Fraudulent couples on welfare notice

Centrelink has put on notice welfare recipients who, in order to receive a higher benefit payment, claim to be single, despite living as part of a couple.

Taskforce Integrity, which investigates fraudulent claims and retrieves over-payments as a result, is taking aim at those who lie about their relationship status in order to claim the higher single person dole payment. While the current push to stop fraudulent claims based on relationship status is aimed at those who are unemployed and claiming the dole, being part of a couple also affects the assessment and payments rates of benefits such as the Age Pension and Disability Support Pension.

Sharing of information across government agencies means that it is now easier to discover when a person claims to be single for one payment, yet part of a couple for another in order to receive benefits paid to couples.

Running in the Sydney suburb of Rockdale last year, a pilot program of Taskforce Integrity netted $2.2 million in Commonwealth debts, with 36 cases of suspected fraud investigated. The taskforce now operates across areas of NSW, Victoria and Queensland where high levels of fraud are suspected. Nine officers from the Federal Police, who have expertise in fraud detection, have bolstered the taskforce.

Human Services Minister Stuart Roberts put on notice those who seek to abuse the system for financial gain. “The message is simple – if you are a member of a couple you must declare this if you are receiving welfare payments. The majority of welfare recipients do the right thing, however, the reality is there are those who deliberately try to game the system,” he said.

According to projections given in the Mid Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO), such revenue recovery through data sharing between agencies will save $1.3 billion over three years. 

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Opinion: One rule doesn’t suit all

Defrauding taxpayers for financial gain is never acceptable but as we at YourLifeChoices are continually reminded, not everything is black and white.

The discrepancy between the Age Pension for singles and a single member of a couple is $213.50 per fortnight, once you factor in supplements. And while the saying may be that ‘two can live as cheaply as one’, the harsh reality is that this is not the case.

Pension payment rates 

In the last week we have received emails from two of our members who are living as part of couple and assessed by Centrelink as such, despite having no access to their partners money. Bills such as rent, utilities and food are expected to be halved in such instances, with the financial burden often greater on the member of the couple that receives the lower rate of Age Pension.

A blanket rule is applied to such couples, with no consideration given to those who, while linked romantically to another, stand very much alone financially. Gone are the days when couples stayed together for life, building their nest eggs and retirement savings together. Second marriages or relationships often bring with them the burden of reduced financial status for at least one member of the couple.

By all means track down those who deliberately defraud taxpayers but perhaps it’s time to address the lack of flexibility in the assessment of the Age Pension for those who are very much single when it comes to financial issues.

Do you suffer financially by being part of a couple? Do you think that the means of assessment are fair for members of a couple? Have you encountered anyone who has lied about their relationship status for financial gain?

Written by Debbie McTaggart

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