1.1.P.416 Principal carer - shared care
The provisions of SSAct subsection 5(18) mean that only one person at a time can be the principal carer (1.1.P.412) of a child. In all shared care situations (PP, NSA, YA (job seeker) and SpB), it is necessary to determine which of the carers is the principal carer.
Example: A couple have separated and have joint legal responsibility (1.1.L.33) for, and share the care of, their child who is under 6. One of the parents previously received PPP under SSAct subsection 500D(1). SSAct subsection 5(19) requires that a determination be made stating which person is the principal carer of the child, and therefore has the PP child.
In all cases where care is shared a written determination must be made which:
- specifies one of the adults as the principal carer of the child,
- is provided to each adult, and
- is made EVEN if only one person has claimed income support.
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 young person, and the young person 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 the principal carer of a particular child, section 5(19) If the Secretary is satisfied…, section 500D(1) A child is a PP child…
Principal carer status & legal responsibility
Care should be taken to ensure that it is not assumed that a child is always the dependent child of their parent, but the assessment should fully explore whether the person legally responsible for the child is actually providing care for the child. In some cases grandparents or relatives who have taken on responsibility of caring for the child where the parent is unable or unwilling to care for the child can be determined to be principal carers.
One person provides greater degree of care
As SSAct subsection 5(19) does not list any specific criteria that should or should not be taken into account in making a determination, all the circumstances of each case need to be considered. However, given that the principal carer determination is based upon majority care of a child, it will generally be appropriate to decide that the person providing the greater degree of care is the principal carer, EVEN if that person has not claimed income support.
Example: Sally has the care of her 9 year old child 55% of the time over a period, and her ex-partner Dan has the care of their child for the remaining 45% of the time. Sally is working full-time and has not claimed NSA. Dan is not working and is in receipt of NSA and is seeking to be made the principal carer. In this case, Sally would be determined as the principal carer, as she has the greater degree of care. This determination is made despite the fact that Sally has not claimed income support.
If the difference in the level of care provided by the 2 carers is less than 10%, care is considered to be shared equally.
Example: Where care is shared 54/46% or 50/50%.
In situations of equal care where only one of the carers is claiming or receiving income support, that person should be determined as the principal carer. If both carers are claiming or receiving income support, the carer who is most in need of a favourable determination should be deemed principal carer.
A decision maker MUST take into account the following factors when deciding which carer is in most need of a favourable determination:
- whether one carer already qualifies as principal carer of another child (see below for further detail on determinations involving more than one child),
- whether only one carer would be eligible for PP,
- which carer would receive the higher rate of payment,
- any other sources of income the carers may have, whether actual or potential, including both employment and investment income,
- Note: If either carer has income that fluctuates, the assessment officer may need to look at average income levels over an extended period of time, such as 12 weeks, and
- the asset levels of each carer.
The following factors MAY be taken into consideration by the decision maker, if further information is required to make the determination:
- the expenses of each carer,
Example: Rent, child care,
- workforce experience, education levels and future employment prospects of each carer,
- the duration that each carer has been on income support and their principal carer status during this time. If there are no substantial differences between the parties, then generally the determination should be favoured which maintains the 'status quo', and
- any other factors considered relevant by the decision maker.
Example: Mary and John are separated and equally share the care of their daughter Cathy. Mary has been receiving NSA with principal carer status since August 2015, and John lodges a claim for NSA in October 2016. The rate that would be payable to John is approximately the same as that being paid to Mary. Neither John nor Mary owns any substantial assets such as a house or car. John has recent workforce experience, which increases his employment prospects in the area. It is fair to argue that a decision that cancelled Mary's status as principal carer would have a more significant impact than a decision to reject John's claim to be deemed principal carer, especially as John has greater employment prospects than Mary. Therefore Mary should continue to be specified as the principal carer of Cathy while John should have generic NSA requirements/concessions.
Equal care - same decision applies to each child
If the care arrangements for 2 or more children are identical, it is NOT appropriate to 'allocate' each parent as the principal carer of a child, thus enabling both parents to qualify for income support as a principal carer. Different determinations about which parent is the principal carer of each child should only be made if the circumstances relating to the care of the children are not the same, and justify a different decision.
In order to make a determination about which parent is the principal carer of each child, each child must be assessed separately based on the care arrangements applying to them. If the care arrangements for each child are the same, then the determinations as to which parent is the principal carer must also be the same. That is, if parent A is determined as the principal carer of child 1, and the care arrangements for child 2 are the same, then parent A must also be determined as the principal carer for child 2. This is because the same factors leading to the first decision also apply to the second.
Example 1: Jenny and Scott are separated, and share the care of their 2 children 50/50. The children are kept together at all times, and spend one week living with their mother, and the other week living with their father. Because the care arrangements for the children are identical, one parent must be determined as the principal carer of both children.
Example 2: Nicholas and Thomasina are divorced and share the care of their children, Jack and Jill, equally but the children live separately, one with each parent and swapping houses each week. In this case also, because the share of care is equal, other factors need to be taken into account to determine who is the principal carer. If these other factors are common to both children, the same parent would be considered the principal carer of both, despite the fact that the children do not live with their principal carer at the same time.
In general it would only be appropriate to allocate a principal carer to each child where the children's care arrangements are sufficiently different to warrant this.
Example: One parent has the greater degree of care of one child (or more children), and the other parent has the greater degree of care of the other child/ren.
Change in existing shared care - different principal carer
To avoid a debt being created for payments received before the determination is made, if a person is already receiving income support as a principal carer after the commencement of shared care (or a decrease in the degree of shared care) and before a determination has been made under SSAct subsection 5(19), consideration should be given to making different determinations for the period before and after the date of determination. This would only be necessary if the application of subsection 5(19) will result in a change of the determination as to who is the principal carer. In this situation, different determinations should be made if:
- the degree of shared care is approximately equal, or
- the current recipient has the lesser degree of care, and
- the recipient has not made a false statement and has complied with the notification requirements relating to shared care, and
- the other carer is not reliant on a favourable determination to be the principal carer for the period before the date of determination.
Explanation: This is intended to avoid a debt being created for payments received before the determination is made, PROVIDED that:
- the current principal carer has equal care of the child, or has complied with the notification requirements, and
the person with the greater degree of care of the child will not be deprived of arrears.
Example 1: Janice is receiving PP for one child aged under 6 at the single rate and has 100% care of the child. This degree of care changes on 28 April 2017 so that she has 40% care and her former partner, David, has 60% care. Janice complies by notifying this on 12 May 2017 and the payment for the entitlement period, which ended 10 May 2017, has already been issued. David has not claimed PP.
Janice is specified by Centrelink as the principal carer and the recipient of PP between 27 April 2017 and 10 May 2017 inclusive. David is specified as the principal carer from 11 May 2017. This means that Janice loses qualification from 11 May 2017 instead of 28 April 2017 and automatic termination therefore does not apply. Payment to Janice is cancelled from 11 May 2017. No debt arises for the payment made on 12 May 2017.
Example 2: Betty is receiving PP for one child at the single rate and has 100% care of the child. The degree of care changes on 25 April 2017 so that Betty has 40% care and her former partner, Kristin, has 60% care. Betty does not notify this until 23 May 2017, and so has not complied. Subsequently, Kristin is specified as the principal carer under SSAct subsection 5(19) from 25 April 2017. Payment to Betty automatically terminates under SS(Admin)Act section 94 from 25 April 2017, and the final payment issued was on 12 May 2017 in respect of the entitlement period ending 10 May. Therefore, a debt arises for the period 25 April 2017 to 10 May 2017.
Act reference: SSAct section 5(18) Only one person at a time can be the principal carer of a particular child
SS(Admin)Act section 80 Cancellation or suspension determination, section 94 Automatic cancellation-recipient not complying…, section 93 Automatic cancellation-recipient complying…