Policy changes in 2012: what you need to know

Looking at the year ahead.
Looking at the year ahead. 

Firstly, a Happy New Year to each and every one of you! As a parent, each single year is momentous as our babies develop into toddlers and then into children, reaching new milestones along the way.  Is this the year they learn to walk? That they start childcare or kindy or school? Will they welcome a new sibling into the family? Whatever the developments for your family this year, the one guarantee is that there will be change.

And of course there is constant change in just about every other area as well, including government policy and benefits. The main changes that may affect you as a parent this year include:

- Start of the National Quality Framework. If your young ones attend childcare, then it’s worth knowing that the 1st January 2012 marks the start of the first national framework for Childcare. It is a $273 million investment over eight years, which will see the various state and territory systems merge into one national regulatory body. Ideally it will reduce duplication inefficiencies and create a streamlined national experience for pre-schoolers. It is also likely to raise the cost of childcare gradually over the next few years.

In terms of right here and now, the main change that parents in some states may notice is the change in educator to child ratio in the birth to two-year age group, which is being set at 1:4 (in South Australia, Tasmania, the Northern Territory and the ACT that ratio is currently 1:5). There are changes for other age groups slated to commence in 2014 and 2016. You can find out more information on the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) website.

- Increase of FTB (A) amount for some teenagers. Also on 1st January the Family Tax Benefit Part A (FTB A) will increase for eligible families with dependent 16 to 19 year olds who are undertaking full-time secondary study. The maximum rate will increase by a substantial $161.42 per child per fortnight. The benefit is means tested and your child must be studying full time in order for you to be eligible. This benefit will replace the Youth Allowance for some families. You can find out more on the government’s family assistance website.

- Easier comparison of mortgages. While it isn’t specifically a parenting issue, finding and applying for a mortgage that suits your needs is certainly a huge issue for countless families. And the process is now a little bit easier, with the government requiring lenders to give customers a key fact sheet on home loans, if you ask for one. The fact sheet will make it easy for you to compare interest rates, costs and benefits of loans. 

- Changes to the immunization allowance. From July 2012, the non-means tested Maternity Immunization Allowance will cease to exist. Instead, families will need to meet immunization requirements to receive the Family Tax Benefit (A) Supplement – currently an amount of $726 for the financial years that each child turns one, two and five years of age. 

- Reduction of the baby bonus. If you are considering adding to your family, then you may be impacted by the reduction in the Baby Bonus, which in September will be reduced by $400, from $5,400 to $5,000. The bonus will then be frozen at that level for a further three years.

Of course, these are just the changes that we currently know about – there could well be a whole new set of changes in the federal budget, in May. It’s really quite unpredictable. A bit like parenting, really …!