Couples are attempting to de-register their relationships with Centrelink after being misinformed about welfare legislation criteria.
A number of couples who registered their relationships may not meet the criteria used by Centrelink to determine couples status, Welfare Rights Centre director Maree O’Halloran told Sydney Star Observer.
She has called on Centrelink to offer these couples status reviews and to take a more diverse approach to how couples are defined in future.
“The criteria for being a member of a couple are very specific, so without a lot of information, some of our clients have gone down and declared and then realised that not only is there a dramatic loss in income, but they don’t really fit those five factors Centrelink considers,” O’Halloran said.
“A good example is people whose relationship is really a caring relationship. In the past, say 15 years ago, they were in a sexual relationship, but they still consider each other to be family and one looks after the other.”
O’Halloran said most couples were not provided with a facts sheet outlining Centrelink’s criteria, unless they sought out the information.
“From March 30, Centrelink began an information campaign to ensure those who might be affected were made aware,” a Centrelink spokeswoman responded.
“The fact sheet was freely available from the Centrelink website for download and distributed at community events. Customers were encouraged to contact Centrelink if they were unsure.”
“There are so many Centrelink staff and I think most of them in their head think ‘Oh, the old marriage-like relationship for opposite-sex couples, we’ll just apply the same rules’, ” O’Halloran said.
“What we’re trying to say to them is, diversity is important, relationship diversity is important. It may be that people have a strong, recognised relationship that doesn’t fit quite into your mould, and those people shouldn’t necessarily lose more than $100 a fortnight as a result.
“A possible solution could be to change the welfare system to consider everyone an individual.
“Taxation is done primarily on an individual basis. We’re starting to come to the view and push forward that we need to recognise complex, diverse, unique relationships and that perhaps people need to be treated as individuals for the purpose of these payments.”
This is a long-term goal, but in the meantime, O’Halloran wants Centrelink to “allow these people to re-consider and don’t make it difficult for them to do that.”
info: Visit www.centrelink.gov.au