Maximising social security benefits

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Maximising social security benefitsQualifying for the Age Pension is not just a welcome addition to household income, but a way to access a wide range of concessions and benefits that support a retiree’s lifestyle.

Age Pension thresholds marginally increased from 1 July 2013, so it may be worthwhile seeing whether you qualify now, if previously you had too much income or too many assets.

Men can receive the government Age Pension from age 65, and women from age 64½ or 65, depending on their date of birth.

About 70% of retired Australians rely on a full or a part Age Pension. The part Age Pension supplements income received from private superannuation savings.

Income and assets tests

Eligibility for the Age Pension is based on the income and assets tests. Both tests are applied and the one that results in the lower entitlement is the one which will determine the benefits you receive. The income and asset test threshold amounts are indexed on 1 July each year. This means some people currently not eligible for benefits may be entitled to benefits eventually.

Under the assets test, your entitlement to Age Pension gradually reduces once your assessable assets exceed the low threshold. You have no entitlement under the assets test once your assessable assets reach the upper (disqualifying) threshold. The upper threshold for single non-home owners is $890,750 for singles and $1.253,000 for couples. For home owners, the upper threshold is $748,250 for singles and $1,110,500 for couples.

Under the income test, your entitlement reduces once your income exceeds the income free area and cuts out when it reaches the upper threshold. For singles, the upper threshold is $1,810.20 per fortnight and couples $2,769.60 per fortnight.

Remember, the test that produces the lowest entitlement determines if you are entitled to a pension and the pension amount.

Be wary of trying to reduce your income or assets to qualify for more pension if you already get a Part Pension as the result is often too insignificant to be worth it.

Pensioner Concession card

Of course, Age Pension eligibility isn’t just about extra money, it also has many benefits.

If you’re eligible to receive just $1 a week of Age Pension, you qualify for a raft of benefits including a Pensioner Concession Card which entitles you to lower-cost medicines under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). You may also be entitled to:

  • bulk billing for doctor’s appointments
  • more refunds for medical expenses through the Medicare Safety Net
  • assistance with hearing services and discounted mail redirection through Australia Post.

The value of the card varies for each person depending on how much the concessions are used.

You may also be entitled to concessions from state and territory governments and local councils. These could include discounts on property and water rates, energy bills, public transport and car registration.

Commonwealth Seniors Health Card

If you’re of Age Pension age but you don’t qualify for the Age Pension, you may qualify for the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card (CHSC). This entitles you to discounts on:

  • PBS prescription medicines
  • cheaper out of hospital expenses through the Medicare Safety Net
  • and some transport, health, household, education and recreation concessions at the provider’s discretion.

This card is specifically targeted at those who don’t qualify for income support (a pension) from Centrelink or the Department of Veterans Affairs because they have too many assets or too high an income.

There’s no assets test for this one but your adjusted taxable income must be under $50,000 a year for singles and $80,000 a year for couples (combined).

Bear in mind that the means test to qualify for the CSHC includes certain income from superannuation income streams, salary sacrificed to superannuation and net financial losses (such as a negatively geared investment property).

However, more income is allowed in certain situations such as where a couple is separated due to illness.

Seniors Supplement

If you qualify for the Seniors Health Card, then you should also qualify for the Seniors Supplement. The cash payments from this may help you pay regular bills such as energy, land and water rates and car registration fees.

Seniors Card

Another benefit is Seniors Card, targeted at those over age 60 who work less than 20 hours per week. This one offers discounts with a range of commercial businesses and on public transport. Rules vary as this scheme is run by state governments, however, in general, the scheme is free to join, is not assets-tested and you don’t have to disclose your income.

For further information

Laws change regularly, so visit the Department of Human Services’ Older Australians webpage Older Australians (http://www.humanservices.gov.au/customer/themes/older-australians) to work out what you may be entitled to.

 

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