Centrelink has sent a prodding message to same-sex couples on welfare to declare their relationship or risk incurring a debt.
Centrelink general manager Hank Jongen said customers still had a 14-day grace period after the July 1 reporting deadline to update their status with the organisation. Jongen warned that after July 14, Centrelink would be obliged to investigate cases brought to its attention.
We’re now in an environment where it’s mandatory and if we receive information that indicates the likelihood of a relationship … we are now obliged to look into those situations and we will, he told Southern Star.
There’s no denying people are concerned about losing money in the process, in a sense that should be an incentive for people to declare … we want to avoid people incurring debts.
Jongen said the welfare agency would not be embarking on a -˜zero tolerance’ approach, but rorters would be pursued.
It’s not about putting in place a strong compliance regime, we believe we’ve acted in accordance with the spirit of what the government’s trying to achieve with these changes and the reality is it’s now a non discriminatory environment, Jongen said.
If a couple deliberately set out to deceive us and we’re able to find evidence of that, then there is the risk, in the most serious cases, of prosecution.
At the end of the voluntary declaration period, around 3000 Centrelink customers had reported they were part of a couple.
Of those, 42 percent receive the family tax benefit, 16 percent collect the age pension and 17 percent collect disability support.
Welfare Rights Network director Maree O’Halloran said the network had received a large number of calls, mostly from older Centrelink recipients concerned about the changes.
She said one couple had been forced to move out of their home because they could no longer afford the rent, while another women had considered ending her relationship because of the income loss.
If you’re on a low income, you’ve paid a very high price for equality -” that’s not to do with Centrelink, they can’t be blamed for this, the government got it half right, O’Halloran said.
The same-sex law reform was fantastic overall, but in the area of social security and Centrelink, people on low incomes are losing quite a lot of money. People in opposite-sex relationships have had the benefits of the law and equality all their life and all their life they’ve known how this works.
Jongen said Centrelink was aware of concerns around older customers declaring their relationships and said social workers would be used if investigations were required.
info: Call Centrelink on 13 6280 or Welfare Rights Centre 1800 226 028