Ember of a couple or single?

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ember of a couple or single?

This factsheet explains the factors Centrelink considers when deciding if you are a member of a couple or single. Your Social Security and Family Assistance payments will be affected by whether Centrelink assesses you to be single or a member of a couple. There are differences in the eligibility rules, rates of payment, and income and assets tests that apply whether you are single or a member of a couple.

  • Am I a member of a couple?

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; or

  • you are in a de facto relationship (prior to 1 July 2009 the test was whether you were in a marriage-like relationship).

Since 1 July 2009 “de facto relationship” includes both opposite sex and 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

Determining whether you are in a de facto relationship for Centrelink purposes depends on consideration of the factors set out 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. (Note: registration is not yet possible in all States and Territories.)

Recognition of same sex relationships by Centrelink is new. See the factsheet “Declaring your same sex relationship to Centrelink for more details.

  • How can I tell if I’m in a de facto relationship?

In determining whether you are in a de facto relationship with a person Centrelink will look into your financial arrangements, accommodation and domestic arrangements, social relationship, sexual relationship, relationship with children, and your commitment to each other.

Below is a list of questions you can use to help decide whether you are in a de facto relationship. The list is based on the factors that Centrelink must consider. Keep in mind that Centrelink can also look at other factors, and must look at your whole relationship.

  • What if I’ve 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 help you assess whether you will be considered single by Centrelink. Consider what your relationship was like before and after the separation, and why things have or have not changed. There may have been a single event that caused the relationship to change, or a gradual change.

Even if you still live with your ex-partner it may be possible to be considered single by Centrelink. Centrelink 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 that your relationship has broken down, eg, from doctors, counselors, or community leaders. 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 can’t be treated as single unless one of you moves out. This may not be so. If you must continue living together, or you choose to do so inspite of the separation, explain the reasons for this to Centrelink.

  • Member of a couple factors

    Financial arrangements

  • 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? eg 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 or register your relationship? If not, why not?

  • do you think your relationship is different to a marriage or de facto relationship? If so, why?

  • How does Centrelink decide if I’m a member of a couple?

Centrelink may undertake an investigation of your circumstances to determine if you are a member of a couple or single. You may be asked to an interview and will be asked a lot of questions. This may feel quite intrusive. Centrelink may also want to interview the person they think you are in a de facto relationship with. If you refuse to answer questions your payments might be suspended. If this happens you can appeal (see below).

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?

Centrelink may also contact banks, employers, Australia Post, telephone companies, motor transport authorities, and government departments like Immigration or Tax. These investigations are to find out whether you or the other person has indicated to other agencies that you live as a couple, 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.

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

  • What if Centrelink cancels, suspends or reduces my payments?

If Centrelink thinks you are a member of a couple, and cancels, suspends or reduces your payments, and you disagree with this decision, appeal immediately (see below for details). You can ask Centrelink to continue to pay your payments until the appeal is finalised. This is called “payment pending review”. Contact your local Welfare Rights Centre/Advocate for legal advice.

  • Appeal rights

If you think a Centrelink decision is wrong you have the right to appeal against it. Appealing is easy and free. To appeal 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. However, you can 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.

You can appeal to an ARO 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 more than 13 weeks after receiving the notice and you are successful, you will only receive back pay from the date you appealed.

If you think the ARO decision is wrong you can appeal to the Social Security Appeals Tribunal (SSAT). The SSAT is independent of Centrelink.

You have further appeal rights to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and the Federal Court. Time limits apply.

For more information on appealing see the factsheet “Appeals – how to appeal against a Centrelink decision” and the guide “Appealing to the Social Security Appeals Tribunal".

  • 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 about their available languages and times.

      • You can telephone the Centrelink Multilingual Call Centre on 131 202 and speak to a bilingual Centrelink officer.

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

Please note: This factsheet contains general information only. It does not constitute legal advice. If you need legal advice 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 independent of Centrelink. All assistance is free.

This factsheet was updated in June 2010.



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