The Guides to Social Policy Law is a collection of publications designed to assist decision makers administering social policy law. The information contained in this publication is intended only as a guide to relevant legislation/policy. The information is accurate as at the date listed at the bottom of the page, but may be subject to change. To discuss individual circumstances please contact Services Australia.

1.1.P.416 Principal carer - shared care


Only one person at a time can be the principal carer of a particular child. If more than one person has legal responsibility for the day-to-day care, welfare and development of the child, it is necessary to determine which person is the principal carer.

A principal carer determination must be made in writing, specifying who the principal carer is and a copy of the determination must be given to each person.

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

While only one person can be the principal carer of a particular child, if the care of a child is shared and both parents are receiving JSP, depending on their level of care, both may receive the JSP (with child) rate.

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.

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 JSP (with child) rate. However, even when the care of the child is equal, a determination needs to be made stating which of the carers 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 that …, section 5(20A) Subject to subsection (20B), a person is not the principal carer of any child …

Policy reference: SS Guide 1.1.P.412 Principal carer

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

Generally, it is appropriate to decide the person with the greater degree of care and control of the child is the principal carer of the child, EVEN if that person has not claimed income support. However, all the circumstances of each case need to be considered when making a determination.

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 JSP. Dan is not working and is in receipt of JSP 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.

Equal care

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
  • the asset levels of each carer
  • 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.

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, such as rent or child care fees
  • 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 JSP with principal carer status since April 2020, and John lodges a claim for JSP in June 2020. 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 JSP requirements/concessions.

Equal care - same decision applies to each child

Where care arrangements for 2 or more children are the same, the determinations as to which parent is the principal carer must also be the same. 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. 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.

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 justify a different decision. Each child must be assessed separately based on the care arrangements applying to the particular child.

Example: 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: Sasha and Jason are divorced and share 50/50 care of their 4 children aged 5, 7, 11 and 13 years. Sasha has been determined principal care of the children and is in recipient of PPS. However, the oldest child, Lena has since commenced living with Jason fulltime. As Lena has sufficiently different care arrangements to her siblings, it is appropriate to determine Jason as principal carer for Lena, while Sasha remains the principal carer for the 3 younger children.

Change in existing shared care - different principal carer

Care should be taken when making a shared care determination, which will result in a change of principal carer, where a person is already receiving income support as a principal carer to minimise the possibility of a debt occurring for the period the decision is pending. Particularly where the current 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.

Example: Janice is receiving PPS for Henry and has 100% care. The care arrangements change, so Janice has 40% care and her former partner, David, has 60% care. Janice notifies Centrelink on the last day of the 14-day notification of change requirement, after receiving payment for that entitlement period, which ended 2 days prior. Even though David is now the principal carer, he has not claimed PP and not reliant on income support.

A decision should be made that Janice remained the principal carer for the prior entitlement period, and not incur a debt for the period between the care arrangements changing and the new principal carer determination being made.

Debt would arise in this circumstance if:

  • Janice did not notify Centrelink in the required 14-day notification period and subsequently David was specified as the principal carer from the day in which the care arrangements changed, or
  • David applied for PPS from the day the care arrangements changed, as he was reliant on receiving the payment and subsequently specified as the principal carer from the date he claimed.

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 …

Policy reference: SS Guide Child-related qualification for PP - shared care, Qualification summary for PP

Impact on FTB entitlement

The decision in relation to PP, JSP, 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 (1.1.P.412).

Policy reference: FA Guide Shared care of an FTB child, Change of care of an FTB child, Disputed care arrangements

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