12 changes that could affect you from this month

WHETHER you're a pensioner or a student there are plenty of changes that could affect you from January 1.

From dental costs to aged care, here are some of the new laws that come into effect from January 1.

VET loans will change. Allan Reinikka

1. VET Student Loans

The much maligned VET Fee Help program will be scrapped in favour of a VET Student Loans program.

The new Federal Government program caps loans at $5000, $10,000 and $15,000 depending on the course.

It will more than halve the number of courses eligible to about 350 and the government will have more power to suspend or expel providers.

The program will limit the subcontracting of training to stop providers selling access to higher-fee loans arrangements to training organisations that don't meet the higher bar to qualify.

It will also establish a VET Student Loans ombudsman to provide students with an effective independent dispute resolution mechanism.

There will be changes for pensioners.

2. Pension Assets Test

THERE are winners and losers when it comes to the new Pensioner Assets Tests.

On the plus side, the amount of assets seniors can have before their full pension is affected will rise.

The new assets test free areas will be:

  • $250,000 for a single homeowner, up from $209,000
  • $375,000 for a homeowner couple, up from $296,500
  • $450,000 for a single non-homeowner, up from $360,500
  • $575,000 for a non-homeowner couple up, from $448,000

Currently, for every $1000 of assets you own over the assets test free area, your pension is reduced by $1.50 per fortnight.

This is called the taper rate.

From January 1 your pension will reduce by $3 per fortnight for every $1000 of assets you own over the asset free area.

The family home is still exempt from the assets test.

But part-time pensioners with more assets will be getting less money from the government than they currently do.

The new lower-pension cut off points from January 1 are:

  • Single homeowner $542,500, down from $793,750
  • Single non-homeowner $742,500, down from $945,250
  • Homeowner couple $816,000, down from $1,178,500
  • Non-homeowner couple $1,016,000, down from $1,330,000

To soften the impact, pensioners who lose entit¬lements will continue to rec¬eive the health care card, and those over age pension age will receive the Commonwealth seniors' health card without having to meet the usual ¬income test requirements.

A new asthma treatment will become part of the PBS.

3.Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme

A NEW treatment for severe asthma is set to hit the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) as of January 1.

The new treatment, Mepolizumab, known as Nucala, will be reimbursed on the PBS for eligible Australian patients with severe refractory eosinophilic asthma as an add-on to their existing asthma therapy.

Nucala is the first treatment approved for this specific type of severe asthma.

This listing is expected to benefit more than 370 patients, who would otherwise pay more than $21,000 annually for treatment with this medicine. This listing will cost more than $25 million over four years.

From February 1, 2017, people who suffer severe uncontrolled asthma will have subsidised access through the PBS to the medicine Spiriva Respimat.

Children will have dental benefits reduced.

4. Dental care

UNDER a new plan from January 1, children eligible for $1000 over two years under the Child Dental Benefits Schedule will have their benefits reduced to $700 for the same two-year period.

If a child or teenager already started their two-year cap period in 2016, they can continue to access the rest of the previous cap of $1000 until the end of 2017.

The benefits cover a range of services for children of low-income families including examinations, x-rays, cleaning, fillings and extractions.

The new plan comes after Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley announced in December that the proposed $2.1 billion Child and Adult Public Dental Scheme, which would have merged federal funding for child and adult dental services into one program, would not proceed.

Photo: Trevor Veale / The Coffs Coast Advocate
There will be a renewed focus on bio fuels. Trevor Veale

5. E10 mandate

LIABLE fuel retailers will be required by law to ensure 3% of their petrol sales each quarter is biofuel-based.

Two of the best known renewable fuels are ethanol and biodiesel, which are commonly called biofuels which are produced from agricultural grains, sugarcane, fats/seed oils, algae and agricultural waste. 

Queensland Renewable Fuels Association managing director Larissa Rose said the implementation of a biofuels mandate would allow consumers greater opportunities to support local industry and agriculture, whilst investing in building strong regional industries for the future.

A fuel sales data analysis by the RACQ shows that 35.6 million litres of E10 was sold in Queensland in October, an 11% increase on the previous month.

RACQ spokesman Paul Turner said while more Queenslanders were buying E10, sales were still well short of the imminent mandated volume.

Mr Turner said motorists should still have the option to continue to fill up with regular unleaded petrol.
To check your vehicle's biofuel compatibility or for more information visit www.qld.gov.au/e10ok.

A third round of tariff cuts will start. Contributed

6. China FTA

A THIRD round of tariff cuts will start on January 1 meaning premium Australian products like nuts, seafood, bottled wine, various pharmaceuticals and ice cream will face a tariff less than half that paid by major competitors like France, the US and Canada.

China is a rapidly growing market for Australian horticultural products, with exports worth $259 million in 2015-16 - up from $14 million in 2009-10.
But China applies some of its highest tariffs on horticultural products.

Under ChAFTA, the 10 to 25% tariff on macadamia nuts, almonds, walnuts, pistachios and all other nuts will be eliminated by January 1, 2019.

The backpacker tax is set to change.

7. Backpacker tax

FROM January 1, tax rates will change for working holiday makers who are in Australia on a 417 or 462 visa.

All backpackers will pay 15% in income tax from the first dollar they earn.

For employers this means you should withhold 15% from every dollar earned up to $37,000 with foreign resident tax rates applying from $37,001.

Employers must register with the ATO by January 31, 2017 to withhold at the working holiday maker tax rate.

If you already employ working holiday makers you will need to issue two payment summaries (with different rates) this year - one for the period to December 31, 2016 and a second for any period from January 1, 2017.

If you don't register, you will need to withhold at the foreign resident tax rate of 32.5%.

It's all a little complicated and if you're unsure what rate applies, then please speak with your accountant or the ATO.

Senior fire fighter Glenn Urquhart holds the photoelectric smoke alarm which is the preferred type to replace the older model. Photo Barry Leddicoat / Sunshine Coast Daily
Senior fire fighter Glenn Urquhart holds the photoelectric smoke alarm which is the preferred type to replace the older model. Photo Barry Leddicoat / Sunshine Coast Daily Barry Leddicoat

8. New smoke alarm laws

ON JANUARY 1, photoelectric alarms will be required to be installed in homes any time a smoke alarm is being replaced or a new one is being installed in any way.

The new laws are part of the State Government's response to a coroner's report into a fatal house fire at Slacks Creek in 2011.

From January 1, smoke alarms installed in new homes must be:

• Photoelectric type only;
• Hard wired to the electricity supply;
• Interconnected to every other smoke alarm;
• Installed in each bedroom;
• Installed in hallways serving bedrooms; and
• Installed in the exit path of every storey not containing bedrooms.

All houses being built or significantly renovated will need to comply with the smoke alarm legislation upon completion after January 1, 2017.

All houses leased or sold will need to meet compliance after five years and all owner-occupied private dwellings will need to comply with the legislation within 10 years.

Aged Care is an area that will require more trained staff in the future.elderly, senior, nursing home, hands,
New aged care residents who keep their home and rent it out will have it counted in their income test. Bev Lacey

9. Aged care and the family home

NEW residents of aged care facilities who keep their own family home and rent it out, will now have that rental income included in the income test for the pension.

Many people entering aged care choose to keep their former home and rent it out to help supplement their accommodation payments.

The impact on means-tested pension entitlements for people who enter residential care on or after January 1, 2017 will be:

• Rental income on the former home will count as assessable income
• The home will only be an exempt asset for the first two years - at the end of this time the person will become a non-homeowner and the value of the home is fully assessable as an asset.

These changes do not affect people who enter residential care before January 1, 2017.

People will be forking out more for passports. Barry Leddicoat

10. Passport

HEADING overseas but need a new passport? Prepare to pay more.

Passport fees will increase on January 1 in line with annual CPI indexation and fee increases announced in the Federal Government's 2016-17 Budget.  From January 1 the following fees will apply:

• 10-year passport for people aged 16 and over $277
• 5-year passport for children under 16 years $139
• 5-year passport option for people aged 75+ $139
• emergency passport overseas $175
• priority processing fees $183 (this fee is optional for people who need a passport in a hurry)
• overseas surcharge - adult applicant $103
• overseas surcharge - child applicant $52

DOOMED COURSE: Impossible expectations leave Rocky students with uncertain futures.
HECS-HELP will see changes in the new year too. Chris Ison


FROM January 1, the Federal Government will remove the upfront HECS-HELP discount of 10% for eligible students who pay their student contributions upfront.

The government is also scrapping the voluntary HELP repayment bonus of 5%.

Basically, you will no longer be rewarded for making voluntary repayments above the minimum requirement dictated by your annual salary.

Both Centrelink and Medicare services will be located a new look Maroochydore Service Centre from Monday 18 May.
Interest will apply for those who owe money and don't organise a payment plan.

12. Dole bludger crackdown

FROM January 1, former Newstart recipients who owe money and have failed to enter into a repayment plan will be charged 8.76% interest.