Older gay and lesbian couples and people living in rural areas will be treated with compassion in their dealings with Centrelink, federal Minister for Housing and Community Services Jenny Macklin has written to a coalition of community groups.
Macklin again ruled out introducing a grandfather clause, but said people’s fears about discrimination should be taken into account when determining debt accrued over the past six months.
If couples show they withheld registering their relationship out of a “legitimate fear” of being discriminated against, Centrelink may be able to waive the debt.
Questions to Macklin’s office, about how people would be able to prove they had withheld their information out of fear of discrimination, went unanswered.
A department spokeswoman reiterated that couples need to register their relationship.
“It is important that same-sex couples receiving Centrelink payments declare their relationship, as these relationships are now legally recognised,” she said.
“We are continuing to take an understanding and compassionate approach to bringing equality under social security.”
Welfare Rights Network president Maree O’Halloran told Southern Star that the letter from the minister’s office would be a useful tool for same-sex couples who want to go before the Social Security Appeals Tribunal.
“It will be a document we can provide to indicate that the minister and Centrelink are taking a particular approach,” O’Halloran explained.
“What I’m fearful of, though, is that, despite this letter, if you are someone who is concerned about discrimination, then you’re unlikely to come forward and try that process.”
Only an estimated 6300 people have declared their same-sex relationships with Centrelink — short of the anticipated 11,000.
“It is disappointing that the minister did not provide any transitional arrangements, but it’s encouraging to see that there is compassionate language in this letter,” Coalition for Equality spokesman Corey Irlam said.
“Couples who have questioned whether they are a member of a couple, as defined by Centrelink rules, should feel encouraged that this provides an opportunity for them to discuss their situation with Welfare Rights, and act accordingly.”

info:To contact the Welfare Rights Network, visit www.welfarerights.org.au or call 1800 226 028.

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