Above: Minister for Ageing Mark Butler is asking the states to play their part in helping pensioners downsize the family home
By Natasha Egan
The commonwealth government is calling on its state and territory counterparts to waive stamp duty for pensioners to assist with downsizing the family home.
The move has been welcomed by seniors’ advocacy organisations who have been asking for seniors, not just pensioners, to be exempt from stamp duty for some time.
Minister for Ageing Mark Butler made the call on Sunday and comes almost a month after the federal government’s budget announcement of a $112 million three-year pilot program to assist age pensioners downsize the family home without losing their pension.
Mr Butler said many pensioners wanted to move from the family home into something more compact but stamp duty was a major disincentive.
“Many pensioners want to move into a smaller home that is more suited to their needs, but paying $20,000 or $40,000 in stamp duty can make the move expensive,” Mr Butler said.
“We’d like to see state governments act to address the issue and cut stamp duty for pensioners.”
In a radio interview with Paul Murray on 6PR in Perth, Mr Butler said there were two jurisdictions with some arrangements in place to relieve pensioners of stamp duty.
“Victoria, for example, does not charge pensioners stamp duty if they’re purchasing a downsized house up to $330,000, and then there are concessional rates above that.
“The ACT and the NT also have concessional arrangements for pensioners, but no other state does,” Mr Butler said.
The states should do their bit now that the federal government has acted on another disincentive to downsizing, the pension eligibility rules, through the $112 million trial announced in the budget, he said.
Currently, holding onto the house doesn’t affect a person’s pension but the proceeds from selling the home are a factor.
The trial will allow excess sale proceeds to be deposited in a special account which won’t affect the pension.
“We’re doing our bit to help seniors downsize and the states should do their bit,” Mr Butler said.
Support from seniors’ advocacy organisations
Seniors’ advocacy organisations COTA Australia and National Seniors support the recent call from Minister Butler and have both long advocated for the states to waive stamp duty for seniors.
COTA Australia CEO Ian Yates said reducing stamp duty for pensioners would have a significant effect for people downsizing to a house that resulted in money left over as well as those selling for a dwelling of similar value.
“It’s not always the case that they’re going to make a financial difference selling to a smaller house,” Mr Yates said.
“In some cases the stamp duty exemption could actually give them the option of selling.”
Mr Yates said the government should not feel constrained by limiting the stamp duty exemption to pensioners.
“We think that it should be examined more widely. Restricting it to only pensioners is somewhat narrow because there are some people not on a pension who are not much better off,” he said.
Similarly National Seniors CEO Michael O’Neill said a meaningful cut in stamp duty would make it more attractive for over 65s to explore downsizing.
“The current levels of stamp duty are an impediment,” Mr O’Neill said.
“Policy makers fail to appreciate that for a person over 65 on a fixed and limited income, a five figure stamp duty payment is seen as a really significant disincentive to downsizing.”
In addition to its importance in allowing people to age in place rather than in residential age care, the issue has wider social and housing implications than just the over 65s, Mr O’Neill said.
A reduction in stamp duty would enable a freeing up of family friendly housing, he said.
Both Mr Yates and Mr O’Neill agree that stamp duty is just one aspect to be considered for achieving age friendly home downsizing.
The second is further reform around the impact a property sale has on pension means testing and the third is a need for better supply of appropriate and affordable age friendly housing.
“Unsuitable property in unsuitable locations will not assist the process, Mr O’Neill said.
“Developing an industry award for design of age friendly housing is one way of focussing attention on the offerings the market has.”
Likewise Mr Yates said: “There has to be much greater take up of the liveable housing standard so that dwellings can deal with people as they age or become frailer.”
It is certainly not a disadvantaged to build according to the standards, he said.
Find out more about those standards here: Livable Standards Australia
Key features of the federal government’s $112 million pilot scheme:
- The pilot aims to determine the extent the pension means test is a factor in pensioners downsizing
- The scheme targets eligible pensioners who have lived in their own home for at least 25 years and want to downsize
- They will need to put a minimum of 80 per cent of the excess sale proceeds into a special account, up to a maximum of $200,000 plus earned interest
- The funds will not be counted under the pension income and assets test for up to ten years or until a withdrawal is made from the account
- The trial is due to start in July 2014 and expected to benefit around 30,000 age pensioners