The Federal Government has changed 85 laws to give same-sex couples the same legal rights and protections as different-sex de facto couples.
The changes to social security affect Centrelink payments as well as payments made by the Family Assistance Office (FAO) and the Department of Veteran Affairs (DVA). From 1 July 2009, people living together with their same-sex partner may now be recognised by these offices as a “member of a couple”
In essence this means that if you are in a same-sex relationship and you receive a social security payment, both you and your partners’ income and assets (such as wages, investments and cars) will used to figure out your social security payment. Each person in a same-sex relationship previously received a sole payment. If you live together and meet other factors listed below, this may mean that you now receive a payment based on the lower coupled rate.
Centrelink and the Family Assistance Office use five factors to figure out if you are a ‘member of a couple’. These are the social aspects of the relationship with your partner (whether you present as a couple), whether it is sexual, your commitment to each other, your shared finances, and your living arrangements and domestic responsibilities. Before the 1 July 2009 changes to recognise same-sex relationships, if you lived with a non-family member of the opposite sex, Centrelink would ask questions about your relationship. Now you may be asked to explain your relationship to all people in your household, regardless of gender. DVA applies the equivalent provisions under the veterans’ affairs legislation to assess the entitlements of same-sex couples and dependants.
Some couples may have their income reduced or stopped altogether because of these changes. This is because their partner’s income and assets may now be used by Centrelink to calculate how much money a person should receive. Some members of a couple may find their situation better off, as assets and income previously considered belonging to only one partner may now be shared across a couple. Some younger LGBT people on Youth Allowance may now be considered as independent.
Many same-sex couples have expressed concerns that there was only a short amount of time to readjust to their new financial situation. In particular those over the age of 55 planning for or in retirement have expressed concerns about suddenly becoming financially dependent on their partner. It is important, however, to ensure that you are in fact a “member of a couple” under social security law and that you are receiving full benefit of your new entitlements in relation to social security and all the other areas of law change.
To make sure you are on the correct social security payment and are not being treated unfairly, the National Welfare Rights Network have been funded to provide an independent advocacy service to the people from the LGBT community. Welfare Rights is a confidential service and can provide you with detailed information in line with your individual circumstances. See their details in the need more information section.
Please note: This factsheet provides general information only. It does not constitute legal advice and may not be applicable to your individual circumstances. If you need specific legal advice contact your local Welfare Rights Centre.
Last updated: January 2010
A ‘member of a couple’ has a specific meaning under social security law. To decide if you are a ‘member of a couple’ Centrelink uses a number of factors to assess the relationship between you and any person you live with. Generally you will be asked to fill out a ‘nature of the household’ form and if Centrelink requires more information a ‘member of a couple assessment’ form. In working out if you are a member of a couple, Centrelink will consider the following five factors:
1. The social aspects of your relationship (whether you present as a couple)
2. Whether it is sexual or not
3. The nature of your commitment, which could include the length of your relationship
4. The extent to which you share finances
5. The nature of the household including domestic responsibilities and living arrangements
A decision is made about whether a person is single or a member of a couple by weighing the evidence relating to all five factors. Not all factors need to be present. DVA applies the equivalent provisions under the veterans’ affairs legislation to assess the entitlements of same-sex couples and dependants.
If you have questions about your Centrelink application or think that your assessment may have been wrong, it is a good idea to contact Welfare Rights. The Welfare Rights Network is not part of the Government and conversations can be anonymous and confidential.
Welfare Rights (with the assistance of the Aurora Foundation) have created a Declaring your same-sex relationship to Centrelink factsheet to help you understand more about what happens.
Almost all social security payments may be affected by these changes. All payments made by Centrelink, the Department of Veteran Affairs and the Family Assistance Office now recognise same-sex relationships. Examples of the types of payments are:
Same-sex couples may be afraid to tell Centrelink about their relationship, especially if they are not out publicly or live in a small community. It is very important, however, that you do declare your relationship if you are a member of a couple and you and/or your partner receives a Centrelink payment.
When you are applying for Centrelink payments and indicate that you live with someone but say you are not a member of a couple, Centrelink may ask you to complete a compulsory ‘member of a couple’ assessment. Centrelink might also find out that you are a ‘member of a couple’ by comparing information from other Government agencies about your relationship status. Centrelink also runs a “tip-off” line where people can tell them they believe someone is a member of a couple and hasn’t declared.
If any of these situations occur, Centrelink may send you a form to return to them to make an assessment of your individual situation and determine if you are a ‘member of a couple’. If you disagree with an assessment you can appeal their decision. Welfare Rights can help you with this appeal if you need.
If Centrelink gave you more money than you should have been receiving because you didn’t declare your relationship, you may need to repay the money to Centrelink. If you deliberately lie about your relationship status they could even take legal action against you for fraud.
It is very important to tell Centrelink about all relationships between you and the people you live with even if you are unsure about whether you are a ‘member of a couple’ or not.
Centrelink staff have undertaken ‘Gay and Lesbian Awareness’ training. Part of the training includes the issue of ‘outing’ and staff are sensitive to the concerns some same-sex couples may have. If a lesbian or gay customer remains concerned about privacy, they can contact Centrelink by phone to assess their member of a couple status or call a dedicated Centrelink same-sex law reform hotline on 13 62 80.
This is a very important concern for our community. You might be worried about telling Centrelink about your relationship because you are scared they may hassle you or be judgmental. You may also be worried about being outed.
A community organisation - Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria - developed a training package for all the staff members at Centrelink, Family Assistance Office and the Department of Veteran Affairs. Centrelink staff received this training about how to be sensitive to LGBT people and their partners.
If you are unhappy with the person who is handling your application, you can always ask to speak to someone different or call the dedicated Centrelink same-sex law reform hotline on 13 62 80. If you feel that you have been discriminated against, you have the right to make a complaint (see bottom of this factsheet for more information).
Yes, it is important that you do.
You must tell Centrelink about all of the people living in your household no matter if you’re in a relationship or not. If you are not in a relationship with your housemates, or were previously but are no longer in a relationship with the person you are living with, talking with someone from Welfare Rights may help you work out how to explain this to Centrelink.
The information that Centrelink collects about other people living in your house is used to make sure you and your housemates get the right payment and right amount of rent assistance.
First, it’s a good idea to talk through your individual situation with someone from the Welfare Rights Network, because they are independent of Centrelink and have been funded to help out LGBT people. Second, you could ask Centrelink to perform a ‘member of a couple’ assessment on your situation to formally declare that you are officially not a ‘member of a couple’.
Being in a registered relationship (non-caring) in Victoria, Tasmania or the ACT means that you can automatically be recognised as a ‘member of a couple’ by Centrelink. When you are filling in your Centrelink form, tick the ‘registered relationship’ box under relationship status.
Unfortunately registered relationships from local councils or overseas (including overseas marriages) will not automatically be recognised but can make you much more likely to meet the ‘member of a couple’ assessment, provided you live together. When filling in the Centrelink form, you should tick the “defacto partner” box.
If you are not in a relationship with someone anymore but you are still living with them you could be considered ‘separated under one roof’. Centrelink might want to assess whether your relationship has actually stopped by taking into account your living and household arrangements, how your relationship has changed, and your plans for the future. Welfare Rights can help explain more.
There might be a special reason why assessing you as a ‘member of a couple’ would result in you losing so much money that you experience ‘severe financial hardship’. This means that you and your partner’s incomes and assets combined are not be able to provide basic necessities. If this is the case you may wish to talk with a Centrelink social worker or the FIS officer and you may be able to apply for a ‘hardship provision’.
To do this, you need to complete a Claim for Consideration Under Hardship Provisions form, which you can pick up at any Centrelink Office. It is important that both you and your partner make a claim for ‘hardship provision’ by completing one form each or doing one together with both your details. It is a good idea to get Welfare Rights to help you in the application process.
There are separate provisions if you are experiencing hardship just because of the assets test – see the next question.
If your and your partner’s assets, including assets that you cannot realise, reduce your payment under the assets test and you are in severe financial hardship, you can apply for assistance under the assets test ‘hardship provisions’.
To do this, you need to complete a Claim for Consideration Under Hardship Provisions form, which you can pick up at any Centrelink Office. It is important that both you and your partner make a claim for ‘hardship provision’ by completing one form each or doing one together with both your details. It is a good idea to get Welfare Rights to help you in the application process. These hardship provisions do not apply if your payment is reduced under the income test.
From 1 July 2009 same-sex couples and their children may be recognised as a family under the social security changes. This means that you may no longer be considered a single parent - both you and your partner’s income and assets will be used to calculate how much money you will receive. This also applies where both you and your partner were receiving payments as single parents. Welfare Rights can provide further information about your individual circumstances.
Being outed, or having your personal life shared with government officials can be very worrying sometimes but is important to ensure you provide all information requested by Centrelink, etc.
Centrelink, DVA and the Family Assistance Office all have very strict guidelines and rules about privacy to ensure that your information is never released inappropriately. If you are uncomfortable with a case worker assigned to you, you can ask for another case worker or ask to have your file changed to a new office. You may also be able to conduct most or all of your transactions online or over the phone. All government departments take issues of privacy very seriously and complaints can be made to the ombudsman or privacy commissioner.
The best starting point would be to talk to the Welfare Rights Network about your experiences. If you have been treated unfairly they might be able to help you work out what your next move could be. You can also make a complaint to the department itself (eg Centrelink), the responsible Minister or the Commonwealth Ombudsman. If you would like further information about making complaints or appealing against decisions please see the end of this factsheet.
No, a partner cannot receive the late veteran’s pension. You may, however, be able to receive some benefits as a surviving partner. If you have any questions about your new rights under the law changes, contact the Welfare Rights Network who may be able to answer your questions.
If your pension is reduced but you still receive even just $1 of your DSP, then you will keep your Pensioner Concession Card. If you have lost your pension completely because of your partner’s employment income, your Pensioner Concession Card can only continue for up to 13 weeks. If you lose your pension because you commence employment or have an increase in your own employment income, you may be able to retain a concession card for up to 52 weeks. Check your individual circumstances with Centrelink or speak to someone from the National Welfare Rights Network.
Make sure you check if you, your same-sex partner and/or your family can qualify for the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme safety net and the Medicare safety net as a family. See the Health & Ageing factsheet for more information.
For more information about groups and services which can help you understand the new laws and apply for your changes, please see the list of contacts under the “more information” section of this factsheet. You can also find a range of helpful factsheets on the Welfare Rights website or go to the same-sex couples Centrelink website.
The National Welfare Rights Network website includes factsheets in many different foreign languages. The Aurora Foundation has funded Welfare Rights to create a series of factsheets specifically for same-sex couples. The Welfare Rights publication Relationships and Centrelink is a good overview of dealing with Centrelink when declaring your relationship.
Centrelink’s website also has some pages that may be particularly useful to you. These include a wide range of same-sex case studies (including specific examples for DSP, carers and people separated under one roof), up to date amounts allowed under an assets test, pension income tests and general information about calculating income.
Please note: This factsheet provides general information only. It does not constitute legal advice and may not be applicable to your individual circumstances. If you need specific legal advice contact your local Community Legal Centre.