Today has been marked with significant law changes for Kiwis including a plastic bag ban, a new petrol tax, rental home insulation expectations, KiwiSaver age changes, and others.

Here's what you need to know about how today's law changes will affect you.

Plastic bag ban

From today, new regulations have banned New Zealand businesses from providing single-use plastic shopping bags to customers.

The Government has signalled it will take an initially gentler tack with retailers flouting the new law.

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The rules apply to any type of plastic less than 70 microns in thickness, that's new or un-used, has carry handles, is provided for carrying sold goods, and is made of bio-based materials like starch.

The law also covers bags made of plastics that are degradable, biodegradable or oxo-degradable.

The ministry has said it doesn't have any targets to prosecute businesses that flout the laws — but it has promised breaches will be enforced.

There have been warnings that retailers could face six-figure fines, although a court would need to determine a penalty if a prosecution was successful.

Shop owners cannot provide customers with single-use plastic bags. Photo / 123RF
Shop owners cannot provide customers with single-use plastic bags. Photo / 123RF

However, the ministry has pointed out it wants to focus more on working with businesses to encourage compliance.

In the event that someone contacts the ministry to tell them about a breach, officers would contact the business and work with them to find out why they hadn't stopped giving out banned bags.

The ministry also plans to begin random retail precinct audits to assess levels of compliance and advise retailers where changes are required.

Sage said the six-month phase-in period had given retailers time to make the switch, and as at the end of last year, supermarkets were no longer offering single-use bags.

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Learn more here.

Petrol tax hike

A 3 cent per litre tax increase by the Government has been initiated today.

This is the second of three annual increases by the Government, and for Aucklanders it comes on top of a 11.5 cent additional increase last year.

Automobile Association spokesman Mark Stockdale said the latest tax increase would cost the average motorist $45 more a year. This was based on a person driving a medium-sized car 14,000km a year.

"You might not notice it on a weekly basis when you're filling up, but it's another increase in the price of fuel and it is not going to drop - it's fixed.

"It means that the total tax motorists are paying now amounts to about $1.09c a litre, including GST. Or if you live in Auckland, about $1.20 litre. So that's actually more than half the price is now tax with the latest increase."

New petrol tax hike. Photo / File
New petrol tax hike. Photo / File

The price hikes were designed to fund large infrastructure projects in the city, and for some Aucklanders the progress in the last year had not been as fast as hoped.
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff defended the rate of progress, saying funding from the regional fuel tax had directly contributed to eight infrastructure projects in the past year.

They included arterial roads in South Auckland, the Eastern Busway which links Panmure and Pakuranga and will later be extended to Botany, and upgrades to the Auckland Airport route.

Other projects which had been given regional fuel tax funding in the past year included the downtown ferry terminal upgrade, road safety improvements, 52km of new walkways and cycleways, and purchases of properties to allow for the construction of the Mill Rd corridor.

Learn more here.

New rental requirements

From today, tenants can seek up to $4000 in compensation from their landlords if their homes are not properly insulated.

Landlords are required to install ceiling and underfloor insulation wherever possible. Wall insulation, however, is not compulsory.

According to information on the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) website, any landlords who still don't comply after paying the penalty, may face "further action".

Landlords who have installed new insulation since 2016 should already meet the 2008 Building Code and, as such, won't need to do install more insulation.

The number of landlords who will be stung by fines for not properly insulating their rental homes appears to be very low, according to a group representing property owners and investors.

Landlords must provide tenants with proper insulation. Photo / Andrew Warner
Landlords must provide tenants with proper insulation. Photo / Andrew Warner

But the Green Party says there are still likely "tens of thousands" of rental properties not properly insulated.

A report from the New Zealand Property Investors' Federation (NZPIF) showed that 96 per cent of the 1325 members the group surveyed have met the insulation deadline.

The new rules are the first step in wider changes under the Healthy Homes Standards that will come into effect in 2021.

Learn more here.

KiwiSaver changes

More than 500,000 New Zealanders will be able to join KiwiSaver due to law changes from today.

About 2.9 million people already belong to the retirement savings scheme, but until now, over-65-year-olds had been locked out of joining.

There are 747,900 people aged 65 and over in New Zealand, according to Statistics New Zealand and research by the Commission for Financial Capability shows nearly one in three (29 per cent) of over-65-year-olds are already in KiwiSaver.

That leaves 531,009 who will be able to join.

However, Claire Matthews, a KiwiSaver expert at Massey University, said she expected only a small number of over-65s to sign up.

The other change from Monday is that new members will no longer be locked in to the scheme for five years.

Members between the ages of 60 to 64 (inclusive) who enrol on or after July 1, 2019 will be able to withdraw their KiwiSaver funds at 65.

But they will also miss out on getting the government contribution for a minimum of five years.

Learn more here.

Family Violence Act

From today, the Family Violence Act 2018 replaces the Domestic Violence Act 1995 with a stronger focus on the safety of victims, and how the system responds.

The term domestic violence is replaced with family violence - to reflect that violence happens in a range of intimate and family relationships.

The definition is also expanded to include coercive or controlling behaviour.

The term domestic violence is replaced with family violence - to reflect that violence happens in a range of intimate and family relationships. Photo / 123RF
The term domestic violence is replaced with family violence - to reflect that violence happens in a range of intimate and family relationships. Photo / 123RF

And new factors can be taken into account by decision-makers like police - including abuse of pets, dowry abuse and withholding care.

The process for applying for a protection order will be simpler, and there are measures to improve collaboration between agencies.

Learn more here.

Oranga Tamariki model

Oranga Tamariki is set to see the biggest shake-up since its inception in 2017, as The Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Legislation Act comes into full force today. .

Under the law, the ministry must provide a practical commitment to the Treaty of Waitangi and offer support to young adults leaving state care until their 25th birthday.

Significant changes to the Youth Justice System also take effect today, which include the introduction of 17-year-olds into youth court.

Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft told RNZ the changes were significant and desperately needed.

He said the legislation changed state care from its old ambulance at the bottom of the cliff model, to a far more proactive and supportive model.

Learn more here.

Paid parental leave increases

Paid parental leave payments will also rise for some people by $20 a week to $585. Paid leave was lifted to 22 weeks last year, and will rise again next year to 26 weeks.

"This is for us all trying to give families more time with their newborns, which is so critical in those early weeks of a child's life," said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday.

ACC ride incentives

From today, the Government has launched a two-year pilot of the Ride Forever cash-back incentive.

The programme provides motorcycle riders with extensive on-road coaching, and cash back once they have completed it.

ACC's chief customer officer Emma Powell says riders who have been through the programme are 23 per cent less likely to have an ACC claim (to June 2018).

In a move designed to improve the skills of motorcyclists, the corporation is proposing a rebate of $100 (valid for two years to a total of $200) for those who complete the ACC's Ride Forever motorcycle coaching course.

From today, the government has launched a two-year pilot of the Ride Forever Cash-back incentive. Photo / 123RF
From today, the government has launched a two-year pilot of the Ride Forever Cash-back incentive. Photo / 123RF

Powell says the rebate is designed to encourage the higher-risk riders to take part to reduce dangers to them on the road.

Learn more.

International visitor levy fees

From today, most international visitors entering New Zealand will be charged a levy of $35 that will be invested in sustainable tourism and conservation projects.

But the industry wants to ensure that the $80m a year from the international visitor levy goes towards worthy projects, otherwise it will just be seen as an unnecessary tax grab.

The Government wants a law change in place so foreign visitors will start paying the levy and an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) fee of between $9 and $12.50 by the second half of this year.

Most foreign visitors - but not citizens of Australia and several Pacific nations, or ship and air crew - will have to pay the $35 levy.

The ETA will mean that visitors from countries that have a visa-waiver agreement with New Zealand - including the UK, USA and European countries - will also have to pay an additional fee and go online to get permission to travel here before arriving.

Learn more here.

Other law changes

Rates rebate for pensioners kicks in
Changes to NZ Post's rates and service

- additional reporting RNZ