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Great new ways the Government helps retirees

Last year I put together a retiree checklist and it proved enormously popular.

In 2021 there are some additions. The main changes are around the increase in digital services offered, as well as some lessons from cases of fraud in the later part of the year and an increase in the pension age.

This is a long list and not everything will apply to you but it should help you in organising your retirement. Investing is certainly part of the story but there is a huge amount of information in other areas of vital importance to retirees.

Links have been used extensively for those seeking further details.

Managing your risk

  1. If you deal with a financial adviser, check their credentials using the ASIC Financial Adviser Register. If they are listed here, they will have a bunch of obligations including being a member of the Australian Financial Complaints Authority. The big fraud story of 2020 involved an unlicensed financial adviser, which means no compulsory insurance and potentially no recourse through the Australian Financial Complaints Authority.

  2. If you give delegated authority to your adviser to transact on your behalf, make sure you have your own logins to your accounts so you can also see what is going on. The big fraud story of 2020 involved clients relying on fake statements.

  3. If you manage your own superannuation, it may be a good time to review other ways of managing your savings, understand the difference, and familiarise yourself with the responsibilities of managing your own superannuation. There is a massive amount of responsibility and administration here that may be better organised by a large company that is probably offering better and cheaper service than was available when you first decided to manage your super fund yourself.

Applying for the age pension or Commonwealth Seniors Health Card

  1. In July 2021, the age pension age will go to 66.5 which is confusing if this is the year you turn 66. If relevant for you, make a diary note to look closely at age pension application 12 weeks before the actual birthday so you can address any hiccups well in advance of your first payment.

  2. As soon as you receive your Pensioner Concession Card, start applying for your entitlements (see below for the Top 5).

  3. If you are turning 66 this year, and you are not eligible for the Centrelink age pension, make sure you know why so you can get ready to apply if things change.

  4. If you are turning 66 this year, and you are not eligible for the age pension, then apply for the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card. This card is income tested and could save you more than $2,500 on healthcare costs. Check again. Low income returns on investments and changes in deeming rates mean that your eligibility may have changed.

Update Centrelink

If you are already receiving a part pension, make sure Centrelink is up-to-date with the right data. For part pensioners, a change in assets of $1,000 could mean an extra $78 per year in age pension payments.

Check the right value for the car or caravan is in the system, and household contents are realistically valued. These assets are means tested so it's worth it. Your savings may have changed due to a holiday, renovation, or medical emergency. 

Get MyGov organised

The Government wants you to access departments online. Now is the time to set up online. Here are some of the things you can do via MyGov:

  1. Easily update income and assets by accessing Centrelink
  2. Check your Medicare claims and track your safety net threshold by accessing Medicare
  3. Complete your tax at the press of a button (or two) using MyTax
  4. Start collecting your health data for easier use via My Health Record

Check on what you are entitled to

  1. If you receive an age pension, make sure you are receiving these five entitlements:
    • Gas rebate
    • Electricity rebate
    • Water rebate
    • Council rate discount
    • Drivers license and registration concession

  2. If you are in NSW and hold a Commonwealth Seniors Health Card, check the Seniors Energy Rebate. You need to re-apply for this each year. (This is not for age pensioners).

  3. If you are in NSW, hold a Commonwealth Seniors Health Card or get an age pension, and live in a regional area, apply for this year’s $250 Regional Seniors Travel Card after 18 January.

  4. Travelling by public transport in NSW? If you want to make the most of government transport help, take a look at the following: Pensioner OPAL Card, Pensioner Travel Vouchers, Country Pensioner Excursion Tickets and Regional Excursion Daily (RED) Tickets. Got all that? 

  5. Search for entitlements, concessions, rebates, programmes or whatever they are called. I have more than 40 and counting on my list. Policies change, budgets have announcements - it’s a moving feast. Everything from replacement appliances, fishing licenses, pet registration, and stamps. And from all levels of government and in different departments. We work with our clients to make sure they get all they are entitled to.

  6. If you are part of a couple, ensure you are registered for the Medicare safety net as a family or couple. With access to Concessional Medicare Safety Net thresholds as a holder of a Pensioner Concession Card or the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card, this one is a no-brainer.

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Making and adjusting your plans

  1. If you are trying to work out whether your savings will last, try the ASIC Moneysmart Retirement Planner. It's better than many of the services provided by for-profit companies as it includes age pension eligibility, and works this out over time.

  2. Check how your spending compares to the ASFA Retirement Standard. This is a great tool for understanding how your spending in retirement might look if things are going well, and how your spending could look if you have to tighten your belt.

Working and the age pension

  1. If you are turning 66 or over, do not assume that just because you are working, the Centrelink age pension is not yet available for you. For someone with a small amount of savings, and a low income job, there may be benefits from knowing what is changing (read our blog about this).

Fine-tuning your investing

  1. If your investments are hard to track, hard to organise, or you cannot link your investment strategy to your retirement plans, it might be time to consolidate and simplify. There is a link between asset allocation strategies and expected returns. ASIC explains it here.

  2. Australians in later life are more likely to invest at the conservative end of the spectrum using the reliability of returns in a diversified portfolio. Use these expectations, an understanding of spending, and expectations of Government support to be the basis of long-term retirement spending plans. A long-term plan should be easy to hang your hat on with the discipline in regular reviews to make sure the plans still make sense. Allow for medical emergencies, aged care, sudden yearning for travel, urgent house upgrades and maintenance, bailing out a child … the list is endless.

The Pension Loans Scheme

  1. If you own property and need a top-up for your day-to-day living income, the Pension Loan Scheme may be right for you. The interest rate is 4.5%.

  2. If you are eligible for the Centrelink age pension at $0, you can apply for the Pension Loans Scheme. Wait a minute? What does this mean? What this means is that you can apply for a loan even if you are a self-funded retiree. This may suit people with illiquid assets that stop them from getting an age pension, who may be cashflow poor. People with income streams that prevent them getting the age pension (via the income test) may also apply for a top up. The Government is keen for you to tap into your property value to support your spending in later life.

What else?

A look back on what happened in 2020 lays out the themes for 2021:

  1. The Government wants you to go digital. As hard as this may seem to get setup, once you are there you will not want to go back to queues, call waiting and uncertainty. Information is available and easily updated and this should be a key focus in 2021.

  2. Large companies saying one thing and being something else is a problem, and they can be difficult to contact. Independent advice will help you setup in your best interest.

  3. Low interest rates, unpredictable markets, long lives, uncertain future expenses ... it's a balancing act. Putting all the elements together takes work but is worth it for the peace of mind.

 

Brendan Ryan is a financial adviser and Founder of Later Life Advice. This article is for general information purposes only and does not consider the circumstances of any person.

 

16 Comments
Dennis
January 25, 2021

Yeah, got all that. I've spend a financially rewarding and enjoyable (well, most of the time) 16 years since 'retirement' running a family SMSF, however I've just switched to an Industry Fund and closed the SMSF because the stress, complexity and constant rule changes isn't something I'm prepared to saddle my beneficiary wife with. With a binding nomination reversionary arrangement in my Industry Fund pension, all she will have to to do is sit back and wait for the annual pension payment!

john
February 04, 2021

Sounds like the right move Dennis. I will have to do the same myself very soon. Just not looking forward to all the complexities, time and effort associated with closing down our corporate SMSF which we were conned into setting about 8 years ago !!

Tom Taylor
January 24, 2021

If you can stay away from government hand outs and all the bureaucratic red tape as you age you will be a much happier retiree. My wife gets annoyed with me because I refuse to get a seniors card. Why? You only have to look at centre link and the robo debt fiasco. The US president Ronald Regan was once quoted as saying, " anytime a government official says to you, I'm here to help". Make sure your backside is up against a brick wall.

Brendan Ryan from Later Life Advice
January 25, 2021

Hi Tom,

I agree that less interaction with the government would be preferable for anyone - given all the hassle.

Having said this, I don't think "hand outs" is the right word.

We don't just have a tax system - we have a tax and transfer system - and governments are in charge of this. Over the years, the word "transfer" seems to have disappeared. However money comes in, and money goes out. Hopefully in some kind of balance.

Governments collect tax, and re-allocate it. Supporting you is a big part of the story - and this is not only via payments - it is also via discounts, rebates and subsidies. This is how they enact policy.

One third of government spending in 2021 will be on social security and welfare ($227.5 bn) - and the largest part of that will be on age pension payments for older Australians.

Also - another $94bn goes out on on health (the vast majority of the users of the health system are older Australians).

While I try not to get too bogged down in discussions about how things should or could be, I focus on the way the system is right now for any later life Australian, and participation is part of later life in Australia.

A seniors card in NSW (assuming this is what you refer to), is actually a directory of about 7 500 business offering special offers and discounts to those 60 and over who satisfy criteria. It is not actually a government transfer (except that the card qualifies you for a gold opal card which is government subsidised).

Thinks of how much a hospital stay would be if you paid the real cost. Think of your subsidised medications, beneficial tax rates and one day - aged care costs.

There is a lot to renounce if you are looking at refusing all "handouts".

I am of the view that the process of participating in the system, as it is designed, should be viewed as legitimately as paying taxes.

Governments tax and they transfer - this is how they enact policy. It is the way it is.

I guess I am on the side of your wife....sorry!





Ray Graham
January 24, 2021

Which Govt site is correct?
The Pension Loans Scheme
Self-funded retirees owning real estate can receive a PLS loan up to 150% of the fortnightly maximum pension.
https://guides.dss.gov.au/guide-social-security-law/1/2/3/50

You must be eligible for a qualifying pension to access the Pension Loans Scheme.
https://www.servicesaustralia.gov.au/individuals/services/centrelink/pension-loans-scheme/who-can-get-it/qualifying-pensions?fbclid=IwAR1tWI5g6BAQahfRT1t2SCj239riZB5Hb4oW-531o2lTSRvvkxY3X4W8API

Brendan Ryan from Later Life Advice
January 24, 2021

Ray - I am going with the first government site.

The wording is confusing.

To be eligible for an age pension, you need to satisfy residency, age and other criteria. Once these criteria are satisfied you may be eligible for an age pension of $0 based on your income and assets. It's very confusing.

The main reason I am aware of self-funded retiree eligibility, was that in the initial announcements this was specifically referred to. If you were hunting around for information from a standing start, this would not be that easy to see.

Brendan

Ray Graham
January 24, 2021

Thanks for the clarification Brendan

Lyn
January 22, 2021

Brendan, good article. Opinion please as follows ---know( not me) very comfortably- off S/F retiree who recently said financial adviser not only manages financial affairs but Power of Attorney for all things right down to paying utility bills & whom seems to make all decisions eg, afford a holiday as no idea what money available, no statements, the person is fully compos mentis but naive re money/investing, seems to not understand the control that has been relinquished.
Whilst it may not be illegal as long as adviser is registered, it is surely unwise to allow such control with Power of Attorney? Wonder what ethics of that is re Financial Planners Association. I suggested ask solicitor as about to update will & seek his opinion at same time. What's yours? Me?---I'd be scared witless. Fox/henhouse comes to mind.

Ed C.
January 21, 2021

Nothing beats the feel of security of owning one's home! Then, as one gets older and less capable to manage ever more complexity of the financial world, need to choose a reliable means of nest egg being looked after. There's plenty of crowd ready to do the work for a reasonable fees. One can seek out their track record and act according to your personal taste. It's well worth paying for their professional expertise, comparing with "do your own". More than happy with my choice, their skill and knowledge, etc. far outweigh my capacity to manage, as well as ability to deal with overseas Market when our domestic situation is somewhat clouded at hte present.

Helena Ryan-Scully
January 21, 2021

Excellent article...
A question...if you are retired at 60, and have your own SMSF, are there any beneifits forthcoming from the Government?
Thank you,
H

Brendan Ryan from Later Life Advice
January 25, 2021

Hi Helena,

I focus predominantly on the entitlement picture for pension age Australians, and have a NSW focus, so please don't take my answer as final..having said this, the Seniors Card program could be a story for you - although most benefits flow from businesses on the program, not from the government. In NSW you are eligible for the Gold Opal Card if you have a seniors card.

I hope this helps,

Brendan

Donal Griffin
January 21, 2021

Very helpful article. Thank you.

Jeff Oughton
January 21, 2021

About 80% of elderly Australians own their homes on "retirement", so leaves about 20% renting with few other assets......Staying in or renting or unlocking private savings in the home to boost retirement income has significant financial aspects ...but the vast majority of elderly Australians want to stay in (and depart from) their homes...and i do not mean aged care homes! So the key macro opportunity is to unlock the private savings in the family home! good for growth and jobs for younger Australians too

Fred
February 18, 2021

Unlocking home equity is such a cliche. Say what it really means, borrowing money in your retirement! Not for the faint hearted.

Phil Crichton
January 21, 2021

You need to talk more about pension income and it's relativity to assets.
Also not all pensioners own a home. There are genuine benefits in renting and pensioners can get a $131.60 rent subsidy p.f. for a couple. This helps a lot with paying rent.
The Govt is quite generous with it's allowance of owning assets; this should be explained in detail and calculations made of a sweet spot of pension income, other income like shares, asset ownership, and that if too many assets are owned, this can be smoothed out by holidays, furniture & clothes buying etc.
Pensioners are far better off owning dividend earning shares, rather than a house.
As regards renting, rents in many country towns are way below urban rents, and houses are rentable whereas urban rentals of houses are minimal and expensive.

Brendan Ryan from Later Life Advice
January 24, 2021

Phil,

You touch on a lot of points that are beyond the scope of my simple checklist.

You certainly highlight the complexity of the story for later life Australians, not just with system detail, but the fact that everyone's situation is different and will thus have a unique experience with the "system" - especially when you compare rural vs city, and home -owner vs non-home owner.

Thanks for your comments,

Brendan

 

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