6.1 This chapter considers how family violence may have implications in relation to the definition of relationships in social security law and practice—that is, whether a person is considered to be a ‘member of a couple’ or ‘independent’.

6.2 Such categorisation can affect a person’s qualification for a social security payment—for example, as an actual condition for qualification for Parenting Payment (Single) and Widow Allowance[1]—and the rate of a social security payment.[2] Generally, being regarded as ‘single’ or ‘independent’ attracts a higher rate of payment, on the assumption that living costs are higher for a person living alone. A decision that a person is a ‘member of a couple’ may result in the refusal, cancellation or reduction of his or her social security payments. It may also lead to a debt being raised against a person, which may be pursued through court proceedings, where a person has been incorrectly paid on the single rate.

6.3 This chapter discusses the way in which a decision about a person’s relationship status is made in the social security context, and the relevance of family violence in making that decision. The issue of family violence and debt repayment is considered in Chapter 9.

6.4 The ALRC considers that relationships are inherently difficult to define, but recognises that the effect of family violence may not always be considered appropriately in relationship decisions in the social security context. The ALRC therefore makes a number of recommendations to ensure that the impacts of family violence are expressly considered in relationship decisions in social security law through amendments to the Social Security Act 1991 (Cth) and the Guide to Social Security Law.

[1]Social Security Act 1991 (Cth) ss 408BA, 500.

[2] Commonwealth Ombudsman, Marriage-Like Relationships: Policy Guidelines for Assessment Under Social Security Law (2007).