Social security claimants can be “friends with benefits” without losing their Centrelink benefits, a federal tribunal has ruled.
An attempt by the welfare agency to deny a Queensland woman a carer’s allowance because she sometimes had sex with her housemate has been overruled by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in a case that will be watched with interest by casual acquaintances around the nation.
The tribunal, sitting in Brisbane, was faced with the tricky task of deciding the difference, for the purpose of Centrelink form-filling, between a de facto couple and “friends with benefits” as the woman, Ms T, described her relationship with a man known as Mr D.
Ms T claimed a carer’s allowance in 2012 as her mother’s health deteriorated and she grew more dependent on her daughter, but Centrelink officials knocked back the application, deciding Mr D was Ms T’s live-in-lover.
But in her appeal to the AAT, the 46-year-old Ms T said their relationship was far from exclusive and that after two failed relationships, she was determined to “enjoy her life” and often met other men, whom she first contact through online dating sites, for “physical companionship”.
She shared a house with Mr D, but they had their own rooms, were financially independent of one another and had no joint assets.
“Importantly, it was noted that at no time did Mr D support Ms T,” tribunal member Peter Wulf noted in his decision.
But it was understandable that Centrelink, and later the Social Security Appeals Tribunal, might get the wrong idea about what was going on between Ms T and her sometime lover.
“When completing her original application, Ms T indicated that she was a member of a couple,” Mr Wulf wrote in his decision.
“Based on this, it is quite understandable how both the SSAT and Centrelink came to the conclusion that Mr D and Ms T were members of a couple.
“However, when making her original application for the carer payment, Ms T also made it clear on her form that her relationship with Mr D was ‘friends with benefits’ rather than a couple.”
Centelink’s case relied heavily on the occasional intimacy between Ms T and Mr D but, said Mr Wulf, there was more to a relationship than sex.
“From the evidence of both Ms T and Mr D, it would appear that the relationship is not in any way monogamous, in fact, it is quite the opposite,” the tribunal member noted.
Ms T’s openness about seeing other men away from the home she shared with Mr D seriously undermined Centrelink’s position the two were in a de facto relationship.
“The openness of the relationship, if one exists other than sharing a bed, would suggest that sex outside the relationship was the norm,” Mr Wulf wrote.
“When considering a normal de facto relationship it would be unusual, in the tribunal’s opinion, for such actions to occur with such regularity.
“On this basis, the tribunal does not find that Ms T and Mr D are in a de facto relationship.”
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