Call to change rules for couples

A new report has found that Centrelink’s couple rule is causing difficulties for women in domestic violence situations.

Australia’s national security system, including the Age Pension, pays different amounts to recipients who are single and those who live as a couple.

Single people receive more than half the couple rate to account for the greater costs of living alone.

According to the report, Domestic Violence, Social Security and the Couple Rule, produced by Dr Lyndal Sleep for Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROW), the couple rule can be problematic for women attempting to leave violent partners.

This is because the end date of the relationship is not always clearcut and it is common for women to make multiple attempts to leave.

Centrelink does provide access to a one-off crisis payment, allocated on the basis of a domestic violence screening process, however information acquired through the screening process may subsequently be used as evidence that a relationship exists.

“Some women who have claimed a single person’s benefit at the time they were trying to leave a violent relationship have been found to be in breach of the couple rule on the basis of evidence collected by Centrelink,” the report claims.

The research examined publicly available Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) decisions that involved domestic violence and the couple rule.

The nature of violence and control by the perpetrator was rarely considered in AAT decisions about the couple rule, the research found.

“Even when domestic violence was identified at the AAT, the reality of women’s lived experiences was seldom taken into account in decisions,” Dr Sleep said.

“There was little indication that the AAT regularly applied the ‘special reason’ provision to override the couple rule in cases involving domestic violence.”

The ‘special reason’ provision in the Social Security Act allows for a person not to be treated as though he/she were a member of a couple when there was a ‘special reason’.

The research also found that the records used at the AAT as evidence could be inaccurate in domestic violence situations.

In 80 per cent of couple rule decisions where the relationship involved domestic violence, police and health records documenting domestic violence were used as evidence of a relationship. This information had originally been collected with women’s safety in mind, yet it was used to make adverse findings against women at AAT hearings.

“Police records of a domestic violence incident at a residential address could be used as evidence that the couple had shared living arrangements,” Dr Sleep said. “This is particularly an issue when a perpetrator attempts to continue his control over his ex-partner post-separation by harassing her at her home.

“Hospital and police records, which included statements by the attending health staff member or police officer as to the nature of the relationship or the nature of the commitment by either partner, were also used as evidence at the AAT.”

The report recommends that the Social Security Act be amended to explicitly include domestic violence as a factor to be considered when determining whether a person should be considered a member of a couple for social security purposes and whether a Centrelink debt should be waived.

It also suggests that all Centrelink and AAT decision-makers be required to complete training in domestic violence.

What do you think? Should Centrelink change the couple rule to explicitly consider domestic violence situations?

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Ben Hocking
Ben Hocking
Ben Hocking is a skilled writer and editor with interests and expertise in politics, government, Centrelink, finance, health, retirement income, superannuation, Wordle and sports.
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