Partial pause on cashless debit card trial

People applying for benefits due to coronavirus will not be placed on cashless welfare cards.
People applying for benefits due to coronavirus will not be placed on cashless welfare cards.

No new welfare recipients will be forced onto controversial cashless debit cards, as Centrelink struggles with an influx of Australians applying for benefits.

The federal government has paused putting new participants onto the scheme, which freezes 80 per cent of Centrelink payments so the money can only be spent on essential items.

Social Services Minister Anne Ruston says the government's priority is helping Australians sacked because of the coronavirus outbreak apply for welfare.

People already enrolled in the scheme will remain on cashless debit cards.

About 280,000 people had lodged an application with Centrelink as of Wednesday afternoon.

Greens senator Rachel Siewert says it's unfair people have to remain on cashless debit cards.

"There are so many issues in the trial sites which have gone unaddressed for years now and I fear people in the trial sites will continue to be ignored in the current crisis," she said.

A recent independent study of the program found it does more harm than good.

The analysis found people on the cards had problems paying for bills, making purchases and often faced extra financial difficulties from fees associated with paying by card.

Australian Associated Press