NON-binary and gender diverse students receiving Youth Allowance have been warned their payments may be cut off due to Centrelink’s system only allowing for binary genders.

Students have reported the problem occurs when university enrolment forms, which commonly provide a third or ‘other’ gender field, come up against the Centrelink internal system that only allows male or female.

“They called to say they’ve been trying to confirm whether I’m a student for the last month but every week they get a response that no student matches those details,” said Alex* from the University of Sydney.

“It’s real bullshit for a few reasons. Why does gender need to come into it? My name, address and student ID all match.

“I asked the person on the phone if she could update my gender on the Centrelink systems to match my enrolment and she said, ‘The current software means that isn’t possible’.”

The Centrelink system appears to be at odds with federal government guidelines released in 2013 that suggest “where sex and/or gender information is collected… individuals should be given the option to select M (male), F (female) or X (indeterminate/intersex/unspecified).”

Centrelink’s website tells gender diverse applicants that they can only be recorded as male or female, with a note on their record the only possible option for non binary gender.

“No one seems to know how to handle this sort of thing,” said Alex. “This stuff is super common, to be honest—it’s annoying and tiring but unsurprising.”

Eloise Brook of The Gender Centre said, “If a system can’t recognise a non-binary person, it’s not just about having someone’s feelings hurt—it’s about how they will access housing, services, how they will study if they can’t get into the system.”

General manager of the Department of Human Services Hank Jongen said Centrelink was committed to implementing the government’s gender guidelines “in full” but it was in progress.

“Because of the scale and complexities around the department’s forms and ageing IT systems, changes are being made progressively as part of a multi-year project,” he said.

“A person’s eligibility for social security payments is not conditional on their gender. The department does not cancel payments to recipients because they [are not] either male or female.”

“This is discrimination and has now had a tangible adverse effect on non-binary students. Vulnerable young people could be thrown under the poverty line over this and it needs to be urgently addressed,” said Greens senator Rachel Siewert.

“I understand the deadline for rolling out a non-specific option across government departments was July last year. Why has this deadline been missed? This is a question that government must answer.

“I urge the government to fast-track this so there are not further implications that hurt non-binary and transgender people”.

*Not their real name.

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