Rent relief for ‘Cash-Strapped’?

There is little relief in sight for age pensioners who rent, says Joel Pringle, advocacy campaigner at The Benevolent Society.

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In 2016, The Benevolent Society partnered with think tank Per Capita and The Longevity Innovation Hub to look at the experiences of Australians living on the Age Pension. The report, Adequacy of the Age Pension in Australia, comprehensively showed that relying on the pension while renting privately is the biggest indicator of poverty among older Australians.

That report played a major role in the Fix Pension Poverty campaign, which has repeatedly emphasised that the quickest and simplest way to address poverty among older people is an immediate increase in Rent Assistance – a 50 per cent rise for single people and 30 per cent for couples.

Ongoing costs for homeowners, such as rates, insurance and maintenance, can also prove difficult for those on low incomes. The inequality of access to council rate discounts or exemptions for people on the Age Pension (or others on low incomes) is a major issue in certain regions. The capacity of councils to provide financial relief in areas of disadvantage requires serious attention.

The Adequacy of the Age Pension report showed a massive difference not only in the additional costs faced by renters, but also in underspending on other areas of essential goods and services.

For example, pensioners who own their homes have private health insurance at similar rates to the rest of the community, around 46 per cent. That rate crashes to 16 per cent for pensioners who rent (Cash-Strapped tribes).

Older renters spend less on healthcare than their home-owning peers. This is also true for insurance, utilities, vehicle fuel and food. The evidence is that food is the first item of essential expenditure to be cut in order to cope with inadequate incomes.

This reinforces the view that being stuck in private rental accommodation while on a low income affects people’s entire wellbeing, including health and safety.

Looking forward to 2019, the much-talked-about housing downturn has seen rents decrease in Sydney and the central suburbs of other major cities – in other words, the places with the highest rental costs. Rents in many other suburbs and regional areas, where more affordable dwellings are typically found, continue to rise modestly.

While some relief will be felt by those paying the highest rent, it is unlikely to increase the availability of affordable private rental properties for people relying on the Age Pension. Being in private rental accommodation will still be the biggest cause of financial distress for older Australians.

The incomes of the Cash-Strapped tribes are inadequate. As the cohort in their age group with the lowest savings, the gap between their income and the cost of living is made up by debt and poverty.

The Benevolent Society urges you to seek out the services and supports available and ensure you are receiving them, for example rebates for supplies for diabetes or incontinence and energy rebates or low-income support from telecommunications providers, and seek out local not-for-profit financial counselling services and programs such as MoneyMinded.

• The Benevolent Society is a not-for-profit, non-religious charity committed to seeking a just society where all Australians can live their best life.

Would a significant boost to the Government’s rent allowance make a big difference for you? Do utilities test your budgeting skills?

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