Take your partners

Among all the debate over the legalisation of so-called “gay
marriages” – more properly, “civil partnerships” – the benefit
implications were usually overlooked. Yet for many gay men and
women, the changes that the Civil Partnership Act introduces in
December 2005 will be significant. Some people will lose benefits
all together; others will lose part of their income; others will
gain and be able to claim certain benefits for the first time.

Where a same-sex couple decide to register their civil partnership
then pensions and bereavement benefits will be available to them in
the same way as for other couples. A gay man or lesbian may be able
to get a bereavement grant and pension if their partner dies. Also,
registered couples will gain access to dependants’ additions to
those benefits as well. So a retired gay man could claim a
retirement pension for himself and a dependants’ addition. If they
don’t register, gay couples will be treated as two unconnected
people for all these benefits.

But the rules will be different for all the means-tested benefits –
income support, income-based job-seeker’s allowance, pension
credit, housing and council tax benefit – and tax credits. It will
be irrelevant whether the couple register or not. From 5 December
they will be treated in the same way heterosexual couples are
treated now.

For example, Freddie and Solaman are a gay couple in their 30s who
live together. At present, Freddie gets income-based job-seeker’s
allowance of £56.20 per week, and Solaman gets income support,
including the disability premium, of £80.15 (total income of
£136.35). After 5 December, whether they register their
partnership or not, they would be reassessed as a couple and would
get £122.35 (couple rate plus disability premium). They would
still get full housing and council tax benefit, though. It gets
worse for them if Freddie finds a job. At present, he would lose
his job-seeker’s allowance, but Solaman would keep his income
support and housing and council tax benefit on his half of their
housing costs. Under the new rules, Freddie’s income would be
assumed to be enough to support them both. The only option would be
a working tax credit claim, and possibly housing benefit, based on
the wages earned.

The onus is on the benefit claimants to inform the job centre,
local authority housing benefits section and tax credit office that
they are a couple.

As far as we know, the Department for Work and Pensions is not
planning a trawl of cases where two people of the same sex share an
address. But cases will be “reviewed” as the need arises and any
overpayment to that date will allegedly be written off. New
claimants will be expected to declare their status on benefit
application forms.

Oddly, LTAHW (“living together as husband and wife”) will remain in
use as the phrase that the DWP applies to all couples, including
same-sex ones. But the DWP website will carry new LTAHW guidance.

The situation with tax credits and housing or council tax benefit
is less generous. Overpayments caused by non-disclosure of couples”
status will be ignored only up until April 2006. So get ready to
warn your clients of the merits and problems of the Civil
Partnership Act.

Gary Vaux is head of money advice, Hertfordshire Council. He is
unable to answer queries by post or telephone. If you have a
question to be answered please write to him c/o Community Care

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