14th april 2017
Non-binary and gender diverse students are experiencing delays and unexpected cancellations of their Centrelink payments, due to Centrelink’s system only offering ‘male’ or ‘female’ as gender options.
Students who have been affected say that the disruption is occurring because they are commonly able to choose a third gender option – often listed as ‘Other’ or ‘Unspecified’ – on their university forms for enrolment, but do not receive the same option for their Centrelink details. Centrelink’s internal system then notices that a fundamental piece of of information is different to what the university is providing, so the student’s payment is disrupted.
A non-binary student at the University of Sydney said to The Guardian, “They called to say they’ve been trying to confirm whether I’m a student for the last month but every week they get a response that no student matches those details. It’s real bullshit for a few reasons. Why does gender need to come into it? My name, address and student ID all match.”
According to the student, Centrelink do not have facilities within the system to even accommodate non-binary people, despite the fact that Australian government guidelines were released in 2013 stating that “where sex and/or gender information is collected … individuals should be given the option to select M (male), F (female), or X (Indeterminate / Intersex / Unspecified)”
“I asked the person on the phone if she could update my gender on the Centrelink systems to match my enrolment and she said, ‘The current software means that isn’t possible. If you identify as a non-binary gender, we can only add a note to your personal record’,” they said.
The student remarked that they had never been informed of this by Centrelink: “No one seems to know how to handle this sort of thing. Everyone has systems in place but no one knows how to use them or is trained in it. This stuff is super common, to be honest – it’s annoying and tiring but unsurprising.”
Another non-binary applicant said that they didn’t know what to do when listing gender on Centrelink registration forms, saying, “I’m applying for the disability pension and I filled out their form with just male or female options, and I wrote next to it that I am non-binary,” they said. “Hopefully that doesn’t come back to bite me. People like me didn’t get a choice as to what they put on our birth certificate, but we’re still having to play by rules that define us.”
Hank Jorgen, the general manager of the Department of Human Services said that the lack of an ‘X’ gender option at Centrelink was noted, but it was a work in progress.
“The department recognises that individuals should have the option of selecting a male (M), female (F) or non-binary (X) gender value,” he said. “Because of the scale and complexities around the department’s forms and ageing IT systems, changes are being made progressively as part of a multi-year project.
“A person’s eligibility for social security payments is not conditional on their gender. The department does not cancel payments to recipients because they do not identify as either male or female.”
Executive director of Transgender Victoria Sally Goldner told The Guardian, “If other government agencies have done it, I don’t understand why it would be that hard for Centrelink to do it. The sex and gender guidelines were introduced for all government departments in mid-2013, so they’re clearly way overdue. It would also help data collection on all sorts of stuff, we could find out unemployment rates for non-binary people, which we have always suspected are much higher. There are a lot of benefits for society as a whole. It was trans day of visibility last Friday – let’s get done what needs to be done.”
Several universities across Australia offer students multiple gender options on forms, including the University of Melbourne, Australian National University, University of New South Wales, University of Queensland and University of Adelaide.