Legal issues during COVID-19

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This page has information that might help you with common legal issues facing young people during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you can’t find the answer to your question here, please call to speak to a lawyer on 9113 9500 or send an email to legal@youthlaw.asn.au and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

Rules about staying home

The Victorian government has announced it will gradually ease stay at home restrictions. From midnight on 12 May 2020, the following rules apply. We expect the government to announce further changes to these rules on or before 31 May 2020.

When am I allowed to leave the house?

Under the current state of emergency, you should be mainly staying at home. But, you can leave your house for these five main reasons:

  • to go shopping for food and supplies or to get vital services. This includes going to the pharmacy, bank, petrol station, your doctor or to visit a service, like Frontyard, headspace or Centrelink.
  • to go to work or school, where you can’t do those things from home.
  • for outdoor exercise and recreation. This includes, for example, going for walk in your local area, having a kick of the footy or going to the park for a picnic. You can enjoy exercise or recreation with members of your immediate household or in a group of up to 10 people. If you do these things with people outside of your household, you have to practice social distancing.
  • for care and caregiving reasons. This includes to meet shared parenting arrangements (regardless of whether there is a court order), or to provide care and support to a friend or relative who is unwell, has a mental illness, is disabled, elderly or pregnant.
  • visiting friends and family. You can visit family or friends at their home, provided there are no more than 5 visitors at one time.

Remember, you can also leave your home for the following reasons:

  • if you need to escape harm or a risk of harm (including family violence)
  • for other “compassionate reasons,” including to visit someone in hospital or to attend a wedding or a funeral (there are rules about how many people can attend weddings and funerals)
  • if you need to move house or move between houses where you have more than one address (e.g. if you live at one address during the week for work and another address on the weekends)
  • if there is an emergency or if you need to comply with a legal requirement (e.g. if you need to go to a police station or attend court in person).

There are no restrictions on the times of the day or night you can leave your home. For example, if you work night shift, or need to provide care to a relative or other person during the night, you can do so as needed. You can also leave home to exercise at any time of day.

Can I go to the park with a friend?

Yes. You can exercise outdoors or enjoy the park for recreation. You can do things like walking the dog, yoga in the park, reading a book, or going for a walk, a run, a bike ride or a picnic.

You can go to the park with any of the people who normally live at the same address as you. Or, you can meet up to 9 other people for outdoor exercise or recreation activities, provided you maintain social distancing by keeping at least 1.5 metres apart.

For more information about sport and recreation activities you are allowed to do, see here

Can I visit someone at their house?

Yes.

You can visit family or friends at their house, provided that there are no more than 5 visitors at one time.

Victorians are encouraged not to travel outside their city or regional area and you are not allowed to be away from your home overnight (unless you are staying with a partner who lives in a separate house to you, or you need to provide care to someone who is unwell or vulnerable overnight).

You can also visit someone at their house to provide care to that person or for “compassionate reasons” (see above). You might need to provide care to someone if they are unwell, disabled, elderly or pregnant. You can also visit someone if you are the person requiring care.

You can go to someone’s house to look after their children so that they can go out for a permitted reason (e.g. to go to work or to a doctor’s appointment).

What about seeing my partner?

You can see your partner if you live separately.

What if I'm homeless or don't have a permanent address?

If you don’t have a permanent place to stay or you can’t stay at home (because it’s unsafe, for example), then the “stay at home” directions do not apply to you. You cannot be fined for breaking the stay at home rules if you have a reasonable excuse. Police officers have been advised to use discretion in dealing with people who are experiencing homelessness.

If suitable housing becomes available to you (eg crisis accommodation, or you can stay with a mate), you must comply with the stay at home directions for as long as you can stay safely at your new address.

My safety

I am supposed to stay at home but I feel unsafe here. What should I do?

If you are in immediate danger, please call the police by phoning triple zero (000)

We know that family violence can get worse during events like COVID-19. Especially when people are home together, all the time. However, there are no excuses for violence. Everyone has the right to feel safe at home.

Remember, the new social distancing laws don’t mean you have to stay at home if you feel unsafe. You can leave home to escape violence or to seek help from a support service.

Family violence is against the law. It includes things like:

  • Someone physically hurting you in any way (hitting, kicking you etc);
  • Using the Coronavirus to control or frighten you;
  • Stopping you from getting medical treatment that you need;
  • Restricting your movements around the house e.g. by saying that you can only stay in one room; or
  • Monitoring your mobile and/or email.

If you or someone in your family is experiencing family violence, there are services that can support you. If you are not in danger right now, but would like to speak confidentially to a lawyer or a youth worker about family violence, please call our main phone line on 9113 9500, or email us at legal@youthlaw.asn.au.

Please note: we are not a crisis service.

  • If you feel unsafe or threatened or fearful for yourself, a child or family member, please call 000.
  • If you are in a crisis, call Safe Steps, Victoria’s 24/7 family violence response line on 1800 015 188.
  • If you need an interpreter, call the Telephone Interpreter Service (24 hours) on 131 450. They will connect you with the service you want.

Police powers

Do the police have new powers?

The Victorian government has asked Victoria police for help to exercise the Government’s special “public health powers” and “emergency powers.”

The police have created a ‘coronavirus enforcement squad’ to enforce rules made by the government during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As part of their role assisting the government, the police can fine you if they think you are not complying with the Victorian government’s quarantine or “stay at home” rules.

The police can only exercise the Government’s special powers while there is a State of Emergency declared in Victoria. The Victorian government only has the power to declare a State of Emergency for 4 weeks at a time, up to a maximum of 6 times or 6 months.

The current State of Emergency will end on 31 May 2020, unless further extended. The 6 month maximum end date for the COVID-19 State of Emergency is 16 September 2020.

If the government changes the stay at home measures, then the powers of police will also change.

What are my rights?

Before exercising their special powers during the pandemic, the police:

  • must show you their identity card if you ask to see it or if they attempt to come onto your property
  • must warn you that is against the law not to comply with their instruction, before they give you an instruction to do something (e.g. to go home from the beach).

For more information about your rights when interacting with police, see here.

If you have been treated unfairly by the police, please contact Youthlaw for more information and advice.

When could I be fined by police for not being at home?

You can only leave the house for the permitted reasons listed above.
If you leave home for any other reason, or if you’re not following social distancing rules when you’re outside the house, the police could give you a fine of $1,652, unless you have a reasonable excuse.

The police have been advised to use their discretion before fining people, following some cases reported by the media.

If you get a fine from police, please contact Youthlaw to get advice from a lawyer about your options. If you don’t agree with the fine or if you were experiencing difficulties like homelessness, family violence, mental health or substance abuse issues when you got the fine, you can ask for it to be reviewed.

To assist human rights organisations to ensure police are using their new powers responsibly, fairly, and without bias and prejudice, you can anonymously register your interaction with police here.

Can police stop me in the street if they think I’m breaking social distancing rules?

Yes.

If the police officer believes on reasonable grounds that you are breaking social distancing rules, they are allowed to ask you for your name and address.

If police ask you to give them your name and address you can ask police for their details, such as their name, rank and police station. You can ask them to write down their details for you.

You may be charged in court if you refuse to give your name and address or if you give a false name or address. Police can be fined if they refuse to give you their details when you ask for them.

For more information about your rights when stopped by police, see here. If you have been treated unfairly by police, please contact us.

Renting during COVID-19

What's changed?

New laws have been introduced to protect Victorian tenants from hardship associated with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The new laws came into effect on 29 March 2020 and will apply until 26 September 2020.

Mistakes in these laws have been recently corrected by Regulations. This renting legal information is correct as of 18 May 2020.

Youthlaw recommends the comprehensive Coronavirus (COVID-19) Guide for Renters by Tenants Victoria which can be read here.

Information on the new renting laws can also be found on the Consumer Affairs Victoria website here.

Do I still have to pay rent?

YES.

Although, you may be entitled to concessions around payment of rent if:

  • You are unwell (whether the illness is COVID-19, or something else)
  • Your ability to pay rent has been affected by the exercise of emergency or public health powers (e.g. you lost your job in hospitality because your workplace had to close down)
  • You can’t pay your rent without suffering severe hardship
  • You can’t pay rent due to exceptional circumstances in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Non-payment of rent for one of these reasons will not constitute a breach of your lease, and will not give your landlord a right to evict you.

Your landlord is not allowed to list you on a residential tenancy database (known as a “blacklist”) if you are unable to pay rent because of coronavirus.

Can my landlord put my rent up?

NO.

There is a ‘rent freeze’ between 29 March and 26 September 2020. This means that your landlord is not allowed to increase your rent during this time.

You should contact Youthlaw or Consumer Affairs Victoria if your landlord issues you with a notice of rent increase during this period.

Rent can be increased after 26 September 2020, but only by a reasonable amount within the terms of your lease agreement and the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 (Vic).

I can't pay my rent because of COVID-19, what should I do?

NEGOTIATE AN AGREED REDUCTION OR EXEMPTION IN RENT (not a “deferral” of rent).

If the impacts of COVID-19 have affected your ability to pay rent, you should contact your landlord or property manager and discuss your concerns.

You should propose an alternative arrangement that would work for you in the circumstances. For example, you could ask your landlord to consider offering:

  1. A rent reduction. Consumer Affairs recommends offering to pay no more than 30% of your current income towards rent.
  2. An exemption from rental payments for a period of time. This would mean that you do not have to pay rent during the agreed period and you will not have a debt to your landlord at the end.
  3. A deferral arrangement, allowing you to catch up on rent in instalments once your situation has improved. This would provide a temporary break from rental payments while you are experiencing hardship, but comes with an obligation to pay back your landlord when you can afford it.

While there is no obligation under the law for your landlord to agree to such arrangements, they will be expected to negotiate in good faith.

It’s a good idea to raise you concerns as early as possible with your real estate agent or landlord so that alternative arrangements can be put in place quickly.

How should I negotiate with my landlord?

IN WRITING – USE THE SAMPLE LETTER HERE

Firstly, work out how much rent you can afford to pay. You should consider:

  • If you’re working, the income you will have from your employer, and any change to this amount that you anticipate in the near future
  • whether you qualify for any government assistance, including Centrelink payments or the Victoria Government’s COVID-19 rent relief grant (see below)
  • the amount you will be spending on essential items, such as groceries, medicines, utilities, phone and internet, education, or vehicle expenses.
  • any loans you need to pay (consider checking with your lender as to whether you can pause payments due to hardship); and
  • any savings you may be able to rely on during this time.

Based on the above, determine a rental amount that would be reasonable in the circumstances.

Before approaching your landlord, gather any supporting evidence, such as a letter of termination from your employer, or payslips showing that your income has reduced.

For help writing a letter to your landlord about a rent reduction, visit the Tenants Victoria website. Here you will find template letters to landlords and real estate agents requesting a rent reduction.

I've reached an agreement with my landlord, what next?

LODGE IT WITH CONSUMER AFFAIRS VICTORIA HERE.

If you and your landlord are able to come to an alternative arrangement, the details should be recorded in writing and registered with Consumer Affairs Victoria.

Once registered, you, the landlord and any other tenants will be notified of the recorded agreement. This may be used as evidence to access other government support such as the COVID-19 Rent Relief Grant (discussed in further detail below).

I can't reach an agreement with my landlord about my rent. What do I do now?

GET CONSUMER AFFAIRS VICTORIA TO MEDIATE. APPLY HERE.

If you and your landlord don’t agree, you can do the following:

  • Use the new specialised mediation service facilitated by Consumer Affairs Victoria. The service is free, and you will receive information and support to reach an agreement. Complete the online application here.
  • If your initial mediation is unsuccessful (or your landlord refuses to participate), you will be referred to another mediation service provided through the Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria. This service is also free. Here, an accredited mediator will work with you to find a mutual agreement, tailored to your individual financial and personal circumstances. This mediation service will have the ability to make binding orders.
  • If the order is breached, the matter will be referred to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) for hearing. VCAT will consider the order, and the action of the parties since it was made, and then determine the dispute accordingly.
  • You may also apply directly to VCAT for a reduction in rent for a specified period, or a payment plan for rent and any arrears.

Can I get help with money to pay my rent?

MAYBE.

The Victorian Government has recently set up a rent relief fund to provide grants of up to $2000 for Victorians experiencing rental hardship as a result of COVID-19. This is called the DHHS COVID-19 Rent Relief Grant.

The one-off payments are provided directly to your landlord or agent to assist with paying rent.

You are eligible if:

  • You have registered your rent reduction agreement with Consumer Affairs Victoria, or have already been through mediation with Consumer Affairs Victoria;
  • You have less than $5000 in savings;
  • Your household income is less than $1903 per week; and
  • You are currently paying 30% or more of your income towards your rent

You can apply for the DHHS COVID-19 Rent Relief Grant here. If your application is approved, your rental relief payment will typically be processed within two weeks. You will not have to pay back the grant.

If you need additional financial support or you’re not eligible for the COVID-19 Rent Relief Grant, you can speak to a free financial counsellor through the National Debt Helpline by calling 1800 007 007.

What about accessing my super to pay rent?

SEEK INDEPENDENT FINANCIAL ADVICE.

There have been reports of real estate agents and landlords requesting that tenants apply for the early release of their superannuation in order to pay rent.

Your real estate agent or landlord should not advise you to do this. Unlicensed financial advice is illegal and ASIC has warned against accessing your superannuation without first getting advice from a qualified and reputable financial adviser.

Before deciding to access your super, we recommend speaking to a financial counsellor for advice. You can speak to a free financial counsellor through the National Debt Helpline by calling 1800 007 007.

Can my landlord evict me during COVID-19?

NOT IF RELATED TO COVID-19. SEEK LEGAL ADVICE IMMEDIATELY IF SERVED WITH A NOTICE TO VACATE.

For 6 months from 29 March 2020, there is a ban on notices to vacate. This means that you cannot be evicted from your rental property if you fail to meet your obligations as a tenant because you’ve been affected by COVID-19. For example, if you fall behind in rent because you lost your job in a childcare centre because of COVID-19.

Any notice to vacate served on or after 29 March 2020 is ineffective. This means you don’t have to move out. Please contact Youthlaw or Tenants Victoria for advice if you are served with a Notice to Vacate during this period.

However, your landlord can still apply to VCAT to terminate your lease in limited circumstances (not related to COVID-19). Your landlord could try to terminate your lease if:

  • you have intentionally or recklessly damaged the property;
  • you have endangered the safety of your neighbours or landlord;
  • you have seriously threatened or intimidated your landlord;
  • you have used your rental property for criminal activity;
  • you are able to pay rent, but wilfully do not;
  • your landlord wants to sell or move back into their property; or
  • you have assigned or sub-let your rental property without the landlord’s consent.

If this happens, you will get a chance to tell your side of the story and VCAT will take into account all of the circumstances of the case before deciding whether to allow your landlord to terminate your lease. VCAT can only make a termination order if they find that it is ‘reasonable and proportionate’ to do so.

Remember, if VCAT makes a termination order and you don’t leave your rental property, your landlord cannot evict you unless VCAT also makes a ‘possession order.’ You should get urgent legal advice in this situation. You can contact Youthlaw or Tenants Victoria for free advice.

Eviction matters will continue to be heard at VCAT and are currently being conducted over the phone.

For more information about evictions, please visit the Tenants Victoria website.

Can I move out during COVID-19?

YES.

These laws have recently been corrected by Regulations.

You can move out under the pre-COVID-19 reasons by giving the correct notice period to your landlord. You can find the reasons for leaving a tenancy and the correct notice periods here.

There are also new rules about ending a tenancy. For the 6 month period from 29 March 2020, tenants can serve a 14 day Notice of Intention to Vacate (to move out) for two more reasons. These include, if you:

  • are suffering severe hardship (for example: you are experiencing financial difficulties due to COVID-19); or
  • the landlord has made an application to VCAT to terminate the tenancy (please note you do not have to vacate – as above seek legal advice in these circumstances).

There should be no fees or charges associated with giving the above notices.

Please note, there are also special protections for victim-survivors of family violence. If you have experienced family violence, you can apply to VCAT to have your name removed from a lease or to have a perpetrators name removed from a lease. Applications will be heard quickly to protect victim-survivors. For family violence support, contact Youthlaw or see here for support at VCAT.

I lost my job because of COVID-19

If you cannot find the employment information you’re after on this page, please contact our colleagues at JobWatch Employment Rights Legal Centre here. Remember, if you think you have been unfairly dismissed from work, you have 21 days to bring a claim at Fair Work Australia.

What if my position has been made redundant?

In short, a position is redundant where an employer doesn’t need the position to be performed by anyone anymore. Some employers may make positions redundant if they suffer a downturn in business due to COVID-19. If your employment ends because your position is redundant, you will be entitled to notice of termination and may be entitled to redundancy pay.

Generally speaking, redundancy pay increases with years of service with the employer. Any accrued but untaken annual and long service leave should also be paid out to you.

Your exact entitlements will depend on a number of things, including any applicable award or enterprise agreement, the nature of your employment (eg, casual, fixed term, permanent etc), terms of your employment contract and the terms of any workplace policy.

We recommend speaking to us if:

  • You have been dismissed on the basis of redundancy, but do not believe that your position was actually redundant. In this situation, you may be eligible to file an unfair dismissal claim at Fair Work Australia. You have 21 days from the date of your dismissal to file your claim.
  • You are not sure you have received your legal entitlements upon your employment ending.

What if I've been stood down?

An employer can, in very limited circumstances, stand down employees who cannot be usefully employed. Employees who are stood down remain employed, but are not required to present for work for some or all of the time.

Employers are not generally required to make payments to employees who have been stood down unless they have enrolled in the JobKeeper scheme and the employee is eligible to receive JobKeeper payments.

There are three circumstances in which an employer can stand you down:

  1. By agreement
    You can agree with your employer to be stood down from work.
  1. Under the Fair Work Act, your contract of employment or an enterprise agreement
    You can be stood down under the Fair Work Act if you cannot be usefully employed due to industrial action, a breakdown of machinery or equipment, or a stoppage of work, in circumstances where your employer cannot be reasonably held responsible.
    It is also possible for your contract of employment or an applicable enterprise agreement to provide for stand down in broader circumstances.
  1. Under the “JobKeeper” scheme
    If your employer qualifies for JobKeeper payments for you, it has a broad power to stand you down if you cannot be usefully employed because of COVID-19 (or government measures to stop the transmission of COVID-19).

    There are certain requirements that an employer must meet in order to stand you down under the scheme. They include requirements to consult with you in relation to the stand down, and provide you with at least three days’ notice of the stand down (unless you agree to a lesser period).

    If your employer meets all the requirements, it can issue a direction which involves you working different days, or performing less or no work.

    Under the JobKeeper scheme, an employer is required to make payments to you of at least $1,500 (before tax) per fortnight for the period they are qualified to receive payments for you.

    You should ask your employer if it is eligible to receive JobKeeper payments for you, if you do not already know.

We recommend speaking to us if:

  • Your employer has stood you down, or said it will stand you down, and you do not believe your employer is entitled to do so.
  • Your employer has enrolled for the JobKeeper scheme but you have not been receiving payments of at least $1,500 a fortnight
  • Your employer has requested that you spend or pay a portion of the JobKeeper payments in a particular way (such as returning some or all of it to your employer).

Can I get financial support if I've lost my job because of COVID-19?

You may be eligible for government support, including the JobSeeker Payment or Youth Allowance Job Seeker if you:

  • lose your employment as a permanent employee, or
  • are stood down without pay as a permanent employee, or
  • lose income as a sole trader, self-employed person, casual worker or contract worker, or
  • lose income due to being required to care for someone who is affected by COVID-19

For more information on accessing Jobseeker payments see here.

To make a claim, you need a myGov account linked to Centrelink (which can be set up online). Economic Justice Australia have developed a step-by-step guide to claiming Centrelink during COVID-19.

The laws around COVID-19 are changing rapidly. This legal information is current as of 12 May 2020