Allowances and payments

Allowances and payments

The rules for Centrelink payments (such as benefits and pensions) are very complicated. The tests are different for each type of payment.

The best way to find out if you can get a payment is to apply. If you are eligible, the type of payment and how much you get depends on your circumstances.

What is a benefit?

A benefit is generally meant to help people over a short-term problem with income because they are:

  • unemployed and looking for work
  • unable to work for a while because of illness or injury
  • need help to stay at school.

They include:

  • Newstart Allowance
  • Youth Allowance
  • Sickness Allowance
  • Parenting Payment (if you have a partner)
  • Austudy.

What is a pension?

A pension is generally a long-term support payment for people who have a long-term inability to earn an income. They include:

  • age pensions
  • disability pensions
  • carer payments
  • parenting payment (if you do not have a partner).

Income and assets tests

Centrelink payments are subject to an income test and an asset test. This means Centrelink will look at your income and assets to work out if you are entitled to a payment and how much.

The only exception is people who are legally blind. They are not subject to the income or assets test for the age and disability pension.

If you are under 22 and classified as ‘dependent’ on your parents, Centrelink will also look at your parents’ income and assets. If you are a member of a couple Centrelink will also look at your partner’s income and assets.

Payments

If you apply for a social security payment, Centrelink will advise you in writing of the result.

The amount you get depends on your income and assets and things such as:

  • the number of children you support
  • whether you are dependent on your parents
  • whether you are single or a member of a couple.

If you receive a benefit or pension you may also be able to get rent assistance.

Single or member of a couple

Generally, if you are assessed to be a member of a couple your payment will be lower. Centrelink will regard you as a member of a couple if you are:

  • married and not living apart from your spouse on a permanent or indefinite basis
  • in a registered relationship (opposite-sex or same-sex), and not living apart on a permanent or indefinite basis
  • in a de facto relationship (opposite-sex or same-sex).

If you have separated from your partner but are living in the same residence, it may be possible to be considered single by Centrelink. Centrelink may ask you to give evidence about the separation.

If you are not sure whether you are single or a member of a couple, get legal advice.

The National Welfare Rights Network has fact sheets about the things Centrelink takes into account in deciding whether you are single or a member of a couple.

Keep Centrelink up to date

Every time your circumstances change, tell Centrelink. This includes changes to your income, assets and whether you are single or a member of a couple.

Changes can affect how you are paid and how much you are paid. There can be problems if you don’t tell them. You could be overpaid and have a debt. You could also be charged with criminal offences.

If you’re not sure whether the change will affect your Centrelink payments, get legal help.

If you are overpaid and have a debt

If Centrelink thinks you have been overpaid, the amount you have been overpaid is a debt owed to Centrelink. They will send you a letter giving you 28 days to pay the debt. In some cases, a 10% penalty can be added to your debt.

You can get legal help before paying your debt or speaking with Centrelink.

Check the details of Centrelink’s calculations carefully to make sure there hasn’t been a mistake. You can also request a copy of your Centrelink file to check the information on it.

Paying a debt

If you have to repay the debt, Centrelink can:

  • deduct money from your Centrelink payment
  • negotiate a repayment arrangement with you
  • deduct money directly from your wages, bank account or tax return
  • ask a court to make an order about how the money will be repaid.

If you can’t afford the debt repayments, you can contact Centrelink to negotiate the amount you pay monthly or fortnightly.

If you disagree with Centrelink’s decision you may be able to get a review or appeal a decision. It may also be possible for Centrelink to waive or write-off your debt. Get legal advice.

More information

Youth allowance and payments for young people

Disagree with a Centrelink decision

Your rights if Centrelink comes to your home

Get help

Find out how you can get help with Centrelink.