The Guardian 6 July, 2005

continues attacks on single parents

Bob Briton

Just weeks after the Federal Government released a report on child support with recommendations that would reduce the income of the majority of custodial parents, comes a new policy to test the endurance of those parents living in the toughest of circumstances. The new Centrelink policy, which came into effect on July 1, will force about 55,000 recipients a year on the Parenting Payment Single benefit to produce two signed references from "persons of some standing in the community" as to their relationship status. Doctors and lawyers are preferred. Failure to produce the references within two weeks will cause payments to be suspended.

The two referees will be issued a form from Centrelink that explains that, before vouching for the person receiving the benefit, they will need to take into account "the financial and social aspects of the relationship, the nature of the house, whether there are children of the relationship and the nature of the commitment between the two people." These are judgements that even Centrelink staff have difficulty making. There are cases where a separated couple will continue to live under the same roof for lack of alternative accommodation.

Centrelink will further order about 20,000 recipients to attend interviews to investigate whether or not the person is living in a "marriage-like" relationship. The chain of events will be triggered when single parents report a change of address.

Excluded from the review will be those who have moved to crisis accommodation, those who have been receiving benefits for less than three months and longer-term recipients. The Commonwealth Ombudsman is already investigating complaints about the aggressiveness of Centrelink investigations into "marriage-like" relationships.

Welfare Rights Network president Michael Raper told The Sydney Morning Herald that change of address is a "very poor indicator of the possibility of a marriage-like relationship…" and that "… a lot of innocent victims will be affected." No details are available as to how much the extra surveillance will cost but it is expected to save $4.1 million over four years in Centrelink payments.

A single mother and an unemployed man can together gain about $127 a week in benefits if paid to them separately rather than as a couple. This still leaves the benefit recipients and the children living well below the poverty line.

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