6.6 Conducting a Member of a Couple Review
This topic explains the reviews that are conducted to assess whether a person who considers that he or she is single, is in fact a member of a couple for social security purposes.
A person is a member of a couple under the SSAct if they are living with another person as their partner, where both people are over the age of consent (applicable to the relevant state or territory), are living together on a permanent or indefinite basis, are not in a prohibited relationship, and are either:
- legally married, or
- in a registered relationship (126.96.36.199), or
- in a de facto relationship (188.8.131.52).
In determining if a person is in a member of a couple relationship, consideration is given to the following 5 factors:
- the financial aspects of the relationship,
- the nature of the household,
- the social aspects of the relationship,
- any sexual relationship between the people, and
- the nature of the people's commitment to each other.
Whether a person is a member of a couple impacts on a number of aspects of social security entitlements. These include the income and assets tests, the maximum basic pension and allowance rates and the availability of certain payments e.g. WA.
These review provisions apply to ALL payment types.
Act reference: SSAct section 4(12) to section 4(13) Prohibited relationship
When to conduct a review
A member of a couple review should be conducted when there is sufficient evidence to believe that a person who is claiming to be single may be a member of a couple. Such evidence may have been obtained:
- via a claim or review process, e.g. as a result of information provided on claim or review forms, or
- some other means, e.g. information received from a member of the public and/or information obtained through data matching.
A review is undertaken by requiring a claimant/recipient to provide information about their living arrangements. As part of the review process, both parties may be interviewed and asked to provide additional information about their living arrangements. A thorough investigation is to take place before a decision is made, and where possible all evidence should be verified by primary sources or third parties.
Evidence gathering should be conducted in a manner sensitive to the circumstances and cultural background of the parties, for example:
- diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds,
- the potential for, and fear of disclosure of sexual preference and or same-sex relationship especially for older people in same-sex relationships,
- young people who have been assessed to be independent on 'unreasonable to live at home' grounds.
SS(Admin)Act section 192 provides the Secretary with general power to obtain information, in the case where one of the parties is not in receipt of income support. This section also provides for Centrelink to obtain information from third parties such as from financial institutions as part of the review process.
When a claimant/recipient has provided information about their living arrangements, a decision must be made on whether or not the person is a member of a couple. The decision must be made having regard to SSAct subsections 4(2), 4(3), and 4(3A).
The claimant/recipient who has been contacted as part of a member of a couple review must be advised of the outcome in writing.
This decision is considered final, subject to the claimant/recipient's appeal rights. No further investigation should occur unless new factual evidence is obtained which suggests that the claimant/recipient may be residing in a member of a couple relationship. As a general rule, recipients should not be repeatedly asked to provide information about their living arrangements. However, there may be circumstances where it will be appropriate to conduct additional reviews, e.g. as the result of a subsequently scheduled program review.
Continuation of payment pending outcome of review
If an adverse decision is made following a member of a couple review, the claimant/recipient may apply for a review of this decision under SS(Admin)Act section 129.
As part of the decision review process, payment may continue pending the outcome of application for review under SS(Admin)Act section 131 for internal review and SS(Admin)Act section 145 for an external review decision.
The decision whether or not to use the discretion should take into account the particular circumstances of the case, especially if there is a significant risk of placing the claimant/recipient in a severe financial situation if payment is suspended until the review is complete.
Act reference: SS(Admin)Act section 67 Person who has made a claim, section 68 Person receiving social security payment or holding concession card, section 69 Person who has received a social security payment or who has held a concession card, section 129 Application for review, section 131 Secretary may continue payment pending outcome of application for review
SSAct section 4(2) Member of a couple-general, section 4(3) Member of a couple-criteria for forming opinion about relationship, section 4(3A) The Secretary must not form the opinion…