Recently a reader asked my advice about a situation which is becoming commonplace. She and her husband were homeowners receiving the full aged pension and he was suffering bad health. He went into respite early in February while waiting for a nursing home place which came fairly quickly. He passed away early in April.
Her question was “During that time should we have received a different rate of pension due to the separation? I was told by Centrelink that our pension would be back dated at the ‘separated rate’ but this did not happen. What should I do?”
Department of Human Services General Manager Hank Jongen says that while he is unable to comment on specific customer cases, he can confirm that, depending on a couple’s circumstances, they can consider them as an illness separated couple.
An example would be where one member of the couple tells them that they are no longer able to live together in their home with their partner due to illness and this is likely to continue long-term. It then needs to be determined if the cost of living expenses have increased or are likely to increase due to the illness separation.
An illness separated couple paid Age Pension may be eligible to receive extra assistance, including a higher rate of payment. They will generally be assessed against the single rate of payment and the combined income and assets as if they were a member of a couple. Combined income and assets may also be higher before their payment is reduced to nil.
He emphasised that it is important the Department be notified of any changes to circumstances as soon possible so they can apply any payment adjustments from the earliest possible time. Generally someone needs to tell them within 14 days of a change for any adjustments to be backdated to the date of the change. If they receive notice of a change more than 14 days after it happened, they can only backdate their entitlement to the date they were advised.