UPDATE 19 May: It appears while electricity account credits earned under feed in tariff programs will not be subject to pension income tests, credits paid out as cash, check or direct deposit will be. Further details here.
Recently, some Australian pensioners with home solar power systems faced the prospect of having income earned from exporting electricity to the mains grid included in Centrelink income tests for the pension.
While for a person’s pension to be affected by feed in tariff credits their total assessable income would have needed to exceed $142 a fortnight for singles and $248 a fortnight for couples combined; reports from some media outlets failed to mention this and caused a great deal of general confusion for retirees with solar power systems.
According to Energy Matters co-founder, Max Sylvester; “It really was a nightmare for everyone – suddenly we were having retirees deciding against installing solar power systems based on rumours of all pensioners being affected. It was also certainly a hot topic in our solar power forums that generated a lot of angry comments and conjecture due to the nature of the original reports.”
“The confusion aside, we also felt it unfair pensioners and other Centrelink clients who did exceed the caps under the income test to be financially penalised for playing their part in reducing Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions and raised our concerns at the latest Clean Energy Council conference.”
The uproar over the issue seems to have encouraged Centrelink to reconsider their policy. Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin has announced that credits and income received under feed in tariff programs will not be treated as income under the pension income test.
“The Australian Government’s decision to exempt solar feed-in-tariff credits from the income test puts pensioners’ minds at ease,” said Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association (CPSA) Policy Coordinator, Charmaine Crowe.
“This is good news for pensioners, who have generally outlaid thousands of dollars to install solar panels because of escalating electricity prices and a commitment to doing the right thing for the environment.”