Hello and welcome to our mid-year update.
The first half of 2018 has been a period of change and positive developments for National Seniors.
The highlights are many and included:
- Several key advocacy wins, including one for age pensioners that will save them $3.3 billion over the next decade, if Labor is successful at the next Federal election
- National Seniors joined a concerted campaign to address and prevent financial elder abuse
- Five major research reports, taking to 22 the total completed since Interim CEO and Research Director Professor John McCallum joined National Seniors early 2017
- Fresh membership focus with a new role of General Manager for Membership and Strategic Partnerships
- Cash reserves top $6 million
- Revenue for the financial year of about $8 million, all devoted to member services, research and advocacy.
National Seniors has been around for 42 years, fighting for a fair go for all older Australians.
But you, as a member, are at the heart of what we do.
Without you, we wouldn’t have the voice we’ve had for the past four decades. Your participation in our research underpins our advocacy – advocacy which has changed the lives of so many for the better.
For example, you told us told us how important it was to be able to earn more without it affecting your Age Pension. We listened and sent that message to the Federal Government in our Budget submission.
It led to a big win in the May Budget. From July 2019, the first time since it was introduced, the Work Bonus will be lifted from $6500 to $7800 – from $250 to $300 per fortnight – and it will now also apply to the earnings of the self-employed. It means a pensioner who works part-time will be on $36,000 a year before their pension is affected.
It’s just one of several wins that came from us listening to you and putting the case to government. Another example was the Pension Loans Scheme, which was expanded to cover everyone of pension age. The maximum fortnightly income stream will be increased to 150 per cent of the Age Pension rate. They, too, will be on $36,000 (from July 2019).
We’ve listened to members who want to put more into their superannuation. Also, from 1 July next year, Australians aged 65 to 74 with a total superannuation balance below $300,000 can make voluntary contributions for 12 months from the end of the financial year in which they last met the work test.
Aged care concerns - residential or at home - kept coming up last year for a range of reasons. Key among them was the massive waiting list for higher level 3 and 4 packages. National Seniors ensured you were heard in discussions with Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt ahead of the Budget.
We got some action – an extra 6000 high-level home care places were announced late last year, and another 14,000 in the May Budget, along with 13,500 additional residential care places and 775 new restorative places.
But given the waiting list for home care was 104,000 last December, and this figure has been increasing up to 20,000 a quarter, National Seniors is continuing its push for the funds to give older Australians the care they need and deserve.
The issue we receive more calls and letters about than any other is Centrelink and their handling of Age Pension applications. Through our advocacy and research efforts, your views on these issues have been heard at the highest level.
National Seniors was one of loudest voices demanding action over the excessively long call wait times and the number of abandoned calls to Centrelink. Last year, almost half a million calls to the Centrelink Seniors Helpline alone went unanswered. That’s not our idea of help, quite the opposite.
As a result, an extra 1000 call centre staff have been put on under contract to help address the issue.
Our research, based on your input, also highlighted other critical problems causing applicants to wait months for their pensions to be processed. The Centrelink Experience: From ‘waiting, frustrating, hopeless’ to ‘helpful, friendly, positive’ was released last month.
We’re continuing our pressure on the government to fix this disgraceful situation, which is unacceptable given the Age Pension is what many older Australians rely on when they retire. Only last week this issue was featured on Channel 9’s A Current Affair and our Interim CEO Professor John McCallum, who produced the research report, spoke in the strongest terms about the need to fix this problem.
It highlights the point that National Seniors is not just fighting for more money for older Australians, but also fighting for their human rights, to ensure they are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.
This is evident in many of the advocacy and research issues we’ve tackled. A good example is the ACCC enquiry into retail energy pricing.
Its report, released this month, revealed widespread abuse of market power by energy companies. We knew this had badly affected vulnerable older Australians, particularly those on low fixed incomes. Our advocacy survey told us spiralling power bills was a hot button issue at the top of your concerns.
Your views went into our submissions to the ACCC enquiry and if the Federal Government adopts the recommendations, as we’ve been calling on them to do urgently, it will mean not just all seniors, but all Australian households, could save between $290 and $750 a year.
On the surface, this could be viewed as simply a monetary issue, but cheaper power also links back to how older Australians are treated by governments, business and others. It’s hard to see much dignity and respect from some quarters, when confronted by a single woman in her eighties who is deciding whether to have the heating on in winter or buy food.
One of the biggest advocacy wins we’ve chalked up recently was Labor’s change of mind on pensioners’ franking credits. If we hadn’t won this “Pensioner Guarantee” it would have cost more than 300,000 age pensioners $3.3 billion over the next 10 years, if Labor wins power.
Labor’s decision to exempt age and other pensioners means they will be more than $1000 a year better off. We haven’t forgotten about self-funded retirees, some of whom will end up worse off than pensioners under this policy, and we’ll continue to fight for them.
Sadly, something we hear too often about is elder abuse and the many forms it takes. Over recent months our Interim CEO Professor John McCallum has been working with the Australian Banking Association on a concerted campaign to address and prevent financial elder abuse.
The campaign includes the Council on the Ageing, the Older Persons Action Network and the Financial Services Union. It’s urging state and territory Attorney-Generals to introduce three key changes to help better recognise, report and stamp out financial abuse.
We want standardised power of attorney orders around Australia, the establishment of an online register of powers of attorney, and a hotline for people and bank staff to report suspected elder financial abuse.
About five per cent of older Australians are subjected to financial abuse and banking staff often see first-hand elderly people being taken advantage of by trusted family, friends and carers. As a society, we can and need to do more to support older people who are being exploited in this way.
National Seniors welcomed the Federal Government’s announcement in February of a national plan for elder abuse, and the Budget commitment of $22 million over five years to standardise powers of attorney.
This issue is one being tackled by National Seniors, with Chief Advocate Ian Henschke this week being invited to join the 6th National Elder Abuse Conference Advisory Committee (the event will be held in Brisbane next July).
We are soon to release a major research report authored by Interim CEO Professor John McCallum on internet scams, which increasingly target older Australians and cost them millions of dollars a year. As well, our Canberra-based research officer Dr Karen Rees will be attending the Attorney General’s National Plan for Elder Abuse consultation in Canberra.
Much of the research we’ve undertaken in the past 18 months (a total of 22 separate reports) has also focussed on issues that are important to the quality of life for older Australians. How seniors cope in an increasingly digitised world, and what they need – and deserve - to ensure they have access to vital information and services (such as telephone and face-to-face assistance) has featured.
All the work outlined here, along with many others, have generated extensive media coverage across radio, television, print and online channels, both commercial and ABC networks, thanks to the efforts of our Interim CEO and Chief Advocate.
The financial year 2018 just finished (30 June) showed a small improvement over the previous year, with the audited financial report to be released later this year.
It’s always worth reminding ourselves that National Seniors is a membership organisation and you as a member are at the heart of what we do. That’s why I’m pleased membership has a renewed focus under Sandra Philpott, who was appointed to the new role of General Manager for Membership and Strategic Partnerships in April.
Membership stands at 130,000 and this new role reinforces our ongoing efforts to address the trend of declining numbers. We are not alone as this issue that has impacted all sorts of member organisations from sporting clubs, big and small, to the CWA.
Others who have faced this national and global trend include Rotary, Probus, and Lions. Many of these organisations have been treasured by older generations as a way of staying in touch, socialising, feeling they belong – and giving something back – to their community, and enjoying stimulating activities.
But younger generations often continue in the paid workforce longer or work part-time. The Baby Boomers, for example, are tending to retire later and with more funds, which enables more choice around travel, volunteering, taking on grandparenting duties and other activities.
When they do join organisations, they are not as inclined to attend branch meetings but prefer online contact. They make their selections via the web and word of mouth recommendations.
A review of our data has told us that our current membership offers are more appealing to the over 60s age group and most members are aged between 60-75.
So, we need to make membership for those people more relevant and meaningful and we also need to attract younger members.
To better understand what current and potential members want and value, we’re conducting a member satisfaction survey around October.
We’re building a new engagement process that will explore a new online orientation program and more personal contact from us to ensure you can derive real benefit from being part of National Seniors.
We’re also refreshing our welcome to new members through personal contact and more engaging materials, and our renewal process will change with a focus on loyalty offers for members who have been with us the longest.
Our member benefits program will be reviewed towards the end of the year to make sure we’re offering you the products and services you value and that will encourage people to join or renew their membership.
I want to personally thank the many hard-working branch members and office holders. You know who you are, and I thank you for your efforts and loyalty.
Some of you have been in roles for decades and deserve long service leave! You provide the local, welcoming face to a place where older Australians can find the friendship and social connection that is so important to a healthy retirement.
As Ian Henschke wrote a couple of weeks ago, UK research suggests loneliness is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day and every dollar spent on preventing it saves $3 in the health system.
So, your work in the branches is helping to save lives.
We are working with our 100-plus branch network to update the branch handbook, as part of a new toolkit to help make the branches more self-sufficient.
A lot is happening, and I’ll be in touch again soon with new developments and wins for our valued members.
All the best
National Seniors Australia