Australians will awake on Sunday to a host of increased fees, changed regulations and reduced benefits. Photo: Dominic LorrimerThey say life can change in an instant.
Never is that more true than when the clock strikes midnight on December 31.
Along with hangovers and dark circles under their eyes, Australians will awake on Sunday to a host of increased fees, charges, changed regulations and reduced benefits.
Get set to pay more and receive less.
Here’s everything you need to know:
A shake-up of the test that determines whether people are eligible to receive the age pension, the disability support pension and the carers pension will mean reduced payments for more than 230,000 pensioners and payments ceasing altogether for about 90,000 more. Pensioners affected by the change should have already received a letter from Centrelink.
Some pensioners – about 170,000 – will actually receive a pension boost, because the government is lifting the total value of assets – cash, shares, investment properties – pensioners can own before their pension rate is reduced from the full rate. The family home remains excluded, as always.
But many more will lose out under the changes thanks to an increase in the rate at which pension payments are reduced once assets exceed the threshold value. Currently, for every $1000 of assets a pensioner owns above the asset threshold, their fortnightly pension payment is reduced by $1.50. This will increase to $3 on January 1 – returning it to where it was before the Howard government made it more generous in 2006.
Three million children who live in families that receive Family Tax Benefit Part A will, from January 1, have their entitlement to free dental services capped at $700 over two years, down from $1000 previously. Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley says only 30 per cent of children who are entitled to the payment actually use it, and the average claimed per patient is just $302. However, 8 per cent of children eligible for the subsidies are expected to be affected by the change – leaving about a quarter of a million kids worse off.
The new year also brings reduced funding for adult dental services, after the federal government announced just before Christmas that it would give the states just $107 million in funding each year for the next three years, down from $155 million this funding year. The Gillard government had originally pledged $391 million for the coming funding year.
The new year brings reduced funding for adult dental services. Photo: Quentin Jones
Minister Ley was unable to get the states to agree to her $1.7 billion, four-year, combined Child and Adult Public Dental Scheme and announced the reduced funding agreement just before Christmas instead. The Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association says public dental services will be “severely compromised” as a result of the funding cuts and estimates 338,000 Australians will lose access to public dental services as a result.
The new year will herald higher co-payments for prescription drugs. The co-payment per script will rise to $6.30 for concession cardholders (up from $6.20) and to $38.80 for general patients (up from $38.30). A 2014 Coalition plan to increase the general co-payment by another $5 remains on ice however, one of several “zombie” measures in the federal budget that have yet to pass through Parliament.
But it is older Australians and frequent prescription users who will suffer the most in the new year as their free drugs safety net resets.
“There’s two ways people will pay more for drugs from January 1,” a spokesman for the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, Greg Turnbull, said.
“First, there will be an increase in the co-payments, which increase each year with inflation. And second, when the clock strikes midnight on December 31, people who have been enjoying free prescriptions because they reached the safety net at some point during this year will start paying co-contributions again until they hit the safety net in 2017.”
As part of the Coalition’s $6 billion omnibus savings bill, passed in September, people who have received welfare overpayments will start paying interest of 8 per cent on their debts from January 1, unless they are complying with a repayment plan.
People who owe money to Centrelink will also be able to be ordered not to leave the country until they pay, similar to arrangements in place to stop parents who skip child support payments from skipping the country.
January 1 also ushers in a host of new changes to welfare eligibility criteria, including that: Fringe benefits received from employers will now be included in the income test for family assistance and youth payments (unless your employer is a not-for-profit);Child support payments will now be included in the income test for youth allowance;Age pensioners who move into aged care and rent out their former home will now have this rental income included when determining their age pension payments;New recipients of the carers allowance will lose an ability to have their payments backdated.New migrants who arrive under the family reunions channel will now need to serve a two-year waiting period before they qualify for income support payments.Backpackers’ tax
The Turnbull government’s controversial backpackers’ tax will finally come into effect from January 1. People aged 18 to 30 who come to Australia as temporary working holidaymakers will start paying income tax of 15 cents from the first dollar they earn.
Previously, backpackers were taxed the same as Australian citizens, meaning they could earn up to $18,000 without paying tax. The Turnbull government’s May budget sought to align them to the tax treatment of non-residents, which is 32.5 cents from the first dollar they earn, but the government watered down the measure after a backlash from tourism and regional businesses.
Eradicating dodgy vocational educational providers is the aim of a revamped student loans scheme which comes into effect from January 1. The new VET Student Loans program will replace the old VET FEE-HELP scheme, under which loans increased from $26 million in 2009 to $2.9 billion last year as unscrupulous providers sought to sign up vulnerable students to courses of questionable value.
Students enrolling in vocational education institutions this year will need to double check with the Australian Skills Quality Authority that their institution remains an eligible provider, or they will be ineligible for a student loan this year. There will also be a new cap on loan amounts and stronger criteria for which courses are eligible.
The cost of a new passport will increase from January 1.
Bad luck for those who have booked holidays but not yet arranged their passports. From January 1, the cost of each new passport will increase by $20 for adults and $10 for children and seniors. The fee for priority processing of passport applications will increase by an even heftier $54.
Due to an overwhelming lack of uptake, the government’s pilot program to pay subsidies to families who employ private nannies will cease to accept new families from January 1. The government booked a saving of $170 million in its December mid-year budget update by winding back the number of places set aside and closing the scheme to new families from January 1.
Good news for an estimated 370 severe asthma sufferers who will benefit from the listing of a new medicine, Nucala, on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme from January 1. Previously, patients with this severe form of asthma would have to pay $21,000 each year to access the new treatment, which involves monthly injections. The listing will cost $25 million over four years.
Every little bit helps. About 1 million recipients of Austudy, Youth Allowance, Carer Allowance and young recipients of the disability support pension will wake up to a few extra dollars a week thanks to the regular annual indexation of their payments.
Youth Allowance recipients will get between $2.40 and $5.70 extra a fortnight. Austudy recipients will get between $4.30 and $5.70 a fortnight. Payments increase with inflation, rather than the more generous measure of average wages growth which pensioners enjoy.
Opal fares will remain frozen until July. Photo: Edwina Pickles
Opal fares remain frozen until July, but the cost of some other trips will rise.
Tolls will increase between 1¢ and 8¢ for cars using the Hills M2 Motorway, M5 South-West Motorway, Westlink M7, Eastern Distributor, Cross City Tunnel and Lane Cove Tunnel.
An increase of between 4¢ and $1.89 will also apply to trucks using these roads, as part of the regular quarterly adjustment to tolls.
Trips on the privately contracted Manly Fast Ferry service will rise by around 10¢ per trip as part of an agreement for regular annual inflation increases.
The vehicle tax for light vehicles will rise by between $3 and $10, depending on weight and whether it is for private or business use. Other registration fees and charges remain the same.
Solar bonus scheme
The NSW Solar Bonus Scheme will end at midnight on December 31, meaning drastically reduced payments for solar panel owners.
The scheme was only supposed to attract 42,000 households, but 147,000 households ended up signing up for the scheme which earned them 60¢ or 20¢ for every kilowatt hour of power they supplied to the grid.
The new year will see these “feed in tariffs” earned by solar panel owners reduced to just 6¢ for AGL and EnergyAustralia customers, 10¢ for Origin customers and 12¢ from smaller players like Enova Energy.
Foreign property investors
The Baird government’s new Foreign Investor Land Tax Surcharge will come into force from January 1.
Foreign investors who own residential real estate in NSW will be slapped with a new and ongoing additional surcharge of 0.75 per cent of the unimproved value of their land, in addition to the usual land tax.
There will be no tax-free threshold, meaning if a property has an unimproved land value of $1 million, the foreign owner will, from January 1, pay a foreign investor surcharge of $7500 per year.
Land tax bills
There is some relief in sight for investment property owners, however, as land tax thresholds are increased from January 1. The threshold at which property investors must start paying land tax will increase from an unimproved land value of $482,000 to a value of $549,000. The premium threshold will increase from $2,947,000 to $3,357,000.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.