centrelink partner marriage definitions

The current housing crisis can be seen in many ways. The most obvious is the reduced ability for younger Australians to get a foot in the property market. But there are other ways it hurts as well. One is the growing trend for couples who separate to stay together, at least physically, as it is too hard or too expensive to go out on their own to rent or buy.

Obviously it’s far from ideal if you decide you don’t wish to be together any longer and financial circumstances force you to stay in the same dwelling and to report on this situation to a third party, i.e. Centrelink. This situation comes up quite a lot in our consultations with people who are trying to navigate the Centrelink maze.

But it’s also relevant to those who are new to a relationship – at what point does a first date become a ‘relationship’? And we’ve had questions on how Centrelink views same sex marriage, a brother and sister who share, and a mother and daughter who also share. So read on for a summary of the main rules and how we’ve solved some of the Retirement Essentials members’ questions. 

Your relationship status determines whether you are paid a single or couples rate of Age Pension (should you qualify). It also determines which income and asset thresholds you are tested against and therefore the rate you will be paid.

Centrelink assesses you as a couple if you are:

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

What happens if you separate?

If there has been a physical and emotional separation, then those in the relationship who have parted are considered to have become singles. 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. Your ‘ex couple’ status may be regularly reviewed by Centrelink  to ensure the correct amount is being paid. 

What about people who share?

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

What about same-sex relationships

Since July 2009, people living in same-sex relationships have been treated in the same way as heterosexual couples by Services Australia. This means that they receive the same entitlements, are assessed in the same way and have the same obligations as opposite-sex couples. This includes partner concession card benefits.

What happens if you fail to disclose something?

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 who also have to complete and return a ‘partner details form’.

The rules in action

A picture is worth 1000 words – and Customer Services Team Leader, Steven Sadler’s answers to your questions are worth even more than that in our opinion. Here he responds to various relationship issues and how Centrelink might view them.

Siblings sharing a home

Question: I live with my brother. We are both about to qualify for an Age Pension. Are relationships such as brother and sister, mother and daughter etc classed as singles or couples?

Steven says:

Thanks for contacting us Sarah. Centrelink classes couples essentially as two people involved in a romantic relationship. Family members who live together are not considered to be couples.

Valerie has been waiting months:

Question: You state that “You are required to inform Centrelink of any change in relationship circumstances”. 

My partner and I have now been waiting for over three months (with absolutely no income) to get any payment from Centrelink, him applying for Jobseeker (66 and injured) and me for the Age Pension (73). We have been trying to find out why it is taking so long, e.g. maybe more information is required? We live 80 kilometres from the nearest Centrelink/Services Australia office, so we phone them. But every time we ring the message is all operators are busy goodbye and the line goes dead or we wait anything up to 50 minutes before the line just drops out. Is it usual for it to take three months or more to get a payment please? We are currently living off our credit card so have avoided driving into the office due to the cost of fuel.

Steven says:

Hi Valerie, thank you for sharing your situation and I’m sorry to hear how it has played out. For what it is worth you are not alone. Many people are waiting three or more months just to get an assessor to look at their claim at the moment. When calling Centrelink I recommend you call them right on 8am when their lines open so that you can get through more quickly and easily. 

Stefan is unsure if a singles or couples pension applies

Question: Hi, I’m currently 68 and my wife is 64. I receive a single part-Age Pension. My wife does not work. My question is, am I entitled to any couples pension in this instance?

Steven says:

Hi Stefan, thank you for joining the conversation! I think you may misunderstand the payment you are currently on. As per the rules, you receive the single OR couple Age Pension based upon whether or not you are in a relationship with someone. Because you are married, that means that you are actually on the couples’ pension, not the single, unless you declared to Centrelink that you are single. You will not receive the full couples’ pension because it is paid 50/50 between you and your wife and as she is not yet age eligible you can only receive your 50% of the couples’ pension.

Jane is separated, but together

Question: I am on the single Age Pension since August 2021 after finishing work at 67. This is my only income. My husband and I separated in 2017 which I told Centrelink when I applied for the Age Pension. I live alone but am still good friends with my ex. I have let him keep using my address for his driver’s license tax etc as he stays with his sisters and moves around a lot and doesn’t really have a permanent address. He has emphysema and I think I will allow him to come back home to me next year when he turns 67 to look after him to do the right thing. I will then contact Centrelink to let them know he has returned and we would go on a couples’ Age Pension. Will this be okay and will I make an appointment before he returns or wait till he actually turns 67 and physically comes back to my unit? He is working sporadically but doesn’t make much and will stop next year if he comes back to my place as work dust is harming his health. We have no joint assets at all and separate bank accounts, tax returns etc and I own the unit that I bought myself over the years. I want to do the correct thing with Centrelink. Could you please advise what would be best to do?

Steven says:

Hi Jane, thank you for sharing your situation with us. What you have proposed is not a bad idea but there is a potentially better way. Centrelink acknowledges situations where couples separate in terms of their relationship, but remain living together as friends. They call it ‘Separated Under One Roof’. There is a relevant form that you and your ex would need to complete a copy of each. However doing so means that you can both be assessed as two singles who live together, rather than as a couple. Neither of your finances would impact the other and you would both receive the maximum amount of single Age Pension.

Understanding exactly how Centrelink will interpret your situation requires a lot of know-how and experience in the way the rules are applied. Our friendly 30-minute phone consultations could sort your concerns easily and help ensure your dealings with Centrelink are as efficient and successful as possible.

What is your situation?

Is it straightforward according to Centrelink’s rules?
Or is it causing you some concern or confusion?