As Centrelink’s July 1 deadline for same-sex couples to declare their relationships draws closer there still seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding what the changes mean for welfare recipients and who’ll be counted as being in a relationship.

Government ads with the slogan If you’re a couple at home, you’re now a couple at Centrelink may have added to the confusion of former partners who still live together in a shared home -” particularly if they haven’t read the fine print.

For those in that situation, if you have separate bedrooms, separate bank accounts, and pay rent to your partner if they own the house you live in, you’re not going to be treated as a couple as long as you make clear to Centrelink you’re no longer more than just friends.

Even if you own property together, it doesn’t have to be an issue, so long as you don’t later claim a couple status to gain a benefit there -” such as when one of you moves into aged care accommodation.

These days it’s no longer uncommon for friends to buy houses together to spread the burden of the mortgage, so again, as long as you have separate bedrooms and bank accounts, you should be in the clear.

Another common gripe has been the notion that recognising same-sex couples as dependent somehow means they’re being forced into a heterosexual model of relationship or being treated as if they’re married.

Let’s make this clear -” there’s nothing metaphysical about having different rates of payment for couples and singles.

All our pensioners deserve more, but individuals in coupled relationships receive lower rates of payment because couples get to split many of their living expenses where single people cannot.

A single person living in a one-bedroom house or unit pays double the rent a person sharing that dwelling as part of a couple would. Couples generally use the same amount of electricity and gas as singles, and will often use less water than two people living separately, so partnered people pay a lot less for utilities as well.

And although for government purposes, a couple generally has to live together for six months to be considered de facto, Centrelink treats couples who move in together as couples from day one no matter how long they’re planning on staying together.

For the full details of what the changes will mean for you across all areas, visit ag.gov.au/samesexreform.

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