We opposed the federal government’s 2016 proposal to scrap the Energy Supplement for new Age Pension recipients. This would have cost a single pensioner $365 and a couple $551 annually. In 2018, we welcomed the announcement that the policy was no longer being considered. However, we continue to fight for the reintroduction of indexation so that the supplement keeps pace with rising energy prices. Easing the rising cost of energy is central to our broader energy affordability campaign.
National Seniors continues to advocate for a regulated price for electricity. After considering submissions to the ACCC Electricity Pricing Inquiry in 2017, including our submission, the ACCC recommended a default offer with a regulated price and basic consumer protections. This met with the support of both Labor and the Coalition and a default offer with a regulated price is expected on 1 July 2019.
National Seniors called for an increase in the amount of money you can earn without affecting the pension as part of our 2018-19 Budget submission. Subsequently, the Coalition announced an increase to the Work Bonus in the 2018 Budget, which was later extended to eligible self-employed people. From 1 July 2019 pensioners can earn up to $7,800 per year without impacting their pension entitlements.
We opposed Labor’s proposal to scrap franking credit cash refunds. Our opposition to this policy helped win the $3.3 billion ‘pensioner guarantee’, which meant pensioners before March 2018 would have been exempted from the proposed change. During the federal election we argued that we were not opposed to fair and considered reform but that dumping franking credit cash refunds was ill-considered and severely impacted lower income self-funded retirees who had worked hard and planned their retirement within the rules. The Coalition’s re-election has meant the threat of this policy has now receded.
In the 2018 Budget, 14,000 new high-level home care packages were announced (to be released over four years). In December 2018, it was announced that 10,000 of these packages would be brought forward and rolled out by July 2019. A further 10,000 home care places were announced in the 2019 Budget and will be rolled out over two years from 1 July 2019. National Seniors has been consistently calling for more high-level packages to meet the high demand for these services.
Pension Loans Scheme wins
The Pension Loans Scheme was extended to everyone of pension age from 1 July 2019. This included an increase in the allowable income to 150 per cent of the Age Pension. National Seniors supports allowing older Australians using the equity in their home to live a better quality of life in their own home.
We also called for a lowering of the Pension Loans Scheme interest rate. From 1 January 2020, it will fall from 5.25% to 4.5% per annum.
Seniors entering pensioner phase can rest a little easier. National Seniors campaigned against the Australian Government plans to increase the pension age from 67 to 70. So, we were very pleased when Prime Minister Scott Morrison backed away from the unpopular idea as a’ step too far’ and confirmed the Age Pension qualifying age would stay at 67. The decision reverses a policy announced in the 2014 Budget and is a win for common sense.
One of the biggest announcements in 2018 was the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. National Seniors has been highlighting the problems in aged care for many years and welcomed the establishment of the commission. We have been actively engaged in the commission, providing submissions, attending hearings and communicating the experiences and views of members through the media.
In 2016, responding to the inquiry into elder abuse, National Seniors made a range of recommendations for action on elder abuse. In early 2019, a new plan to tackle elder abuse was released by the federal government. We continue to promote reforms to improve protections for older people and are working with the Australian Banking Association on the issue of financial abuse. National Seniors is proud to be involved with the National Elder Abuse Conference. We also partner with Caxton Legal Service to deliver the Queensland Government's Financial Protections Service, which helps serve as a preventative tool against elder abuse.
Ending the Medicare freeze
A key continuing advocacy campaign is to pressure governments and the medical and insurance industries to put the brakes on rising heath-care costs, especially out-of-pocket costs. Doctors have blamed out-of-pocket costs on governments limiting the rebates they receive for seeing Medicare patients. To make up for the freeze doctors had been increasing costs to patients. It was therefore a big win in the latest federal budget when this was acknowledged and the freeze on Medicare rebates ended.
National Seniors has been advocating to make specialist fees more transparent and recently launched a major campaign on the issue of out-of-pocket health costs. In early 2019, it was announced by the federal government that it would fund the development of a new website to enable consumers to compare specialist fees. We will work with the government to ensure that this tool drives down the cost of health care, and will continue to advocate for ongoing reforms that reduce out-of-pocket health care costs.
Lowering of the deeming rate
National Seniors successfully led the campaign to get deeming rates down in mid-2019 after two RBA rate cuts exposed the Government’s ongoing inaction. While there is more to be done, including getting the deeming rate set by an Independent Age Pension Tribunal, the lowering of the rate will give a $600m boost to 630,000 pensioners and 350,000 other payment recipients over the next four years. The new deeming rate for investments up to $51,800 (single) and $86,200 (couple) is 1 per cent down from 1.75 per cent with investments above $51,800 (single) and $86,200 (couple) deemed at 3 per cent down from 3.25 per cent.