Centrelink Q&A: Separated couple living under the same roof

Q. Gwen

My husband and I are separated but still living on the same property for financial reasons. That is likely to be a long-term arrangement.

We had been receiving the Age Pension as a couple but I am thinking of applying to Centrelink for a singles payment. Can you explain how that will be viewed?

A. If you are living in the same property, it’s not as simple as declaring “I’m single now”. You will need to prove to Centrelink you are single and, frankly, the process seems a bit of a doozy.

As single people receive more pension than each member of a couple, naturally Centrelink is wary of handing out more money just because people say they are separated and, as a result, there are quite a few hoops to jump through.

First of all, you will need to notify Centrelink of your relationship change.

Centrelink will consider all relevant information regarding the separation, including details provided by you or obtained from independent sources.

Each party will need to explain why they continue to share a residence, provide evidence of the breakdown, that there has been a genuine separation and there are no plans to resume the relationship.

Read: Explained: Deeming rates for the Age Pension and health card

Centrelink will take into account each person’s statement but greater weight will be given to objective third party evidence. Evidence of friends and family will be given less weight.

Weighting the information helps to establish whether a separation is genuine or contrived and whether it is permanent or temporary.

Good sources of third-party evidence include solicitors – especially if a property settlement or divorce has been sought – accountants, a minister of religion, a counsellor or social worker.

If there are no independent sources of information, a government social worker may need to investigate to provide enough evidence.

The government will also take into account if you are living in a separate dwelling on the same property such as a granny flat or second home.

Centrelink considers six factors when assessing if a person is separated but living under the same roof.

Financial

You may have to provide evidence of splitting bills, transferring assets to one partner, seeking a financial settlement, closing joint bank accounts and other actions to separate finances.

Other considerations include whether either party has claimed the other as a partner on their tax return to the ATO or other government departments, whether either partner is a beneficiary of the other’s will, superannuation, life insurance or other financial arrangement.

Read: Proposal to double the Age Pension

Nature of the household

Government officers will investigate if you have made any effort to physically remove yourself from the other partner to live independently.

They will take into account shared spaces such as bathrooms and kitchen, whether one party is paying rent to the other and if each party does their own shopping/cooking/home maintenance or have a roster agreement similar to a shared household.

Joint responsibility for children

If you are in retirement, hopefully you are no longer responsible for any children of the relationship but, if you are, Centrelink will take into account that you may be sharing the same property to provide continuity of care to a child.

Social aspects of the relationship

The social aspect is how the separated couple demonstrate they are living separate lives.

Indicators the government will consider include:

  • whether friends and family are aware of the relationship breakdown
  • if you go on holidays separately
  • if you visit adult children separately
  • if one of the parties has developed a relationship with another person
  • if you have had to notify an organisation such as a school you are separated.

Read: How not to fall foul of this Centrelink rule

Presence of a sexual relationship

Not surprisingly, if you are still having a sexual relationship, Centrelink generally considers you are a couple.

Nature of the commitment

This factor examines the level of commitment the parties have to each other and what measures they have taken to distance themselves from each other.

Factors that will be considered include:

  • whether there has been a withdrawal of intimacy, companionship and support
  • whether the parties have any jointly held plans for the future
  • whether the parties share information and communicate with each other
  • whether either party would help the other if there was a personal or family crisis or if they were hospitalised or in the event of a long-term illness
  • whether either party intends, or has taken action, to divorce the other party.

So, as you can see, it’s quite a complicated process and may take some time. However, it’s worth getting it right.

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Written by Jan Fisher

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