Dear Australia, we have something to share that’ll get you thinking over the weekend (in between your Christmas shopping, washing the car and all the other things probably on the ‘to do list’). Over a million of you are missing out on financial help and government benefits and payments because you’re unaware of your entitlements.
That is the message from the government. And unfortunately fellow Aussies, it’s our own fault. Sometimes being blissfully unaware is not quite as good as it sounds.
From the baby bonus to parental payments, business grants and advice, a range of assistance is on offer from all levels of government, and often regardless of income.
According to The Australia Institute, in 2008 Australians missed out on government assistance worth an estimated $624 million. As well as a lack of awareness, it blamed the complexity of claim forms and procedures as well as social stigmas against seeking help.
Yet according to Centrelink’s latest guide to government payments, it’s a clear case of “don’t ask, don’t receive”.
“It is your responsibility to decide if you wish to apply for a payment and to make the application, having regard to your particular circumstances,” the brochure says.
Cradle to grave
A review of the Department of Human Services website reveals more than 30 types of payments, ranging from Austudy and ABSTUDY for students to the baby bonus, child care benefits, concession cards, parental leave pay and pension bonus scheme.
It’s a truly cradle-to-grave system that has benefits for every phase of life, depending on your need.
Have a baby? Contact the department about the $5000 baby bonus along with the family tax benefit. As the child gets older, you can take advantage of the child care benefit or rebate. When it comes time for them to go to university, there are the Austudy and ABSTUDY schemes as well as the Newstart Allowance if they cannot find a job and require financial help, as well as the age pension after retirement.
Should fate intervene, there are payments for disability and sickness, while in the unfortunate event of your partner’s death you may even qualify for a bereavement or widow allowance.
Other benefits include the health care and pensioner concession cards, while there is also a “clean energy advance” to assist with increased living costs from the carbon tax.
Should you own a business, there are more than 500 different types of government grants and assistance listed on business.gov.au, ranging from help for exporters to support for start-ups and micro businesses.
Depending on the location of your business, assistance is available from a variety of governments, which could prove crucial in getting established.
However, the vast range of assistance available has added to the complexity. A recent survey by yourmoney.com.au found that 76 per cent of those polled considered the family payments system confusing, with only 14 per cent rating it acceptable.
Making the most of benefits
Once you have worked your way through the system and determined your eligible benefits, taking advantage of them requires some money skills.
RaboDirect’s high interest savings accounts, term deposits or managed funds can maximise the value of your savings, should you have some spare cash from your budget.
It is also important to seek financial advice on the appropriate structure for your assets prior to retirement, as having the right arrangements can boost your age pension or give access to benefits.
However, with the government facing a looming fiscal crunch, it is advisable to start claiming before the benefits disappear.
According to recent reports, an ageing population and rising health care costs are going to hit government finances, and higher taxes or fewer benefits are the likely outcome.