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Wednesday, 1 June 2005
Page: 243

Mr Gibbons asked the Minister representing the Minister for Family and Community Services, in writing, on 10 May 2005:

(1)   Is the Minister aware that anomalies exist in the Telephone Allowance (TAL) Payment provided to pensioners by Centrelink.

(2)   Can the Minister confirm that the TAL quarterly payment is intended to assist with the cost of maintaining a telephone service and is not paid to assist with the cost of telephone calls; if so, can the Minister explain why pensioners who only receive incoming calls and do not pay rental on their telephone service receive the TAL payment.

(3)   In circumstances where a pensioner couple is separated by ill health, can the Minister explain why each pensioner is paid the full TAL payment.

(4)   Can the Minister explain the rationale behind a single pensioner receiving the full TAL payment whereas the TAL payment is halved if only one member of a couple is a pensioner.

(5)   Is the Minister aware that where one member of a couple is a pensioner they feel they are discriminated against because they only receive half of the TAL although a single pensioner receives the full TAL amount.

Mr Hockey (Minister for Human Services) —The Minister for Family and Community Services has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:

(1)   The Government does not believe that there are any anomalies in the Telephone Allowance legislation.

(2)   Telephone Allowance is paid to assist pensioners and certain beneficiaries with the costs of maintaining a telephone service. Part 2.25 of the Social Security Act 1991 requires that a person be a ‘telephone subscriber’ to receive Telephone Allowance. Some telephone companies may offer a service that enables a person to only receive incoming calls, however people with such a service are still regarded as being telephone subscribers for the purpose of Telephone Allowance.

(3)   Where members of a couple are separated due to ill health, each customer is treated as an individual. Where both partners of an illness separated couple have separate telephone services connected in their names, the full rate of Telephone Allowance may be paid to both partners.

(4)   and (5) Telephone Allowance is paid to eligible telephone subscribers to support a single telephone service. Where both members of a couple are eligible for Telephone Allowance, each receives the partnered rate (equivalent to half the allowance). This ensures that the same amount of Telephone Allowance is paid to support a telephone service for both couples and single people. Where one partner is not eligible, and does not receive an income support payment from either Centrelink or the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, the partnered rate is still payable to the eligible partner. These payment rules are consistent with a range of other supplementary payments.