A little-known Centrelink rule has shocked Australians, with a young mum going viral on social media for calling it her “Roman Empire” — a new slang term for something you can’t stop thinking about.
Rachel March revealed that parents of twins do not qualify for the government’s Multiple Birth Allowance, as only triplets or higher are considered a “multiple birth”.
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The Multiple Birth Allowance provides about $4800 a year to families with triplets and about $6400 to families with quadruplets or more, as long as they also qualify for Family Tax Benefit Part A.
Parents of twins qualify for regular government assistance, for each child.
Social media users labelled the rule “absurd”.
“You’re kidding,” one user said. “I believe you, but this is so hard to believe.”
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When March found out she was pregnant with twins, it was “a huge shock”, she told 7NEWS.com.au.
“How on Earth was I going to grow, birth and then raise two babies at once, let alone afford it?
“I found out about the multiples benefit at 30 weeks pregnant, but (the impracticality) didn’t hit me until I was buying their kindergarten uniforms last week.”
March prefers to buy vintage clothing, and sources secondhand clothes for her daughters, but at times finances have been a concern.
“Their father and I have been able to make it work, they have never been without … however, some months have been tighter than others, especially in a cost-of-living crisis,” she said.
March’s pregnancy was high risk, which came with extra costs for scans and blood tests. These were not bulk-billed.
“Before they were even born I had to buy two cots, mattresses, two car seats, a double pram, bottles, two bouncers, double the clothing, bedding, nappies, wipes and more,” March said.
Rachel March has twin daughters, but the government does not recognise them as a ‘multiple birth’. Credit: Supplied
“People don’t understand that twins mean even more than double the cost.”
The costs of twins and higher order multiple births were almost five times and 13 times, respectively, higher than those of a single-born child, research by PerCapita conducted for the Australian Multiple Birth Association (AMBA) revealed last year.
March’s daughters have different clothing and shoe sizes, and now that they are older they have entirely different interests, and often don’t share toys.
The Multiple Birth Allowance not applying to twins is hurting families, March said.
“Knowing there are so many families of multiples and kids going without, hurts,” she said.
“This multiples allowance may not seem like much, but when you have multiples, every little bit counts.”
Australian Multiple Birth Association (AMBA) director and mum of triplets Silje Andersen-Cooke does not think parents of multiples in Australia are given enough support. Credit: Instagram
Parents of multiples in Australia are not given enough support in general, AMBA director and mum of triplets Silje Andersen-Cooke said.
Andersen-Cook recently found an article from the 1980s, in which mothers of triplets were talking about needing more support.
“There was more access in the ‘80s to in home support and care than there is today,” Andersen-Cooke said.
Parents of multiples have been “continuously unrecognised by the government for the unique challenges that multiple births represent”, she said.
“There hasn’t been much consideration of our challenges and what support we need.”
While childcare is a major cost for most families, getting multiples into early education is a hurdle in of itself as it is difficult to lock in a spot for one child, let alone multiple.
It has taken Andersen-Cooke two years to secure spots for her triplets, and she was only able to get two days a week.
“I’m not alone in having that experience,” she said.
“You can be at the top of the waiting list, but there’s only one spot available, so they put another single child in.
“Some parents have to do one twin at a time.
“Parents with multiples take longer to go back to work.”
This impacts household income and families usually end up looking into alternative childcare arrangements such as nannies, Andersen-Cooke said, but these are not subsidised.
It’s concerning that these barriers to early education exist for families of multiples, she said.
Rachel March shocked social media users by revealing her twin daughters (left) are not considered a ‘multiple birth’ by the government. Credit: @racheltuesday_/Supplied/TikTok
PerCapita’s research identified several key issues faced by families who had multiple births. At the forefront was declining mental health.
“You are five times more likely to experience postpartum depression as a parent of multiples,” Andersen-Cooke said.
The PerCapita research revealed that 61 per cent of parents of multiples experienced mental health challenges in their first year, and parents of multiples are nine times more likely to experience disabling exhaustion.
March also pointed to mental health as a critical issue for families of multiples.
“Not everyone has a ‘village’ and/or family support, so I know that would take a lot of pressure off,” she said.
“Mental health support would go a long way as well.”
AMBA released a report in response to the research, outlining its recommendations to help families.
It recommended that a Multiple Birth Grant be brought in, providing a one-off payment of up to $15,000 for twins, $30,000 for triplets and $45,000 for quadruplets.
In-home support was also recommended, providing 240 hours of hands-on help for twins to be used within 12 months and 1560 hours for triplets and other higher order multiples to be used within 24 months.
AMBA also recommended that changes be made to paid parental leave.
“Australia does not provide additional leave to multiple birth families, unlike most advanced OECD economies that offer extra support to families with multiples,” AMBA said.
“The current payments to Australian families with multiples account for less than seven per cent of the differential costs.”
Paid parental leave for parents of multiples should be increased to allow eight additional weeks of parental leave for twins, 16 additional weeks for triplets and 24 additional weeks for quadruplets, AMBA recommended.
Andersen-Cooke said the support provided for families with multiples was inadequate, and it was “unfathomable” no support for twins was provided.
If parents adopted two babies a month apart, they would qualify for the payment, she said, but not if you give birth to them at once.
There are about 4300 sets of twins and just over 80 sets of triplets and higher order multiples born each year, according to the Women and Infants Research Foundation.
The allowance not applying to twins means only a small percentage of families are receiving any kind of help.
The payment is “rigidly means tested”, meaning not even every higher-multiples family will qualify to receive it, Andersen-Cooke said.
“It’s such a shock to find out you’re having twins, then it all shatters when you realise you get no support,” she said.
The Multiple Birth Payment has been in place since 1985 and has not been thoroughly scrutinised since, Andersen-Cooke said.
The assistance given to these families needs to be reassessed, she said.
“Given the cost-of-living crisis, it’s a really pertinent time to ask whether it’s doing its job,” Andersen-Cooke said.
“Who is it really benefitting and is it really doing what it’s meant to be doing?”
The government is working to increase paid parental leave for all Australians to 26 weeks by 2026, the Department of Social Services said.
“Multiple Birth Allowance is a component of Family Tax Benefit Part A paid where a multiple birth consists of triplets or more,” the department said.
The Multiple Birth Allowance is in place “in recognition of the special costs and barriers to workforce participation associated with the simultaneous birth of three or more children.
“Parents of twins have access to a range of government support to meet the costs of raising their family, including Family Tax Benefit Part A and B, Paid Parental Leave, and other supplementary payments such as Rent Assistance.
“In addition, parents can receive a Newborn Supplement to help with the immediate costs of a newborn or adopted child.
“This extra Family Tax Benefit Part A payment for families will total about $2565.65 for their first child (and all multiple births) and about $1283.46 for subsequent children.
“It is paid as an initial instalment of $641.00 (Newborn Upfront Payment), with the rest rolled into normal fortnightly payments over a three-month period (Newborn Supplement).
“This means parents of twins can receive $5,131.30 from the Newborn Supplement.”