What is Family Tax Benefit?
14.14 FTB is an income-tested payment for eligible parents and carers. FTB is paid for dependent children under the age of 16 and, in certain circumstances, for dependent children over the age of 16. Parents and carers must provide at least 35% of a child’s care to receive FTB. When more than one person provides care for a child, and they are not members of the same couple, FTB payments can be shared.
14.15 FTB includes two parts: FTB Part A and FTB Part B. FTB Part A is the ‘primary payment designed to help with the cost of raising children’. It is paid to eligible parents and carers for each dependent child or, in some circumstances, each dependent full-time student. The amount of FTB Part A payable to a family is assessed according to the number of children, the age of children, and the family’s income.
14.16 FTB Part B is a benefit for eligible single parent families and families with one primary income earner. The rate of FTB Part B depends on the age of the youngest child and, in families with two working parents, the income of the parent who is the secondary income earner.
14.17 The ALRC has identified several ways that FTB-related legislation and policy may affect victims of family violence, namely in relation to:
- exemptions from tax file number requirements;
- determinations of percentage of care, discussed in Chapter 11; and
- the requirement for recipients of more than base rate FTB to take reasonable maintenance action (that is, to apply for child support, and collect—or elect that the CSA collect—child support payments), discussed in Chapters 11 and 13.
14.18 Chapter 4 discusses appropriate issues management of family violence cases by agencies. This is applicable in a family assistance context, and the ALRC considers that the package of reforms proposed in Chapter 4 should improve the safety of family violence victims who are FTB recipients or applicants. In particular, the ALRC has recommended that relevant agencies should:
- identify customers’ family violence-related safety concerns, through screening, ‘risk identification’ or other methods;
- provide information to customers about how family violence is relevant to their family assistance matters; and
- refer customers to Centrelink social workers or other expert service providers when safety concerns are identified.
14.19 In Chapter 4, the ALRC also recommended multifaceted training that should improve staff skills and their knowledge base, including about:
- advising customers on the impact of family violence on their case or claim;
- responding to disclosures of family violence, including by providing appropriate referrals;
- the nature, features and dynamics of family violence, and its impact on victims, in particular those from high risk and vulnerable groups.
14.20 Consistent legislative and policy-based definitions of family violence, recommended in Chapter 3 and throughout this Report, complement and facilitate the above training-related recommendations.
14.21 Although the focus here is on FTB—as the primary family assistance payment—this package of reforms should improve safety for family assistance-recipients generally.
Exemptions from tax file number requirements
14.22 Persons at risk of violence may be exempt from requirements about providing their partners’ tax file numbers (TFNs). The ALRC considers that this exemption, contained in the Family Assistance Guide, should explicitly refer to ‘family violence’. The reforms contained in Ch 4 should also increase awareness about—and therefore accessibility of—the exemption.
14.23 The Family Assistance (Administration) Act provides that an individual applying for FTB must provide both a TFN and a TFN for his or her partner during the relevant payment period. If an applicant either does not know his or her TFN or is currently applying for one, then the person may authorise the Commissioner of Taxation to share his or her TFN with the FAO and file a statement to that effect. The Act provides for an exemption from the requirement for applicants to provide their partners’ TFN, or partners’ authorisation for the ATO to provide the TFN, where applicants cannot obtain these from their partners.
14.24 The Family Assistance Guide describes the limited circumstances in which an individual may qualify for an exemption, including where a partner is violent, imprisoned for life, or seriously ill or disabled. In particular, an indefinite exemption may be granted when the applicant has a
well based reason to believe that as a result of their request to the partner for TFN information:
- the partner could become violent to the applicant or a child, or
- there would be other concerns for the safety or the health of the applicant or a child.
14.25 The Family Assistance Guide provides that these cases are determined on request. Requests are referred to a social worker or an Indigenous Service Officer (ISO) for advice and assistance.
14.26 The ALRC considers that the exemption in the Family Assistance Guide is too narrow, insofar as it refers to ‘violence’, rather than ‘family violence’. Most stakeholders who commented on this issue considered that family violence should be explicitly included as a reason for an indefinite exemption from the requirement to provide a partner’s tax file number. For example, NWRN submitted that ‘it is appropriate that the Guide refer expressly to family violence in order to adequately capture the forms that family violence may take beyond physical violence’. FaHCSIA also supported this amendment, and stated that it will consider it as part of the review process of the Family Assistance Guide.
14.27 The ALRC therefore recommends that the Family Assistance Guide should expand the term ‘violence’ to explicitly refer to ‘family violence’. This would capture a broader range of conduct, insofar as that conduct is violent, threatening, controlling, coercive or intending to cause fear. This proposed reform is complemented by Recommendations 3–1, 3–2 and 14–1(a), which would set out a definition of family violence in family assistance legislation and the Family Assistance Guide. It is further complemented by Recommendations 14–1(b) and 4–6, which state that the Family Assistance Guide should include a description of, and staff should receive training about, the nature, features, and dynamics of family violence.
14.28 Stakeholders also commented that victims of family violence may be unaware of the exemption. The Commonwealth Ombudsman similarly stated that customers do not realise that family violence may be a relevant factor in determining entitlements and exemptions in relation to family assistance, such as the exemption from providing a partner’s TFN.
14.29 The ALRC considers that the reforms in Chapter 4 should increase awareness about, and therefore the accessibility of, the exemption to TFN requirements. In particular, Recommendation 4–2 provides that all customers should be informed of how family violence is relevant to family assistance, and should be given information about exemptions.
Recommendation 14–2 The Family Assistance Guide should expressly include ‘family violence’ as a reason for an indefinite exemption from the requirement to provide a partner’s tax file number.
Part A may be paid for dependent children up to the age of 24 years old, and
FTB Part B may be paid for dependent children up to the age of 18 years old
(FTB Parts A and B are described below). Generally, the dependent children
must be in full-time study. A New Tax System (Family Assistance) Act 1999 (Cth) ss 17B, 22, sch 1 cl 29(3). FaHCSIA, Family Assistance Guide <www.fahcsia.
gov.au/guides_acts/> at 1 November 2011, [184.108.40.206].
A New Tax System (Family Assistance) Act 1999 (Cth) s 22(7).
 Ibid s 59, sch 1 cl 11.
 Family Assistance Office website <www.familyassist.gov.au> at 16 February 2011.
A New Tax System (Family Assistance) Act 1999 (Cth) sch 1 pt 4; FaHCSIA, Family Assistance Guide <www.fahcsia.gov.au/guides_acts/> at 1 November 2011, [1.1.2]. The secondary income earner is the member of the couple with a lower income.
 Ch 12 of the Discussion Paper explored the further issue of FTB payment to informal carers—that is, carers who are neither parents nor legal guardians—of children who have experienced family violence. The reforms recommended in Ch 4 should improve safety, and enhance the accessibility of FTB, for this group.
 Recs 4–1, 4–2, 4–3.
 Recs 4–5, 4–6.
 Family Assistance Office website <www.familyassist.gov.au> at 16 February 2011.
 The Discussion Paper provides an illustration of how this package of reforms should improve the safety of victims eligible for the baby bonus: Ch 12.
A New Tax System (Family Assistance) (Administration) Act 1999 (Cth) ss 3(1), 7.
 Ibid s 8(4)–(5).
A New Tax System (Family Assistance) Act 1999 (Cth) s 8(7). Tax file number exemptions are also provided for in the social security framework. See Ch 7.
 FaHCSIA, Family Assistance Guide <www.fahcsia.gov.au/guides_acts/> at 1 November 2011, [220.127.116.11].
 This was proposed in the Discussion Paper: Proposal 12–2.
 National Welfare Rights Network, Submission CFV 150. The following stakeholders also supported this reform: AASW (Qld) and WRC Inc (Qld), Submission CFV 137; ADFVC, Submission CFV 104; Women’s Information and Referral Exchange, Submission CFV 94; Confidential, Submission CFV 89; WEAVE, Submission CFV 85.
 FaHCSIA, Submission CFV 162.
 AASW (Qld), Submission CFV 46;WRC Inc (Qld), Submission CFV 43. See also ADFVC, Submission CFV 53.
 Commonwealth Ombudsman, Submission CFV 54.