Same-sex couples receiving Centrelink benefits have three months to declare their relationship or risk incurring a penalty or having payments withheld.
Minister for Human Services Senator Joe Ludwig this week launched the government’s advertising campaign, Couples are Couples, to inform the community that last year’s same-sex entitlements legislation will affect those on social security payments.
From July 1 same-sex couples will now be viewed by Centrelink as de facto.
Criteria Centrelink will use to assess whether or not a de facto relationship exists includes whether a couple has joint finances, the structure of the household, and whether or not a sexual relationship exists.
Gay rights groups have been unhappy with the speed with which the government has implemented the changes, especially for those over 55 who may be vulnerable to significant financial loss and fear having to out themselves.
A coalition of rights groups led by ACON (NSW) is still holding discussions with the government about administering the changes sensitively and giving the community more time to adjust.
The Australian Greens moved an unsuccessful motion in the Senate’s last sitting week requesting the government rethink its refusal to amend the timeframe.
In response, Senator Ludwig echoed federal Attorney-General Robert McLelland in saying that the community has been on notice since the legislation was first announced by the government.
-œThe government did not hide the fact that … there would be winners and losers. That is why we put in place a long phase-in time -” 15 months -” for those changes that adversely impact on the finances of same-sex couples, Senator Ludwig told Parliament.
Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young told Southern Star she has written to the Minster for Community Services, Jenny Macklin, requesting leniency in the way Centrelink administers the new laws.
-œThe minister needs to send a clear message to her department that she believes this certain group in the community who receive the pension need to be treated with sensitivity and given a fair go, she said.
-œThe minister could be sending some very clear and direct requests to Centrelink … on how older gay couples should be related to and dealt with through the system.
-œShe could do that if she wanted to and that would at least be softening the approach.
Senator Hanson-Young said she felt government departments were not satisfactorily across the issues needed to deal with same-sex couples.
-œI don’t think they’re ready in relation to the educational programs in a number of the areas they need to roll out by
July 1. I don’t actually think the government departments are ready for these changes.
Lesbian and Gay Solidarity Melbourne and the National Union of Students hit out at the government this week, saying the community has been left with no time to adjust to the changes and the government has failed to investigate the impact on gay and lesbian seniors.
-œIt is unacceptable that individuals and couples should find themselves -˜outed’ if this is not their choice. -This is a cause of great anxiety amongst the LGBTI community, said NUS queer officer Heidi Claus.
-œThe government will recognise our relationships when it means they will save money, but will not grant equal relationship rights -” this is not good enough.
info: Clients can advise Centrelink from March 31 to June 30 that they are living in a same-sex de facto relationship by calling 13 6280.