The COVID-19 situation is having a major impact on the Australian economy and affecting the lives of all Australians including our Energy Super members.
The Australian Federal, State and Territory Governments have announced a range of stimulus measures to support both businesses and individuals.
The total stimulus announced to date is worth a total of $213.6 billion from the Commonwealth. Here are some of the benefits members may be eligible for.
Information current as at 30 March 2020
Some initial options to consider
Some individuals who experience a loss or reduction of income due to COIVD-19 may still be able to maintain a basic standard of living, by using existing savings and government support.
A good place to start is with the family budget. Work out how your expenses have changed, or could be further reduced over the coming months, and include any income or government assistance you are eligible for.
You might then want to consider the other ways you can reduce expenses over the coming months, including:
- Banks — most banks are offering up to a six month ‘pause’ on their home loans, and pauses on other debts (like credit cards).
- Utility providers and telecommunication companies — most companies can offer payment plans.
- Landlords — the government has announced they will be unable to evict renters due to financial difficulty during the COVID-19 situation.
- Defer other non-essential expenditure.
Even with the above measures, there still may be a gap between your income and savings, and the ongoing expenses you have to meet. To bridge this, some people are considering accessing a part of their superannuation benefits to get them through.
With any of the above, including where you defer or reduce payments, you'll need to resume payments at a future date. You’ll need a plan in place for getting back on top of these. This could include how you'll ‘catch up’ on loan repayments or increasing your super contributions when conditions improve.
One way to get your super going is through our SuperBooster app. You can find the details here.
Financial assistance available
The government will provide a wage subsidy to around six million workers who will receive a flat payment of $1,500 per fortnight through their employer, before tax. This is equivalent to 70% of the national median wage.
The payment will be made to eligible businesses that have been adversely impacted by COVID-19.
An employer will be eligible if their business turnover has been reduced — or will be reduced — by more than 30% relative to a comparable period a year ago (of at least one month). It excludes businesses with more than $1 billion in revenue.
Employers with an annual turnover of $1 billion or more will be required to show a reduction in revenue of 50% or more to be eligible. Businesses subject to the Major Bank Levy will not be eligible.
Eligible employers include businesses structured through companies, partnerships, trusts and sole traders. Not for profit entities, including charities, will also be eligible.
The payment will be paid to employers — for up to six months — for each eligible employee who was working with the company on 1 March 2020 and was retained or continues to be employed by that employer.
Where a business has stood down employees since 1 March 2020, the payment will help them maintain connection with their employees.
Employers will receive a payment of $1,500 per fortnight per eligible employee.Every eligible employee must receive at least $1,500 per fortnight (before tax) from this business, including those who have been stood down, those who ceased employment from 1 March 2020 and have since been re-engaged with, or employees receiving less than $1,500 per fortnight before tax. For those employees earning more than $1,500 per fortnight before tax, they will continue to receive their regular income, subsidised in part by the JobKeeper payment.
Payments will be made to the employer monthly in arrears by the ATO. Employers must continue to pay the Superannuation Guarantee on regular wages, but it's at their discretion whether they pay superannuation on additional JobKeeper payments.
For example, if a worker’s ordinary pay is $1,000 a fortnight plus superannuation will receive the $1,500 JobKeeper payment, with superannuation paid on the first $1,000 and the employer able to decide whether to pay it on the remaining $500.
The program commenced on 30 March 2020, with the first payments to be received by eligible businesses in the first week of May.
The payment will be restricted to staff who were working for an eligible business on 1 March and are at least 16 years old. Casual workers will need to have been working for the company for at least one year to receive the payment.
To qualify, you must be an Australian citizen or hold a permanent visa, a protected special category visa or a non-protected special category visa and have been living in Australia continually for a decade or more. New Zealand citizens on a special category visa will also be eligible.
Self-employed individuals are also eligible to receive the JobKeeper Payment.
Employees will receive a notification from their employer that they are receiving the JobKeeper Payment. Most employees will need to do nothing further, but employees who have multiple jobs, are not Australian citizens or are currently in receipt of an income support payment will have additional obligations.
Eligible businesses can apply for the payment online and are able to register their interest via ato.gov.au from 30 March 2020. Employers will need to provide information to the ATO on eligible employees, however for most businesses the ATO will use Single Touch Payroll data to pre-populate the employee details for the business.
The government will establish a new Coronavirus Supplement worth $550 per fortnight over the next six months. This will be available to both existing and new recipients of JobSeeker Payment, Youth Allowance Jobseeker, Farm Household Allowance, Parenting Payment, and Special Benefit — doubling the payment for those currently on these benefits to $1,100 per fortnight. Students receiving Youth Allowance, Austudy and Abstudy will also be eligible.
Asset tests and waiting periods that would typically apply to these types of payments will be waived, and eligibility will be extended to permanent employees who are temporarily stood down.
Sole traders, the self-employed, casual workers and contract workers whose volume of work has been affected may also be eligible, provided they’re earning less than $1,075 a fortnight. These payments will begin from 27 April 2020.
Partner income test
The JobSeeker Payment is subject to a partner income test. The government has announced that it is temporarily relaxing the partner income test over the next six months to ensure an eligible person can receive the payment, and associated Coronavirus Supplement, providing their partner earns less than $3,068 per fortnight — around $79,762 per annum (a temporary increase from the current cut-off of approximately $48,000 per annum).
The personal income test for individuals on JobSeeker Payment will still apply.
Household stimulus payments
The government is providing two separate, tax-free $750 payments to social security, veteran and other income-support recipients, including those on the Age Pension, and eligible concession card holders.
The first payment was scheduled from 31 March 2020 and the second payment from 13 July 2020. Please note however, individuals eligible for the Coronavirus Supplement will not be entitled to the second payment.
Temporary access to super
The government will allow some people affected by the coronavirus to access up to $10,000 of their super between now and 1 July 2020, and a further $10,000 in the first three months of the 2020-21 financial year, tax free. Energy Super fully supports this government initiative for those who are facing financial difficulties during this challenging time.
Those who are eligible include the unemployed, people receiving the JobSeeker Payment, Youth Allowance Jobseeker, Parenting Payment, Farm Household Allowance and Special Benefit. It will also include those who have been made redundant, had work hours reduced by 20% or more, or sole traders whose turnover has reduced by 20% or more since 1 January this year.
Applications can be made online through myGov. Individuals will self-certify that they satisfy the eligibility criteria.
Individuals will have until 24 September 2020 to make an application to the ATO for this release for 2020/21.
To meet eligibility for this condition of release clients must meet one or more of the following:
- If at the time of application, they are:
- unemployed; or
- eligible to receive one of the following payments:
- Jobseeker Payment
- Youth Allowance for job seekers
- Parenting Payment (single or partnered)
- Special Benefit Farm Household Allowance; or
- On or after 1 January 2020, they:
- were made redundant; or
- had their working hours reduced by 20 per cent or more (including to zero); or
- if they are a sole trader, their business was suspended or there was a reduction in their turnover of 20% or more.
The super lump sum benefit under these conditions:
- will not be subject to tax; and
- will not affect Centrelink or DVA payments (although will be counted as an asset and deemed for income if not spent and kept in cash); and
- can only be applied for once in each financial year.
An individual cannot take two withdrawals of $5,000 in financial year 2019/20 and must make one withdrawal of up to $10,000.
Please note, individuals may also be eligible for other existing conditions of release such as financial hardship or compassionate grounds.
You may also need to consider the impact of these withdrawals on your insurance cover. If you withdraw your full balance or it drops below $6,000, your insurance maybe cancelled.
With the early release rules, individuals can make voluntary super contributions and only pay 15% tax instead of the much higher marginal personal income tax rate of 32.5% for income earned between $37,001 and $90,000.
The concessional rate of tax on voluntary contributions can potentially save someone $5,000 in tax over six months.
The new early release rules means that it’s possible to voluntarily contribute $10,000 of your pre-tax income into super over the next three months, and also apply to withdraw a $10,000 lump sum from super tax-free at some point before June 30 2020 under the hardship provisions.
However, this will only apply if you have not met your Superannuation Contribution Cap of $25,000 for the year and you are able to salary sacrifice. We recommend you speak to your accountant before making any decisions.
Support for retirees
To assist retirees, the government is temporarily reducing minimum super drawdown requirements for account-based or allocated pensions, annuities and similar products by 50% for the current financial year and the 2020-21 financial year. This should reduce the need for retirees to dispose of investment assets in the current share market downturn to fund their minimum drawdown requirements.
Minimum payment rates for account-based and allocated income streams
AGE CURRENT RATE (%) REDUCED RATES 2019/20 & 2020/21 (%) Under 65 4 2 65-74 5 2.5 75-79 6 3 80-84 7 3.5 85-89 9 4.5 90-94 11 5.5 95 or more 14 7
Deeming rates reduced further
The government advised on 12 March 2020 that deeming rates would reduce from 3%/1% to 2.5%/0.5%. The government made a further announcement on 22 March 2020 advising of a further 0.25% reduction to the deeming rates which will become effective on 1 May 2020.
Table 1: Deeming rates and thresholds from 1 May 2020
SINGLE COUPLE RATE (%) First $51,800 First $86,200 0.25 Over $51,800 Over $86,000 2.25
The government states the change will benefit around 900,000 income support recipients, including around 565,000 people on the Age Pension who will, on average, receive around $105 more from the Age Pension in the first full year that the reduced rates apply.
For example, if you have a bank account with a balance of $5,000, it is currently deemed to earn 1.0% interest. It will soon be deemed to earn 0.25% interest, reducing your assessed income and potentially increasing your pension amount.
Your Energy Super account
Your Energy Super Income Stream account is considered to be a financial investment. Please note there are some exemptions if you commenced your income stream on or after 1 January 2015. Visit humanservices.gov.au for more information.
As such, the balance of your Income Stream account will be ‘deemed’ to earn a certain amount of income based on the balance at 1 July each year. If the Income Stream account was opened part way through the year, the balance at the commencement of account will be reported.
Deeming is irrespective of the actual level of payments that you are drawing from your account as income.
Your Energy Super Accumulation account is not considered a financial investment until you reach your qualifying Age Pension age (or age 60 if you qualify for a Service Pension).
Learn more about deeming
The effect of changes in the deeming rates on your eligibility and entitlements will depend on your specific personal circumstances.
The Department of Human Services explains deeming, exemptions and has additional information on its website.
If you have any questions about your specific situation, you can also access the Department’s Financial Information Service.
State and territory stimulus
The state and territory governments have also announced economic stimulus packages worth $11.8 billion. While the majority of these have so far focused on businesses, there have been some measures benefiting individuals, including:
New South Wales
- $2.3 billion stimulus package including $700 million in extra health funding and $1.6 billion in other measures including waiving payroll tax and bringing forward infrastructure investment.
- A second $1 billion funding package to boost employment in Services NSW and defer payroll taxes and other levies.
- $1.7 billion economic survival package including $500 million to support workers to transition to new jobs and a $500 million business support fund for the sectors, including hospitality, tourism, accommodation, arts and entertainment, and retail.
- $4 billion package including $300 million for households, and rebates and waivers amounting to five months of payroll tax for businesses.
- Announced a $200 rebate for all Queensland households (including the $50 Asset Ownership Dividend already announced) to offset the cost of water and electricity bills, which will be automatically applied through electricity bills.
- $607 million stimulus package, including $402 million to freeze household fees and charges until at least July 2021.$1 billion package
- including extra support for households’ and small businesses’ energy bills and $500m for the health system.
- The WA Government has frozen scheduled increases for household fees and charges, including electricity, water, motor vehicle charges, the emergency services levy and public transport fares, which were previously due to increase by $127 from 1 July 2020. The Energy Assistance Package, which is available to eligible concession card holders, will be doubled from $300 to $600 from 1 July 2020.
- $350 million package to bring forward infrastructure spending and start new projects in road maintenance, housing, tourism and health.
- The government announced another package worth $650 million, including $300 million for businesses and industries and $250 million for community organisations and training.
- $420 million stimulus package, including $50 million to fast-track maintenance, $20 million in interest-free loans to affected business, and payments of $250 for individuals and $1,000 for families required to self-isolate.
- $565 million package, including $150 million to purchase essential equipment and supplies, and provide additional staff to tackle COVID-19.
- The government has announced one-off payments of $250 for individuals, or up to $1,000 for families, who are required to self-isolate. Recipients must hold a Health Care Card, Pensioners Concession Card or be low-income earners who can demonstrate a need for financial support, including casual workers.
Australian Capital Territory
- $137 million stimulus package, including a $150 rates rebate and a $2,622 credit to businesses for their commercial rates bill.
- $65 million package to support business upgrades and home renovations.
- $50 million to establish a small business survival fund.
How do I get help?
If you don’t have a financial adviser, it might be a good idea to speak with one of our financial advisers provided through ESI Financial Services*. Depending on your needs, this may be at no cost to you. To arrange an appointment for a phone consultation, visit our website.