Expert Opinion Panel
Jason Bryce – Business & Finance Specialist
A single parent guide to
January 1st Centrelink & Medicare changes
Are you ready for the big Centrelink & Medicare changes?
By Jason Bryce | 21 December 2014
There is some good news amidst the harsh cutbacks
that single mothers will have to bear in 2015…
Have you been wondering what happened to Joe Hockey’s budget from May 2014?
Well, some of the big changes to Medicare and Centrelink pensions and benefits that Joe Hockey proposed have survived while others have failed to pass the hostile senate.
In fact the senate has done a pretty good job in protecting single parent families, pensioners and young people from some of the government’s harshest budget cuts said Doctor Cassandra Goldie, chief executive of the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS).
“We applaud the good sense of Senators,” said Cassandra.
However she added that life for low income families is getting harder and charities and social service agencies are overloaded.
“We are troubled by the plight of single parents.”
ACOSS reported that 56 per cent of community workers said life for sole parents was getting more stressful according to a 2014 survey of 1,000 welfare sector workers.
Cassandra Goldie said the government needs to rethink “some of its deeply unfair Budget measures.”
Some of them have been rethought and reworked and there is good news amidst the bad news for single mums in 2015.
Here is your guide to the big changes to pensions and benefits in 2015.
School Kids Bonus
The fight to save the School Kids Bonus has been lost – but the popular payment is not dead yet.
Joe Hockey’s law to phase out the Schoolkids Bonus (SKB) has passed through parliament but SKB payments will continue in 2015 and 2016, with some new restrictions.
Eligible parents will get two SKB instalments of $211 per primary school aged child ($422 in total). Parents of high school aged children will get two SKB instalments of $421 per child ($842 in total). School Kids Bonus instalments are paid in January and July.
To be eligible for School Kids Bonus in 2015 and 2016, parents must be receiving Family Tax Benefit Part A and have a total family taxable income of $100,000 or less per year.
Big changes to Family Tax Benefits
Large families get larger:
Only families with four or more children will get the Family Tax Benefit Part A Large Family Supplement from July 2015. That means families with three children currently getting Family Tax Benefit Part A will suffer a pay cut of $12.32 per fortnight from 1 July 2015.
Income test gets lower:
The primary earner income test for Family Tax Benefit Part B will be cut from $150,000 to $100,000 from 1 July 2015.
Family Tax Benefit Part A income test child add-ons for second and subsequent children will be axed from July 2015. Families with more than one child currently can earn about $3,800 more per child over the income limit before they lose the base rate of FTB Part A (Currently about $57 per child per fortnight).
Joe Hockey wanted to charge everyone who went to the doctor a $7 co-payment with that money funding a medical research program.
That plan has been replaced with a $5 cut to the Medicare rebate that general practice doctors receive from the government. The $5 cut takes effect from 1 July 2015.
This effectively forces then to collect a $5 co-payment from their patients. Medicare rebates for doctors have also been frozen for four years.
The only good news is that rebates for pensioners (including those on Parenting Payment Single), concession card holders and children under 16 will remain at current levels.
Doctors are very angry about the $5 rebate cut said President of the Australian Medical Association Brian Owler.
They are also angry about the government’s four year freeze on all Medicare rebates for all general practice and specialist doctors.
“To have a freeze and expect people not to pass on costs to their patients is inconceivable,” said Dr Owler.
And the freeze in Medicare rebates will affect all patients, even pensioners and concession cards holders said Dr Owler.
Another change that has not been widely discussed is a big cut to Medicare rebates for short doctors visits. From the 19 January 2015, doctors will be paid $11 (down from $37) for consultations under 10 minutes.
The prime minister Tony Abbott said this will stop ‘six minute medicine’ but Dr Owler said experienced GPs can diagnose a patient, take a history and prescribe and explain a management plan in eight or nine minutes.
Energy Supplement is a small top-up to all your payments that really adds up over time, particularly for parents with more than one child or more than one payment from Centrelink.
From 1 January 2015, the Energy Supplement (formerly the Clean Energy Supplement) will be frozen at September 2014 rates.
However the really good news is that it will still be paid to families, pensioners and most Centrelink beneficiaries.
And if you receive both a pension and a benefit – like Parenting Payment Single and Family Tax Benefits – you get more than one energy supplement payment.
Single mums on parenting payment get $12 per fortnight. Single mums on Newstart get $9.40 per fortnight.
For people on the maximum rate of Family Tax Benefit Part A the Energy Supplement is up to $4.48 per fortnight per child.
The energy supplement is also added to Family Tax Benefit Part B and parents will get up to an extra $2.80 per child per fortnight on their FTB Part B.
You don’t have to apply for the Energy Supplement. It is automatically added on to your payments by Centrelink.
New JET caps mean bigger child care bills
Jobs Education and Training Child Care Fee Assistance (JET) payments have helped thousands of single parents get through university, school or TAFE courses by providing big subsidies for child care. JET is paid in addition to the Child Care Benefit and Child Care Rebate.
From 5 January 2015, Jobs, Education and Training Child Care Fee Assistance will be capped at $8 per hour per child (maximum). Before this change, parents could count on JET to cover all but $1 of their hourly child care bills. Now parents are likely to be slugged with much bigger bills for child care while they are studying.
Total JET subsidised child care hours will be capped at 36 hours per week per child (maximum).
Teenage single mums still at school can be approved for more than 36 hours child care and for parents in the “Helping Young Parents and Supporting Jobless Families” programs, this change to JET will not apply until 6 July 2015.
A little good news
Single parents, for the first time, can now earn more than $2,000 per fortnight – or $52,000 per year – and still be eligible for Parenting Payment.
Centrelink’s income test for Parenting Payment Single has been increased $18 per fortnight to $2015.35 or $52,399.10 per year.
The Pension Education Supplement has been saved – so far. The government have not been able to get the abolition of that passed
Business & Finance Journalist
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Jason is a business and finance journalist with 20 years experience, and is also a member of the SingleMum.com.au Expert Opinion Panel. He has a regular weekly column in the Sunday Mail (Brisbane) and writes regularly for the Business Daily section of the Herald Sun in Melbourne and many other newspapers and magazines.
Jason’s personal website is www.centrelinknews.com.au
Keep up to date with the latest Centrelink news and information at Jason’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/centrelinknews
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