Arriage-like relationships, de facto relationships, and Centrelink

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arriage-like relationships, de facto relationships, and Centrelink

Your Social Security and Family Assistance entitlements may be affected by whether Centrelink assesses you to be single or a member of a couple. Rates and entitlements may differ because:

  • the maximum rate of pension or allowance is generally lower for a person who is a member of a couple

  • the income and assets of a person’s partner are assessable under Social Security and Family Assistance income and assets tests

  • there are some entitlements with eligibility requirements that relate to relationship status

Centrelink will treat you as a member of a couple if you are married and you are not living separately and apart from your husband or wife.

Until 1 July 2009, you may also be treated as a member of a couple if you are in a “marriage-like” relationship with a person of the opposite sex. Assessment depends on consideration of various factors, which are explained below.

From 1 July 2009 changes to Commonwealth legislation mean that a definition of “de facto relationship” will replace the definition of “marriage-like” relationship. Most importantly, the new definition of “de facto” relationship will include same-sex couples. This means that a person may be considered to be in a de facto relationship whatever the gender of their partner.

The new “de facto” definition will apply to people claiming payments on or after 1 July 2009, and also to people already receiving payments on that day. This means that some people in same-sex de facto relationships will have their Social Security or Family Assistance payments reduced or cancelled as a result of being newly assessed as a member of a couple from 1 July. Some people in same-sex de facto relationships may have new entitlements because income and assets test thresholds are higher for couples.

Assessment of whether a person is in a de facto relationship will depend on consideration of the criteria which are explained below. People who have registered their de facto relationship with a State or Territory authority will be assessed to be in a de facto relationship without regard to the factors. (Registration is not yet possible in all Sates and Territories.)

Recognition of same-sex relationships by Centrelink is new, and there will be special considerations that Centrelink should take into account when assessing whether a same-sex relationship is “de facto”. See the separate factsheet: “Same-sex de facto relationships and Centrelink”.

  • How can I tell if I am in a “marriage-like relationship” or a “de facto relationship”?

Below is a list of questions you can use to help decide whether you are in a “marriage-like” or “de facto” relationship. (Remember that “marriage-like” is the test up to 30 June 2009, and “de facto” is the test from 1 July 2009.)

The list is based on the factors that Centrelink must consider. Keep in mind that this list is not a checklist. Centrelink must look at the whole picture of your finances and living arrangements under these factors. This can be quite intrusive, but Centrelink must assess your situation in this way under the law.

The answers you give to the questions are important. The best assessment of your living situation may come from explaining to Centrelink the reasons behind your personal arrangements. For example - do you share accommodation due to friendship, for convenience, or for some other reason? If your relationship involves care and commitment, what is the basis for this?

  • Separated?

If you think you may not be a member of a couple because you have separated from your partner, the same list of questions can be used to show that the relationship has broken down or changed. Consider what your relationship was like before and after the separation, and whether and why things have or have not changed. There may have been an event that caused the relationship to change, or a gradual change. Explaining these changes to Centrelink can be particularly important if you continue to live in the same house with your ex-partner. Centrelink may call this "separated under the one roof".

If you have separated but still live with your ex-partner, Centrelink may ask you to provide independent evidence, e.g., from doctors, counselors, or community leaders, that your relationship has broken down. This information may be difficult for you to obtain. There is no legal requirement to produce this type of evidence but it can be helpful in assisting Centrelink to make a decision. Centrelink may also indicate that you cannot be treated as single unless one of you moves. This may not be so. If you must continue living together, or you choose to do so in spite of the separation, explain the reasons for this to Centrelink.

  • do you provide financial support for each other? If so, why?

  • do you have any joint accounts or credit cards?

  • do you have a joint loan or have you applied jointly for any loan?

  • whose name is the telephone/electricity/gas in?

  • who pays the bills and how do you work out contributions?

  • do you jointly own assets, eg, your home, an investment property, car, furniture?

  • do you know about each other's financial affairs?

  • are either of you listed as a dependent spouse/partner for tax or Medicare?

  • has either of you named the other person as a beneficiary in your will or superannuation?

  • do you lend or give each other money? Why?

  • if the other person lost their job or had no income, would you feel obliged to them? For how long? Why?

    Accommodation and domestic arrangements

  • do you live at the same address?

  • how long have you lived there?

  • have you lived together at other places?

  • why did you first decide to live at the same address?

  • has the way you live together changed since you first lived together?

  • do you intend to continue living together in the future? If so, why?

  • do you have separate bedrooms or living areas?

  • whose name is the lease or mortgage in?

  • how do you arrange your domestic chores?

- cooking

- shopping

- cleaning

- laundry

- ironing

- lawn-mowing

  • if you do not live at the same address, is this temporary or permanent? Why?

    Social relationship

  • do you share the same circle of friends?

  • do you tell each other where you are daily or what you are doing when you go out?

  • do you frequently go out together or do you regularly go out separately?

  • do either of you have a girlfriend or boyfriend?

  • do you visit each others families? If not, why?

  • would your friends and family consider you a couple? Do you correct them?

  • do you conceal your relationship from friends, family, employers. If so, why?

  • do your family or friends make plans for you as a couple?

  • have you ever let a government department, real estate agency or bank assume you are a couple?

  • do you use the same family name?

  • do you take holidays together?

    Sexual relationship

  • do you have a continuing sexual relationship with each other?

  • does either of you have a sexual relationship with anyone else?

    Relationship with children

If one of you has children

  • is the person you live with the parent or guardian of the child(ren) in your household?

  • do you share parenting activities, e.g. feeding, dressing, disciplining, transport?

  • who are the emergency contacts for the child(ren)’s school or child-care?

    Commitment to each other

  • how long have you been in the relationship?

  • is the relationship stronger than an ordinary friendship? In what way?

  • do you believe the relationship will continue?

  • who do you talk to when you have a problem?

  • if you suddenly got sick, who would you call?

  • Have you made long-term plans involving the other person?

  • do you think you are likely to marry? Why?

  • do you think your relationship is like a legal marriage or de facto marriage? If not, why?

  • How does Centrelink investigate?

Centrelink may ask a lot of questions. The Centrelink officer can interview you and the person they think may be in a de facto relationship with you. If you refuse to answer questions your payments might be suspended. If this happens you can appeal (see below). Centrelink may also contact banks, employers, Australia Post, telephone companies, motor transport authorities, the Family Court, and government departments like Immigration or Tax. There also data-matches between Centrelink and some agencies. These investigations are to find out whether you or the other person has indicated that you live as a couple to other agencies, and to check how long you have shared addresses.

If a Centrelink officer visits your home, you do not have to let them in, but you may choose to do so. They cannot demand to have the interview in your home. You have the right to have the interview at a Centrelink office. If Centrelink asks you to provide a signed statement, you have at least seven days to consider this. Make sure any statement you provide is completely accurate before signing. Get help from a Welfare Rights advocate if you are unsure. For more information on visits, see the Factsheet “Centrelink home visits and your rights”.

It is important to accurately and honestly notify Centrelink of your living arrangements. If Centrelink decides that you are living in a de facto relationship on the basis of that information, you can appeal if you disagree (see below). Providing false information may result in a debt and prosecution.

  • Appeal Rights

If you disagree with a Centrelink decision you have the right to appeal against it. Appealing is easy and free. To appeal you should simply tell Centrelink that you are not happy with its decision and that you would like to appeal to an Authorised Review Officer (ARO). It is best to lodge an appeal in writing and you should keep a copy of your appeal letter. You can, however, lodge an appeal over the telephone.

The ARO is a senior officer in Centrelink who has the power to change the original decision. Many people are successful at this level.

If you are appealing against Centrelink’s decision to cancel your Social Security payment on the basis that you are a “member of a couple”, you can ask that Centrelink continue to pay you while the review is being conducted. This is called “payment pending review”. Don't hesitate to contact your local Welfare Rights Centre/Advocate for assistance if your payment is cancelled.

If you are not satisfied with an ARO decision you can appeal to the Social Security Appeals Tribunal (SSAT), which is independent of Centrelink.

You may appeal to an ARO or to the SSAT at any time. However, to receive back pay from the date you were affected by the original decision, you must appeal to an ARO within 13 weeks of receiving written notice of the original decision. If you appeal to the SSAT, you must appeal to the SSAT within 13 weeks of receiving notice of the ARO decision to receive back pay (except for Family Tax Benefit – see below). If you appeal more than 13 weeks after receiving the notice and you are successful, you will only receive back pay from the date you appealed.

Different rules generally apply to appeals to the ARO and the SSAT regarding Family Tax Benefit assessments - see the Factsheets "Family Tax Benefit" and "Family Tax Benefit and estimating your income".

If you are appealing to an ARO or to the SSAT about a debt only, no time limits apply. This means that if your appeal is successful, and your debt is cancelled or recovery waived, you may be entitled to a refund of the amount you have paid back to Centrelink.

If you are not satisfied with the SSAT decision you can appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT). Centrelink can also appeal against the SSAT decision to the AAT. You need to appeal to the AAT within 28 days of receiving the SSAT decision in writing. This time limit can be extended in limited circumstances by order of the AAT.

For more information on appealing see the Factsheet “Appeals – how to appeal against a Centrelink decision”, the form “Request for a review by an Authorised Review Officer” and the booklets, “how to appeal to the social security appeals tribunal” and the “Administrative Appeals Tribunal Social Security Self Advocacy kit”.

  • Interpreters

If you think you need an interpreter, or if you feel more confident with an interpreter, you should use one of the three free available interpreter services.

  • Most Centrelink offices have interpreters available at regular times each week. Your local Centrelink office can tell you whether there is an interpreter available who speaks your language, and at what times they are in the office.

  • You can telephone the Multilingual Telephone Information Service (MTI), which is part of Centrelink. MTI is staffed by Centrelink officers who are bilingual. You can ring them directly on 131 202 and they can answer your questions for you.

  • You can also call the Telephone Interpreter Service (TIS) on 131 450 and ask for an interpreter. This is a free service

Please note: This Factsheet contains general information only. It does not constitute legal advice. If you need legal advice about your Social Security entitlement, please contact your local Welfare Rights Centre/Advocate.

Welfare Rights Centres are community legal centres, which specialise in Social Security law, administration and policy. They are entirely independent of Centrelink. All assistance is free.

This Factsheet was updated in March 2009.

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