A pensioner with more than 60 years’ experience as an accountant has implored Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to overturn his “savage” cuts to the age pension.
Bob Parry, 86, of Yarrambat, Victoria, wrote to Mr Turnbull this month to argue that the amended pension eligibility test will ‘destroy’ the incentive to save for retirement.
“I am appalled at the way you are continuing to callously treat aged pensioners while you wrestle with your budget problems, particularly in relation to the proposed superannuation changes,” Mr Parry wrote.
“It is obvious that pensioners don’t rate as politically worthy of attention as much as the banks and investment advisors who generate massive income from the superannuation industry.”
He calculated, using his accounting experience and knowledge of the pension system, that a single pensioner who owns their home, with total assets of $541,295, would under the old rules receive a part pension of $9761 per year. Under the new rules, they would lose this part pension entirely, dropping their fortnightly income from $955 to $579.
A pensioner couple who own their home, with joint total assets of $814,128, would under the old rules receive a part pension of $14,065 per year. This would also be lost entirely under the new rules, dropping their fortnightly income from $1480 to $939, Mr Parry calculated.
Even pensioners with more modest means will be affected, according to Mr Parry. For example, a pensioner couple who own their home, with $476,338 in joint total assets, would receive only $26,348 in part pension under the new rules: $890 less per year.
“Unfortunately successive Labor and Coalition governments have whittled away at aged pensions, with changes making more and more senior citizens worse off if they save for their future. The asset test has thousands of very elderly citizens captive in their homes.”
Mr Parry’s calculations agree with the findings of a recent study conducted by The University of Melbourne and advisory company Willis Towers Watson. The new pension rules will reduce the percentage of Australian couples who will retire comfortably from 62 per cent to 51 per cent, it estimated.
From January 1, the asset threshold (from which the family home is exempt) will be more generous: $375,000 for a couple who owns their home. But the penalty for exceeding the threshold will increase to $3.00 for every $1000 in assets over the test, as explained in the graphic below.
The argument of the government (and of the Greens and Senator Nick Xenophon who supported it) was that the changes would make the pension more equitable. The calculations of Mr Parry and Melbourne University reflect this. Many poorer retirees will be better off.
This is important because, as noted on Wednesday by advocacy group Per Capita, the approximately 1.5 million Australians who rely solely on the age pension often suffer. “Some pensioners are taking drastic measures in order to make ends meet – they are turning off hot water in summer, blending food because they can’t afford a dentist and choosing between food and medication,” the report’s authors wrote.
But there are fears that far too many retirees in ‘Middle Australia’ will be penalised in order to improve the lot of the poor. Melbourne University’s research estimated that couples in the 15th to 85th percentile of retirement incomes will be worst affected. So, a huge swathe of the nation.
Melbourne-based financial planner James McFall, managing director of Yield Financial Planning, is warning his clients to prepare for a big hit to their superannuation.
Mr McFall predicted many of his clients will be forced to draw down more of their superannuation, or compromise their lifestyles by reducing spending, as a result of the new assets test.
“Even those who are aware the changes are looming, many of them will be surprised when their pensions are cut,” Mr McFall told The New Daily.
“The risk for those people in their twilight years is that they have to make a severe change to their lifestyle.
“The danger in particular for people who don’t have their own house is they are going to have fewer options for nursing care.”
The Labor Party, the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees, and the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia have all called for the pension changes to be reviewed.
Read Mr Parry’s letter to the Prime Minister: