While many people enter into family agreements to ensure they receive some extra support as they age, often a driving motivation is to provide support for their family—particularly by looking after the grandchildren.
Many families in Australia rely on a double income and need both parents to be in the workforce. A live-in, retired grandparent can help support their family by looking after young children or picking up and supervising school-aged children. This child care arrangement often forms the basis of older people migrating to Australia on a ‘parent visa’ to live with their adult child’s family.
A parent visa allows older parents to make a permanent move to Australia to reunite with and support their Australian-based family members. It also means they will be able to live in Australia for the remainder of their lives with the support of their family as they age.
Many people who come to Australia on a parent visa will live with their adult child because this is more affordable than purchasing or renting their own property. However, the shared living arrangements, where the older person is often not on title, leave the older person vulnerable to their child’s financial situation and at risk of homelessness should the relationship break down.
People can permanently migrate to Australia on a parent visa as part of the family reunification intake. There are two types of parent visas.
The Parent visa (subclass 103) costs approximately $6,490 and has a 30-year waiting list, making it impracticable.
Most people therefore opt for the Contributory Parent visa (subclass 143), which costs approximately $47,825 and has a comparatively ‘short’ 6-year waiting list. For a person to be eligible for a Contributory Parent visa, at least half of their children must live permanently in Australia. The children must also be able to provide an Assurance of Support (AoS), which is similar to a bond.
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Assurance of Support
The AoS requires the assurer—usually the adult child that the older person will be living with—to commit $10,000 to repay any social security benefits that the older person may access during the first 10 years of their residency. Sometimes the older person provides this money from their own assets, although it is lodged in the assurer’s name.
The purpose of the AoS is to ensure that the older person can access social security payments if needed without them being funded by the taxpayer. The requirement signals to the wider Australian population that older migrants who are not of working age will not become a ‘burden’ on the state.
An older person on a parent visa is not eligible for the age or disability pension, as the pension has a 10-year qualifying residence requirement. This means the only social security benefit the older person can access is the Special Benefit.
The Special Benefit is available to people who are in severe financial hardship due to circumstances outside of their control but are not eligible for any other benefit. In the context of a Contributory Parent visa, this would likely only occur if there was a breakdown in the living arrangements with the family they had migrated to live with. This breakdown may include experiencing elder abuse or family violence.
Breakdown of the family agreement
There are many reasons conflict and a breakdown of the shared living arrangements may occur. For example:
The family may not get along together and have different expectations of each other.
The adult child might be abusive towards the parent and exploitative of them.
The family may decide the older person is not needed once the grandchildren can look after themselves.
The adult child and their partner may separate or one of them pass away, and the older person becomes no longer welcome.
The family may experience economic stress and need to move to a smaller house or feel they can no longer support the visa holder.
If such a breakdown occurs, the visa holder may need to leave the family home. However, they may be reluctant to access the Special Benefit even though they are entitled to it because any money received would be paid from the AoS that was lodged by the family member with whom they are experiencing conflict. As this could inflame the situation with their child, they may decide not to pursue this option, leaving themselves with no support and few options for leaving the abusive situation.
Challenges for older visa holders
When any family agreement breaks down, the older person is most at risk within the dynamic, because they have often contributed a significant part (or all) of their finances to the agreement and have little recourse to recover them. As this translates to not having money to pay for food, housing or daily needs, they often have little choice but to stay with the family and endure the abuse or conflict. In situations where this is untenable they are at risk of homelessness.
In the context of the Contributory Parent visa, the older person is highly vulnerable. They may not speak English, making it difficult to access services and support; they may be unaware of what help is available; and they may be fearful of their visa status and whether this excludes them from support.
Visa holders come to Australia from a wide range of countries, and each individual will be enmeshed in their local community to a different degree. For some, the community might be a welcome support, but others may feel a sense of shame when they are experiencing elder abuse and not want to share that outside the family. This can inhibit their ability to seek support or to try and resolve the issues.
Often the adult child will have provided the link between the older person and the services they need in Australia, such as helping them access health care, taking them to appointments and community events, and interpreting or translating financial or legal information as necessary. If family conflict arises, all of this support might be withheld, leaving the older person isolated.
Safeguards for people on Contributory Parent visas
Understandably, when going through all the emotional and financial stress, paperwork and prolonged process of applying for a Contributory Parent visa, not many families consider putting safeguards in place in case things go wrong. However, particularly if there are to be shared living or financial arrangements, all families would benefit from frank discussion and written documentation of what is decided.
One of the most important aspects is for older people to maintain control of their finances and ensure they have enough assets or income to support themselves if the agreement ends due to unforeseen circumstances.
Questions for the older person to consider:
What might happen if the situation breaks down? Or if your child predeceases you, or separates from their partner? Will you have the financial security to afford a house and living expenses independently?
Will you live with your adult child and their family, or separately? What is each person expected to contribute to the arrangements? This might include finance, ongoing costs, cooking, cleaning, child care, etc.
What happens when the grandchildren no longer need your care or supervision? Have you given some thought to what your new life in Australia might be like outside of the family home or when you’re not providing help and child care?
What support or effort might your children be able to provide to help you meet other people, be involved in your community and maintain your independence?
For visa holders who are currently single, what might happen if you met a new partner and wanted to live with them? Would you have the financial security to do so?
How have you financed the visa? Did you sell property in your home country? Have you retained control of your assets and are you able to access your own money while in Australia?
Do you feel pressured to migrate to Australia to support your family? Is it the right thing to do at this point in your life? Have you given thought to what it might be like living in an unfamiliar country, unable to speak the language and without your friends and community?
Where to seek help
Any older person on a parent visa who is experiencing elder abuse or challenges should contact the elder abuse service in their state. Their visa status will not inhibit them from being able to receive support, although it may prevent them from receiving housing support or other services.
To access the Special Benefit, the visa holder will need to make an application to Centrelink. It would be a good idea to speak to the Financial Information Service first, as its specialist officers will have better knowledge of what payments or support might be available than a general Centrelink officer will.