Can you apply for special treatment to be treated as a single?

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Michael is living in a de facto relationship, has had his pension cut and is looking for solutions.

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Q. Michael
I received a letter from Centrelink recently regarding rent assistance, stating it had gone down! My pension had been decreased by approximately $200 per fortnight, down from $1100.00 to $843.40. I immediately went into Centrelink to query the huge decrease in the pension.

I was told that because I had applied with them for a de facto relationship, I was now considered a couple and that my pension was previously paid as a single person.

My partner is currently applying for a partner visa. Centrelink has all the details and she currently holds a bridging B visa. She is unable to work because of COVID, etc and receives no support from the government in any way, and I have supported her throughout. We have lived together since November 2018 and applied to Centrelink on 14 May as a de facto couple.

Do I now apply for a separation and say we are living under the same roof to get back to my original single payment as they consider us as a couple?

A. You should definitely not fill out any form claiming that you have separated if that is not the case. This will be assessed as fraud and could have serious legal implications.

You can apply to Centrelink for a form requesting a section 24 assessment, which is for them to view your case personally and use their discretion to treat you as not being part of a couple for a special reason.

This is a discretionary area of the social security law and only applies in limited situations.

Section 24 exists to deal with unfair, inequitable and/or unjust anomalies that crop up in certain circumstances.

In situations where the department considers that there is a special reason not to treat a person as a member of a couple because it would be unfair to administer the rate of payment, or income or assets test provisions that apply to couples, a special provision can be made.

When assessing an application to be considered for section 24, the department will look at whether there is a lack of ability to pool resources as a result of their circumstances or if there is financial difficulty as a result of their circumstances.

In general, the circumstances must be unusual, uncommon, abnormal or exceptional. This is not to say that the circumstances must be unique, but they must have a particular quality of unusualness that permits them to be described as special.

Previous decisions indicate that ineligibility for social security, of itself, is very unlikely to constitute a ‘special reason’ for the exercise of section 24. Also, considering a person’s financial difficulty is not, of itself, sufficient to constitute ‘special reason’.

However, as your partner has no financial resources to contribute to the relationship and no income, as she is not residentially qualified for income support, it does mean that as a couple you are unable to pool resources as a result of your circumstances.

In cases such as these, and subject to the usual means and assets tests, section 24 should generally be applied, but it will be reviewed regularly to ensure that your partner has not become eligible for a social security payment.

Did you know you could apply to have the single rate of pension in special circumstances? Have you applied for a single rate previously? Was it a difficult process?

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Written by Ben



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