single or couple Age Pension entitlements

Last month Steven (who’s head of our Customer Services Team) answered a series of questions about whether our members should be receiving a single or couples Age Pension. These questions coincided with new Age Pension increases, with many people questioning whether they were receiving the right amounts. 

This reminded us that the Centrelink definition of singles and couples is less than clear. Here are some of the questions that sparked this discussion, Steven’s answer, as well as a quick summary of the basic things you need to know regarding your relationship status.

Royce started the conversation by asking:

‘My wife receives $1525.50 gross per fortnight for 50 hours of part-time work. I receive a couples part Age Pension amount of $508.96 per fortnight. Any increase in salary that my wife receives comes off my pension payments. We cannot get ahead of our bills.
She wants to retire in four years’ time at 60, when we will have to live off one couples pension. How do we do that when rates have just gone up $500 and body corporate fees by$1000? I have worked all my life. I’m an army veteran and worked for charities. A couples pension is a joke.’

Another member, Ken, jumped in and responded to Royce:

‘I know how you feel. I went through it when I was with a partner who was working and I lost a huge portion of my pension. But you should be on a single pension if your wife is not on the pension.’

Then Steven stepped up to clarify:

‘Hi Ken, thank you for sharing your experience with us! Just to clarify though, Centrelink pays the single/couple pension based on whether or not you have a partner. Even if your partner is not eligible for the Age Pension, the fact that you have a partner means that you receive the couples pension rate.’

Val, Mel and Freddy all asked the same question, believing a partner on the Age Pension would receive a single pension until the other partner qualifies. 

Which made us realise that this aspect of the Age Pension remains confusing. 

Here’s a quick overview of the singles and couples Age Pension rates of payment and the rules which determine who gets what.

Rates of payment for full Age Pensions as at 20 September, 2023:

Single (per fortnight) Previous Amount20 September 2023Increase
 Energy Supplement$14.10$14.10
Couple (each, per fortnight)    
 Energy Supplement$10.60$10.60

Whether you are a single or a couple can affect every aspect of your entitlements including:

  • if you get a payment
  • the type of payment and
  • the amount you receive.

You also don’t necessarily have to be living with a partner in order for Centrelink to view you as a couple. This is defined as:

  • being married,
  • in a registered relationship, or
  • in a de facto relationship.

Apart from determining whether you are paid a single or couples rate of pension, relationship status also determines which income and asset thresholds you are tested against and therefore the rate you will be paid.

Those in a relationship who then separate, are considered to have become singles if there has been a physical and emotional separation. Such a separation includes partners who separate but continue to live in the same house, in which case a ‘separated under one roof’ declaration is required from each person. 

Singles who share housing may also need to submit a ‘relationship details form’. 

We were asked if relationships such as brother and sister, or mother and daughter, are classed as singles or couples. Steven Sadler confirms that Centrelink defines couples essentially as two people involved in a romantic relationship. Family members who live together are not considered to be couples.

And don’t forget …

You are required to inform Centrelink of any change in relationship circumstances. Should you not do so, and you receive more than your correct entitlement, you may be required to refund the amount and/or face other penalties. Such changes include couples who start a relationship – they too need to complete and return a ‘partner details form’.

If you are uncertain of your status, or how Centrelink rules might apply you can book a consultation.  Our friendly team are always happy to explain the finer points of Centrelink regulations.  You can also look at the difference in your entitlements based on your relationship status on our free Age Pension Entitlements Calculator.

What do you think?

Are these definitions and requirements fair?

If not, how would you like to see them changed?