Two elderly gay men were told their Centrelink pensions would be cut as part of the new same-sex reforms because they can’t prove they aren’t in a relationship.
The pair, who were once in a relationship, now don’t know what to do because there is no legal means for gay divorce.
Mike, 65, has been caring for his former partner Russ, 63, since a surgical procedure went wrong four years ago, and has acted on his behalf when dealing with his Centrelink disability pension.
I told them we were going to be leaving the country for three weeks and Centrelink was asking me if we were legally married and said we’re going to lose the single person rate, Mike told Sydney Star Observer.
Do I have to prove I’m not in a relationship? If you can’t legally marry, you can’t legally divorce.
Eight years ago Mike sponsored Russ as his interdependent partner to immigrate to Australia from the US, but said the relationship ended after two years.
We were go to the States to see his mother, who isn’t well. He has to tell Centrelink whenever he intends to leave the country.
When I called Centrelink, she said even if you are married overseas or in a de facto relationship with another same-sex person you are now going to lose your single person rate and put on the married couple rate.
A Centrelink spokeswoman told Sydney Star Observer that questions about a possible same-sex relationship were not generally asked of customers, but questions about carer benefits could involve relationship status.
Centrelink has not started registering the relationship status of people in same sex relationships. As with all changes to Social Security Law, we rely on policy details to be provided by the relevant Federal Government Department on whose behalf we deliver payments, she said.
Although the equality reforms recognising same-sex couples has not yet passed the parliament, this year’s federal budget authorised agencies to update their computer systems in preparation.
Mike said it was the first time he’d ever been asked about the nature of his relationship by Centrelink and didn’t know how to prove they were only in a carer relationship.
I sponsored him many years ago, that’s on our record. But the romance is gone. We’re just friends now. There’s no such thing as gay divorce, he said.
We’ve got friends who are little old ladies who moved together for economic reasons. Are they going to have to prove they aren’t in a relationship too?
Mike said he was never told he needed to tell Centrelink or Immigration officials about his relationship break-up because Russ’s citizenship was granted and Centrelink had not previously recognised them as a couple.
On pension forms, Mike had written the pair were carer and friend.
Attempts to clarify how Centrelink will recognise same-sex separations were unsuccessful this week. Further clarification has been sought from Community Services Minister Jenny Macklin.