1.1.P.412 Principal carer

Introduction

This topic sets out the definition of principal carer. The definition of principal carer applies across all relevant income support payments: PP, NSA, YA job seeker and SpB.

Meeting the definition of principal carer is a necessary condition in order for:

  • a child to be a PP child of a person, and for the person to be qualified for PP,
  • parents receiving NSA or YA job seeker to receive a range of add-ons and concessions, and the pension PPS MBR for NSA and YA in certain circumstances (5.1.1.20 and 5.1.8.20), and
  • parents receiving PP, NSA, YA job seeker or SpB to be subject to part-time (rather than full-time) participation requirements or to access a range of specific exemptions for principal carers from participation requirements (3.5.1.260).

Definition

A person is a principal carer of a child if:

  • the child is a dependent child (1.1.D.70) of the person, AND
  • the child has not turned 16.

Act reference: SSAct section 5(15) to 5(24) Principal carer…, section 5(2) to 5(8A) Dependent child…

Policy reference: SS Guide 1.1.D.70 Dependent child, 1.1.Y.20 Youth allowance job seeker

Only one person can be the principal carer of a particular child

SSAct subsection 5(18) specifies that only one person at a time can be the principal carer of a particular child. In all shared care situations, it is necessary to determine which of the carers is the principal carer.

If both shared care parents are receiving NSA, depending on their level of care, both may receive the NSA (with child) rate. However, only one parent could be determined to be the principal carer of a particular child.

Example: A couple have separated and have joint legal responsibility (1.1.L.33) for, and share the care of, their child who is aged 9. Both are receiving the NSA (with child) rate. However, even when the care of the child is equal, subsection 5(19) requires that a determination be made stating which of the carers is the principal carer.

In shared care cases a written determination must:

  • specify the person who is determined as being the principal carer of the child,
  • be provided to each adult, and
  • be made EVEN if only one person has claimed a relevant income support payment.

If the care of a child is being shared by 2 people and only one of them has legal responsibility for the day-to-day care, welfare and development of the child, and the child is in the adult's care, only that person is the principal carer.

Act reference: SSAct section 5(18) Only one person at a time can be principal carer of a particular child, section 5(19) If the Secretary is satisfied that…

Policy reference: SS Guide 3.5.1.20 Child-related Qualification for PP - Overview, 1.1.P.340 PP child (PP)

Principal carer status & legal responsibility

If 2 or more people have legal responsibility for the day-to-day care, welfare and development of the child then the person with the greater degree of care and control of the child is generally the principal carer of that child. If the child is not in the care of the person/s who have legal responsibility for their day-to-day care, welfare and development, then the child is the dependent child of the person/s who are wholly or substantially caring for the child. If the child can be regarded as the dependent of more than one person in this latter circumstance the principal carer is generally the person who has the greater degree of responsibility for the child's day-to-day care, welfare and development.

Members of a couple

In cases where individuals are a member of a couple only one person can be eligible for principal carer status.

Example: Rhiannon and Kate are in a registered relationship and have 2 children, Lucas and Clare. Both Rhiannon and Kate are eligible for income support, however, only one of them can be regarded as the principal carer of both Lucas and Clare.

If both members of a couple could be assessed as being the principal carer and neither agrees to surrender claim for that status:

  • a written determination must specify the person who has been determined as the principal carer, and
  • a copy of the determination must be given to both members of the couple.

Act reference: SSAct section 5(20A) Principal carer-which member of a couple can be a principal carer

Step-parents

For the purpose of determining whether a person is the principal carer of a child, SSAct subsection 5(16) allows a person who is a step-parent of a child to be taken to be legally responsible for the day-to-day care, welfare and development of the child if:

  • the person is living with the child and a parent of the child, AND
  • the person and the parent of the child are members of the same couple.

However, section 5(16) does not affect the determination of whether another person is taken to be legally responsible for the child. Single step-parents continue to qualify for relevant payments where they are the principal carer, through the application of SSAct paragraph 5(2)(b).

Explanation: Stepchildren do not meet the definition of 'dependent child' that the legislation requires for a parent to qualify for PPP. Under subsection 5(16), where a partnered step-parent is providing the primary care for a child, then the person is taken to be legally responsible for the child, and the child will be taken to be a dependent child of the person. This subsection allows partnered step-parents to qualify for PPP, NSA, YA job seeker and SpB as a principal carer.

Example: Alison and her partner Derek do not have any children together, however Derek has a 3 year old daughter Ruth from his previous marriage. Ruth lives with Alison and Derek, and Alison stays home to care for her while Derek works full-time. As Alison lives with Ruth and Derek, and is responsible for the daily care and welfare of Ruth, Alison is eligible for PPP.

Act reference: SSAct section 5(16) Principal carer (step-parents), section 5(2) to 5(8A) Dependent child…

Policy reference: SS Guide 1.1.D.70 Dependent child, 1.1.P.415 Principal carer - foster care

Grandparents & kinship carers

If the person with legal responsibility is not caring for the child, then the person who is wholly or substantially caring for the child will be the principal carer (taking any temporary absence into account - see below). In many instances, this might be a grandparent or a relative of the child who has taken on the responsibility of caring for the child where the parent is unwilling or unable to care for the child.

Example 1: Ben is 4 years old and lives with his grandmother Polly. Ben's mother Liz is legally responsible for Ben and lives with her boyfriend and sees Ben intermittently; however, she leaves all decisions affecting Ben's daily care and control to Polly. As a result of this circumstance, the determination is made that Ben is not in Liz's care. As Ben lives with Polly and Polly very substantially cares for Ben, by providing daily care, and seeing to Ben's welfare, Polly is the principal carer and eligible for PPS.

Example 2: James is 3 and lives with his mother Sharon and his grandmother Mavis. James' grandmother Mavis contributes towards expenses for James and seems to shoulder a substantial degree of the work associated with James' daily care needs. However, as the natural parent, and with no court order conferring parental responsibility to Mavis, Sharon is legally responsible for James and can demonstrate that she exercises decisions relating to his daily care and control. Sharon is therefore the principal carer of James rather than Mavis.

Principal carer during a temporary absence from care

Generally a child must be in the adult's care in order to satisfy the principal carer, dependent and PP child definitions. However, SSAct subsection 5(17) allows a person to remain the principal carer of a child during an absence from the child's care. This provision is designed to ensure that principal carers do not lose qualification for payment during short absences of the child (e.g. during the school holidays).

Since being the principal carer of a child is one of the criteria for having a PP child, it follows that the process of determining who is the principal carer during a temporary absence will also determine which carer has the PP child (1.1.P.340).

Principal carer during a temporary absence of no more than 8 weeks

Under paragraph 5(17)(a) to (c), a person is taken to remain the principal carer of a child if:

  • at the start of a period not exceeding 8 weeks, the child leaves the person's care, AND
  • throughout the period, the child is the dependent of another person, AND
  • the child returns, or the Secretary is satisfied that the child will return to the first person's care at the end of the period.

Explanation: The purpose of paragraph 5(17)(a) to (c) is to provide a general rule which specifies an 8-week period of absence during which a child may still be taken to be in the adult's care. This allows a child to be absent from the adult who usually cares for them for a period of up to 8 weeks and still be regarded as being in that adult's care for qualification purposes. As a consequence, the person can continue to meet the principal carer definition during this period.

Example: The parents of a child are separated and the child is normally cared for by Parent A (who is receiving PP). The child goes to stay with Parent B for 6 weeks during the Christmas school holidays. Because Parent A has only temporarily delegated the care of the child to Parent B, the child is taken to remain in Parent A's care under subsection 5(17). The delegate must determine if subsection 5(17) applies even in situations where Parent B does not lodge a competing claim for PP.

Note: Paragraph 5(17)(a) to (c) ONLY applies:

  • where the duration of the absence is LESS THAN OR EQUAL TO 8 weeks, and
  • ONLY in circumstances where the child could be regarded as a dependent of more than one person SIMULTANEOUSLY.

Paragraph 5(17)(a) to (c) does NOT apply:

  • where the people in question are the parents of the child and remain members of the same couple, OR
  • where an absence is expected to exceed, or has exceeded, 8 weeks, OR
  • when deciding whether a child is still in a person's care for any purpose OTHER than the definition of principal carer.

Example: The parents of the child are separated and the child is normally cared for by Parent A (who is receiving NSA). Parent A is hospitalised for 7 weeks and the child is cared for by Parent B. Parent B lodges a claim for NSA (with child) rate and FTB and seeks to be recognised as a principal carer.

Explanation: As the absence is for less than 8 weeks, subsection 5(17) applies. The child is still regarded as being in Parent A's care under subsection 5(17). The parents' competing claims to be the principal carer would be assessed under the shared care guidelines (3.5.1.50), as the child is considered to be the dependent child of both parents. In view of the fact that Parent A is already in receipt of payment, and the short period of the absence, Parent A would continue to be the principal carer.

Principal carer during a temporary absence of more than 8 weeks

It is still possible that a person may remain the principal carer of a child during an absence from the child's care exceeding 8 weeks. Subsection 5(17) does not set out any conditions to be met to allow a person to remain the principal carer of a child in these circumstances. This means that a decision must be made based on the individual circumstances of the case.

The meaning of 'in the adult's care' is relevant to making a decision under subsection 5(16). The AAT recognised circumstances in which the care of the child is delegated to another person, where the care is 'limited in time and scope' to a 'period of agreed absence' would still constitute as 'in the adults care' (Re A and Director-General of Social Security (1984) AATA 82). Similarly, the AAT stated that a person may continue to have care of their child if they delegate certain aspects of that care 'for limited time and for limited purposes' (Re Secretary To the Department of Social Security v Van Luc Ho (1987) FCA 381). While the length of the absence can be an important factor in making this determination it is not the overriding consideration.

This reason for the absence may be relevant to the determination. For example, the absence may be related to a seasonal work outcome which involves the custodial parent travelling away from the home for a certain period of time. Rather than disrupting the child's school arrangements, the child's care is delegated to another person. Or the parents of the child may have block shared-care arrangements in which the child lives with the non-custodial parent for a certain period of time. As the custodial parent continues to exercise control over the key decisions relating to the child, they would continue to remain the principal carer with respect to that child.

Therefore the child can continue to be regarded as being in the care of the person if the person can DEMONSTRATE AN ONGOING INVOLVEMENT in the care of the child and continues to exercise control over key decisions relating to the child. There should also be a clear indication that usual caring arrangements will resume at a specified time.

Example 1: The parents of a child are separated and the child is normally cared for by Parent A (who is receiving PP). Parent A must go interstate for 11 weeks to care for a sick relative, and the child is cared for by Parent B. Parent B lodges a claim for PP. A determination must be made with regard to subsection 5(17) as to whether Parent A is still the principal carer and should continue to receive PP, or whether Parent B should be granted PP.

Explanation: Subsection 5(17) allows for the continuation of payment beyond 8 weeks, if the absence is temporary. A decision as to which person is the principal carer and is qualified for PP must be made having regard to the nature of the absence. In view of the fact that Parent A is already in receipt of payment, and the absence is temporary and has a defined end date, payment of PP would continue with Parent A.

Example 2: Parent A, who is the principal carer and is receiving NSA, has joined the armed forces and, as part of the induction and training course for new recruits, s/he is required to attend a residential training facility for 10 weeks. While attending this training Parent A has delegated the care of the child to Parent B. During this period Parent A retains responsibility for the day-to-day care, welfare and development of the child through regular phone contact with Parent B and the child, and weekend visits. Because of the demonstrated ongoing involvement in the care and welfare of the child, Parent A can continue to remain the principal carer in respect of the child.

Explanation: The length of the absence is not a determining factor as it is the existence of a continuing right of control which is the dominant consideration as to whether Parent A remains the principal carer.

Impact on FTB entitlement

The decision in relation to PP, NSA, YA job seeker or SpB does not affect the decision about FTB entitlement and therefore it is possible for different outcomes to be achieved for each payment. For example, Parent B may qualify for 100% FTB for the duration of the absence while Parent A would remain qualified for PP.

Principal carer during a temporary absence with a 'non-custodial' carer

The previous sections described where Parent A and Parent B share the care of the dependent/PP child during periods such as school holidays. In situations where the principal carer has delegated the care of the dependent child to a person who is not legally responsible for the child, refer to 1.1.D.70, under 'Temporary absences', to determine whether a child remains in the care of the person, and whether the person can continue to be the principal carer.

Act reference: SSAct section 5(17) For the purpose of determining whether a person is the principal carer of a child…, section 5(2) to 5(8A) Dependent child…

Policy reference: SS Guide 3.5.1.20 Child-related Qualification for PP - Overview, 3.5.1.50 Child-related Qualification for PP - Shared Care, 3.5.1.65 Child-related Qualification for PP - Foster Care, 1.1.P.415 Principal carer - foster care

FA Guide 2.1.1.25 Shared care of an FTB child, 2.1.1.60 Change of care of an FTB child, 2.1.1.70 Disputed care arrangements

Last reviewed: 20 September 2018