An Australian woman was left shocked when she received an bill for more than AU$6,000 from the country’s welfare agency. The agency had retrospectively recognized her overseas marriage to her wife.
Centrelink is the Australian government agency which provides welfare payments such as unemployment, family allowances, disability and senior citizen pensions.
The Tasmanian woman married her partner who is not Australian and lives abroad in a ceremony overseas last year. This was before same-sex marriage was legalized in Australia. Marriage equality became legal in Australia only a couple of weeks ago.
After same-sex marriage became legal in Australia, the woman – who has not been named – let Centrelink know that she got married in 2016.
But then the woman was left reeling when she received a bill from Centrelink saying she owed AU$6,660 (US$5,058).
Centrelink had decided to retrospectively recognize the woman’s marriage since last year, even though marriage equality was not legal then. The agency claimed she was not entitled to family payments because she was married at the time.
Advocates have condemned Centrelink’s actions.
They argued the married couple do not live together and do not have shared finances so they cannot be considered a de facto couple under Centrelink rules.
A de facto relationship is a between two people who are not married or related by family have as a couple living together on a ‘genuine domestic basis’. It can exist between 2 people of the opposite sex, or between 2 people of the same sex.
‘This woman has done nothing wrong and is being penalized because of the failure of the Federal Government to recognise her marriage when it occurred,’ said Tasmanians United for Marriage Equality spokesperson, Rodney Croome.
‘I urge Centrelink to develop fairer policies on recognizing overseas same-sex marriages so this doesn’t happen again.’
The woman’s story was brought to the attention of state politician Ella Haddad. She said her plight could open a can of worms for other same-sex couples married overseas before marriage equality was legalized.
‘There would be no doubt countless couples who could be affected by this,’ Haddad told ABC Radio Hobart.