January 1, 2016 – 12:15AM
Legal Affairs and Investigations reporter
As the clock struck midnight a raft of legal changes kicked in – and many Sydneysiders will get hit.
Families and pensioners need to be prepared for a raft of legal and policy changes kicking off on January 1, including cuts to government subsidies and the phasing out of paper tickets for buses, trains and ferries.
First home buyers grant slashed
From New Year’s Day, those looking to get a foothold in the Sydney property market have a smaller incentive to buy a new house or apartment.
The Baird government will slash the First Home Owners Grant for new homes by a third, from $15,000 to $10,000.
Western Sydney postcodes made up the top 10 suburbs to benefit from the grant last financial year, with Spring Farm, West Hoxton, Werrington, St Mary’s and Liverpool the top five.
Postage stamp price hiked to $1
Postage stamp prices will skyrocket in 2016. Photo: Phil Carrick
Australia Post was granted approval to increase the price of regular postage stamps from 70 cents to $1 back in November by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
The price hike was brought in as the postal service grapples with falling revenue amid the dwindling demand for “snail mail”.
While many of us may not send too many letters any more, the hike is predicted to have a big impact on small business owners.
Crackdown on under-quoting
But new measures aimed at cracking down on agents underestimating the selling price of properties will be welcome news for home buyers. Agents can be hit with a fine of up to $22,000 if they breach the new laws kicking off on January 1.
‘No jab, no play’ policy bites
Meningococcal vaccination being administered.
For parents of small children, the federal government’s “no jab, no play” policy will also begin. Aimed at increasing vaccination rates, the policy strips families of unvaccinated children of thousands of dollars a year in childcare rebates and the Family Tax Benefit A end-of-year supplement.
Experts have said the policy targets people registered as conscientious objectors, accounting for about 1.77 per cent of children, but will do little to capture the further 7 per cent of children whose vaccinations are not up to date for other reasons. There are exemptions for those who have a medical reason.
Paper tickets phased out
Out the door: TravelTen tickets won’t be sold from January 1.
Commuters will have to make the leap to the Opal electronic ticketing system, if they have not already. The NSW government will stop selling a raft of paper tickets for trains, buses, ferries and light rail, as it continues the rollout of the Opal card. Tickets that will no longer be sold include the popular pensioner excursion tickets, TravelTen tickets for buses and Family Funday Sunday tickets.
Pensioners and seniors need to sign up for the Gold Opal card to take advantage of the same discounted fare as the pensioner excursion ticket, or face a fee hike. Fares on the Gold Opal are capped at $2.50 a day.
The only paper tickets that will continue to be sold are single or return tickets, to cater for tourists and infrequent users of public transport.
Age pension income test
In another change for pensioners, the income test for the age pension will be tweaked for retired Commonwealth and NSW public servants and retired employees of large companies who also receive funded defined benefit superannuation pensions.
A new 10 per cent cap on income received from those defined benefit pensions will apply to Centrelink’s income test, which may affect retirees’ eligibility for the age pension. Veterans affairs’ pensions and military defined benefit income streams are not affected by the change.
One year left of HECS-HELP discounts
Uni students who opt to pay their fees upfront – either in full or in sums of $500 or more – have one year left to take advantage of the 10 per cent discount. Those who opted instead to defer their fees and sign up to a HECS-HELP loan can also avail themselves for the next 12 months of the 5 per cent “bonus” which applies when they make voluntary repayments of $500 or more.This reduces their remaining debt by 5 per cent of the repayment amount.
From January 2017 both types of discount will be cut, under changes initially proposed by Labor and re-introduced by the Turnbull government.
Paid parental leave
Paid Parental Leave changes are still up in the air. Photo: Stocksy
Parents should keep an eye on mooted changes to paid parental leave, which would take effect from July 1, if they pass the Senate. The Turnbull government is attempting to “reconfigure” unpopular changes to paid parental leave announced in the May budget, which would have prevented mothers using the Commonwealth PPL scheme when they could access an employer scheme.
A compromise would see all new mothers receive 18 weeks of paid parental leave. If they had an employer scheme covering them at their full wage for less than 18 weeks, they would be able to claim government payments at the minimum wage for the balance of the period.
Source : Sydney Morning Herald