Senior perks in Australia... more than just sunshine?

By Patrick O'Sullivan

Heading to Oz is an attractive option for Kiwi pensioners. Patrick O'Sullivan looks at recent changes and finds out how viable it is.
Clare Ruby* sold her family home in Auckland nine years ago, following her three sons to Queensland's Gold Coast.
She says she often bumps into fellow Kiwi pensioners who have jumped the ditch. "There are a lot over here," she says. "Many still have accommodation in New Zealand - they spend summer in New Zealand to escape the heat."
She says pensioners in Australia are better off "unless you are filthy rich".
"You pay nothing for the doctors, X-rays and scans. Hearing aids and glasses are free."
She says many states offer additional pensioner discounts. "In Sydney, you can travel all day on the buses, ferries and trains for just $2.50 ($1.28). We went to the Blue Mountains last time."
In New Zealand, a single person living alone receives $679.84 a fortnight in the hand and a married couple, both on the pension, $1045.92. It is taxed, but paid regardless of wealth or income.
In Australia, single pensioners receive A$729.30 ($938.61) a fortnight and a couple, both on the pension, A$1069.80. It is not taxed if it is the only source of income. For each dollar earned over A$146 a fortnight it is lowered 50c. A couple combined can earn up to A$256 a fortnight and it is reduced by 25 cents each for every dollar over that amount.
Income from paid work is partially exempt. From July 1, age pensioners can earn up to A$250 a fortnight without it being assessed.

Any unused amount of the fortnightly A$250 Work Bonus can accumulate to a maximum of A$6500. This can then be carried forward to future years to offset employment income that would otherwise be assessable under the pension income test. Under the assets test, if you are single and a homeowner, your entitlement will reduce by A$1.50 for every A$1000 in assets you have over A$181,750.
If you are a non-homeowner, then you are allowed to have up to A$313,250 in assets before your pension entitlement is impacted, but the same reduction rate applies. If you have a partner, your combined assets are factored in the calculation. If you are homeowners, then for every A$1000 in assets you have over A$258,000, your entitlement will reduce by $1.50 combined. If you are non-homeowners, then you are allowed to have up to A$389,500 in assets before your pension entitlement is reduced. Same-sex partners are also now recognised.
Asset-rich applicants are expected to arrange their finances to provide for themselves.
The Pensioners Concession Card entitles holders to reduced-cost medicines and in some cases, extra concessions from state and local government authorities, such as rates, public transport and motor vehicle registration. The Social Security Agreement with New Zealand, signed in 2002, allows people to enter Australia on a special category visa, using a New Zealand passport, to access social security payments.
Under the agreement, time in either country counts towards eligibility for the age pension and the amount received from the other government is topped up to match local rates.
The cost of housing in Australia varies greatly but other costs are similar. House prices in desirable city suburbs are higher than their Kiwi equivalent. Evidence of serious income abounds in recession-proof Australia - there are a lot more Maseratis than Morris Minors.
Clare bought a riverside unit with the proceeds from the sale of her Cockle Bay house in Auckland. When she is not babysitting her grandchildren, she enjoys looking out for the odd dolphin that swims past. She visits her daughter in New Zealand often. "You can get dirt cheap airfares if you buy in advance," she says. "Everybody says shuttling back and forth is the perfect set-up."

*The name Ruby was used to protect Clare's identity at her request.

- Northern Advocate

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