We recently had an SSO reader ask about the procedure involved in applying for an Age Pension. He wanted to know whether or not he should include his same-sex partner’s income and assets on the application form.
In a nutshell a person who is in a same-sex relationship who is applying for an Age Pension in Australia does not need to declare that they are in a relationship, nor their partner’s income or assets. This is because the legislation clearly defines a person who is a “member of a couple” as someone in a relationship with a person of the opposite sex.
On the face of it this may seem to benefit same-sex attracted individuals. For example, if your partner is earning a substantial income and you are in a heterosexual relationship, it is likely that your combined income will be over the combined income threshold. This would make you ineligible for a pension. However, as same-sex attracted individuals do not need to declare their partner’s income, the only relevant information in determining your eligibility is your individual income.
However, the legislation can also hurt same-sex attracted individuals. This is because the eligibility of a person in a heterosexual couple is determined by the couple’s total combined income. For example, even if a heterosexual male earned over the single income threshold but he and his partner’s combined income was below the couple income threshold then he would still be eligible for the Age Pension. A GLBTI Australian on the same income but in a relationship with a combined income below the threshold would not be eligible.
More recently we’ve seen a large number of respectable older members of our community attempting to “support the system that supports them” by declaring their partners on applications for the Age Pension only to be told that the form was not valid because of the inclusion of their partner’s details. Similar issues have been seen across our community when people have applied for other benefits.
Whilst these good intentions are admirable, the consequences can be embarrassing and time-consuming. A significant reason for much of this confusion is the failure by Centrelink to include any explanation of “partnership” on their website. Indeed a discussion with a customer service officer confirmed that it was internally well known that same-sex couples were not considered couples for the purposes of the pension but no information could be found to explain why.
The Federal Government has intimated that it will look to change a raft of Federal legislation some time in the future, and the Labor Party has voiced its determination to remove discrimination against same-sex couples. As such, while the social security legislation which governs the Age Pension will almost certainly be amended at some time, it is likely to continue to be both beneficial and detrimental to the GBLTI community in the near future.
See Chapter 9 of the Human Rights & Equal Opportunity Commission’s Same Sex: Same Entitlements report (www.humanrights.gov.au/human_rights/samesex/report/Ch_9.html).

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