Living apart – together

George and his wife are effectively living separate lives, but are still assessed as a couple, which is causing them financial hardship. Could they be reassessed as singles?

Q. George
My wife and I are 85 and 86 years of age respectively. We still live in my wife’s fully paid-off home and receive the Age Pension as a couple.

However for nearly 10 years, since my open heart surgery (in May 2004) and various ongoing heart problems, we are living in separate bedrooms, have separate TV sets, separate wardrobes, but a common fridge and do our shopping on alternate system. We also share a motor vehicle. Although our pensions are deposited to our joint bank account, money is divided, after payment of utilities.

We struggle to make ends meet since my modest income from doing some limited accountancy work has diminished. Under these circumstances would we be eligible to receive the single rate of pension, and if this is possible, then what steps do we need to take to achieve this very important change?

A. Generally when you are married and have assets and bank accounts in common then Centrelink will consider that you are a couple. Where being assessed as a member of a couple is causing you financial hardship, Centrelink can, in some instances, consider special circumstances to classify you as a single.

This is covered in Section 24 of the Social Security Act and there are no specific guidelines – it is a discretionary decision. You can find out more about Section 24 of the Social Security Act from the Australian Law Reform Commission –  

You should contact Centrelink to discuss your circumstances, but you may also wish to consider legal separation and splitting of your joint assets and accounts.

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