When does a relationship affect your Centrelink benefits

When does a relationship affect your Centrelink benefits

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Jason Bryce – Business & Finance Specialist

Am I really single?

At what point does having a relationship affect your Centrelink benefits?

Plenty of couples split up and remain living under the same roof for financial or family reasons. And plenty of people in ‘friends with benefits’ relationships do not consider themselves a couple. Thousands of single mums have a boyfriend or girlfriend but consider themselves single for Centrelink purposes.

Now the government expects single parents to provide ‘third party verification’ of relationship status. So are you really single according to the laws of the land?

Or are you, inadvertently, a ‘welfare cheat’ who will be forced to repay a big debt when the welfare officer checks up on you?

By Jason Bryce | 04 January 2018

When does a relationship affect your Centrelink benefits - stock photo source: Bigstock.com

So it might be time to ask yourself…

…am I really single?

Single parents will soon receive a letter or email to their mygov inbox about the new ‘third party verification’ requirements for Parenting Payment Single and Newstart. Family Tax Benefits and Carers Benefit can also be affected by relationship status and household income.

You will be asked to find a ‘referee’ – someone who is not related to you – to complete a form that verifies you are actually single. The form goes back to Centrelink, signed and dated and a false declaration is punishable by up to 12 months in prison.

So it might be time to ask yourself, before you ask someone to sign on the dotted line for you, am I really single?

1 – Same sex relationships

Same sex relationships - stock photo source: Bigstock.com

Centrelink and other government agencies have recognised same sex relationships as defacto relationships since 1 July 2009. Centrelink say the recent change to the Marriage Act to recognise same sex marriages will not change the way they deal with couples.

“We are not taking any action to review same-sex relationships since the passage of the Marriage Amendment Bill,” a DHS spokesperson told News Limited last week.

However, when the marriage equality bill was passed on 8 December 2017, a Tasmanian mum duly informed Centrelink that she had married a woman overseas in 2016. Centrelink replied with a debt repayment notice for $6,600 in Family Tax Benefits she has claimed since then.

2 – De facto relationships

De facto relationships - stock photo source: Bigstock.com

A departmental spokesperson told Singlemum.com.au that Centrelink’s test of a relationship has five factors to consider:

  • Do the couple share finances?
  • What is the nature of the household? (Live together?)
  • What are the social aspects of the relationship? (Do things together?)
  • Do the couple have a sexual relationship?
  • Are the couple committed to each other?

A score of three out of five on this test means you are a couple according to Centrelink. Just because you are sleeping together does NOT mean you are couple. Social Security Law says:

“All five factors must be considered. The presence (or absence) of a sexual relationship is considered but does not, by itself, indicate a couple.

And the guidelines also say that the claimant/recipient’s opinion about whether they consider themselves to be in a couple “should be considered but is not sufficient to make a decision.”

3 – Two parents under the same roof

Two parents under the same roof - stock photo source: Bigstock.com

Centrelink recognises that single parents may share living arrangements and care arrangements with their ex-spouses. And if two separated parents are living in the same house, Centrelink applies the same five questions to determine if a relationship exists. Specifically Centrelink officers will ask questions like:

Do you share living spaces like the bedroom, the bathroom, the living room?

Is one parent now regarded more like a boarder or flat sharer?

Do you do your own shopping, cooking, cleaning, household maintenance and gardening?

Are your family and close friends aware of the relationship breakdown?

Do you visit people and go out socially together?

If you are genuinely separated and sharing the house and care of the children, Centrelink are understanding and no, the welfare officers will not visit you to check in your sock drawers. A Departmental spokeswoman told Singlemum.com.au that:

“All relationships are different, and for this reason, the specific circumstances of a claimant’s current relationship status are assessed to determine whether they receive the single or partnered rate of Parenting Payment.

“As part of this assessment, information is gathered about the claimant—both from them and from other sources.”

Can Centrelink call the school to check up on my relationship status?

Can Centrelink call the school to check up on my relationship status? - stock photo source: Bigstock.com

Social Security Law says schools, child-care centres, sports organisations, etc. are not to be contacted by Centrelink as part of any investigation into a de facto relationship unless the fraud team are investigating and prosecution is likely or there is an appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

Centrelink rules about relationships are both generous and understanding but equally unforgiving if you break them. Be alert but not alarmed because single mums can easily be caught out and branded a welfare cheat.

Jason Bryce

Business & Finance Journalist

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go to Jason Bryce's Biography

Jason is a business and finance journalist with 20 years experience, and is also a member of the SingleMum.com.au Expert Opinion Panel. He has a regular weekly column in the Sunday Mail (Brisbane) and writes regularly for the Business Daily section of the Herald Sun in Melbourne and many other newspapers and magazines.

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