonwealth

income support payment.

"... they need

to be able to complete an appropriate secondary curriculum. It is not

for the Commonwealth government to determine what an appropriate secondary

curriculum is. Curriculum matters are definitely a state and territory

government responsibility in that sense, for the individual students.

The Commonwealth may have some views in a more general policy sense."

Megan McNicholl,

Isolated Children's Parents' Association, Canberra hearing, 26 October


"When the

Assistance for Isolated Children was originally brought in, in 1973, it

was set at 55% of the average boarding fee because ICPA acknowledges it

costs money to keep your children at home, so we have never asked for

100% of the average boarding fee.

"Only twice has

it come to 55% of that or close to 55% of that average boarding fee.

The last time was with this increase up to 3 and a half thousand which

was promised - which was a pre-election promise and was brought in in

the last budget. ICPA believes that the Assistance for Isolated Children

must be linked to the average boarding fee, not to inflation or the

CPI, because at the moment that's negative.

"Boarding fees

certainly don't go down. They only go up ...

"The boarding

allowance in 2000 has been increased along with - we presume it's the

CPI increase because the basic boarding allowance is $3539. If it was

55% it would be $4192, so there's already a shortfall there, without

taking into consideration how the boarding fees will increase by 5%

and the effect of the FBT and GST. There is a maximum allowance which

is means-tested and that's an additional $886, but it still doesn't

come anywhere near the cost of boarding.

"[T]he GST is

certainly going to impact on the boarding costs, and possibly the tuition

costs in schools, and we really still don't know the implications of

that; no-one does. The fringe benefits tax certainly has an impact on

the residential side of whether it's a hostel or a boarding school.

It has the potential to impact on the quality of the staff that schools

can employ in those positions. The fringe benefits tax is going to be

a deterrent for those I think who want to be residential staff and be

good residential staff, because they're going to incur that tax once

they identify themselves as being residential staff.

"On behalf of

ICPA I think that any sort of taxing on what is basically a supportive

pastoral care role for students who are no longer living with their

families is something that I guess we find difficult to understand and

would strongly believe that there should be no fringe benefits tax at

all applied for residential care. It is providing a - it's a surrogate

parenting role. So you're taxing effectively surrogate parents."



What is your experience

with the Assistance for Isolated Children scheme?

  1. If you have ever

    applied for Assistance for Isolated Children, please tell us about your


  2. Were you successful?
  3. If not, what was

    the reason?

  4. Do you think the

    distance rules within the Assistance for Isolated Children Scheme are

    appropriate and fair?

  5. Do you think the

    rates of allowance are adequate?

  6. What are the actual

    costs of supporting an isolated child in education?

Please e-mail

Or post your comments


Rural and Remote

Education Inquiry

GPO Box 5218



updated 2 December 2001.