Rising bills and changes to working hours have stretched budgets in many households, while others are relying on JobKeeper and JobSeeker. But Aussies can find ways to get back more cash.
A balancing act for household finances is intensifying as tax returns deliver Australians a chance to claw back some COVID-19 costs but wage subsidies get set to shrink.
Overall household incomes are likely to be higher thanks to massive government cash injections, but the coronavirus created a wide range of financial winners and losers.
Surging electricity bills and extra technology spending during the pandemic can be offset by bigger tax deductions for working from home, and lower spending on things such as transport, clothing, childcare and restaurants.
More than two in five Australians have worked from home this year, and the Australian Taxation office has given them three ways to claim deductions for it.
However, the ATO’s new 80c-an-hour “shortcut” tax deduction generally delivers lower refunds than other working-from-home claim methods.
Cost-of-living changes have affected everyone, and AMP Capital chief economist Shane Oliver said there had been a spending boost on home office equipment, renovations and electrical items.
“I suspect the household sector as a whole has received more income,” Dr Oliver said.
“Unemployment has gone up but not that much. Meanwhile, the coronavirus supplement has doubled the unemployment benefit and a lot of people have been getting JobKeeper.
“About one-quarter of the people who get JobKeeper are getting $400 to $500 more a fortnight than they previously got.”
Dr Oliver said JobKeeper was pumping almost $12 billion a month into homes and there was a “mixed bag” of winners and losers.
Younger, part-time and some casual workers got an income boost while self-employed people, higher income earners and hospitality workers were generally worse off, he said.
JobKeeper has been extended beyond its September end date and from then will be paid – at reduced levels – to people who qualify until March next year.
CommSec chief economist Craig James said new Bureau of Statistics data showed wages paid to people aged under 20 had climbed 19.1 per cent between March 14 and July 11, but people aged 40-49 suffered a 6.5 per cent pay cut.
“It suggests young people are in front,” he said.
“If JobKeeper is extended further into next year there would have to be more re-tinkering on payment rates.”
Bigger energy bills are arriving as people spend more time at home, but Mr James said new inflation data showed electricity prices dropped 2.5 per cent in the June quarter as some retailers offered COVID-19 concessions.
MyBudget director Tammy Barton said her firm had seen “a significant rise in utility bills” and was encouraging people to shop around for cheaper power deals from providers offering reductions during the pandemic.
She said living costs had changed, with lower spending on fuel, public transport, eating out, beauty therapy and gyms but more money flowing to takeaway food, streaming services and online shopping.
“People who can afford it are boosting their emergency fund savings and really trying to plan ahead in the event that they may be impacted in the future,” Ms Barton said.
“A lot of our clients have cancelled upcoming holidays, which has meant a healthy redistribution of already-saved cash back into their budgets.”
Tax refunds also offer financial respite, and H&R Block director of tax communications Mark Chapman said people should think carefully about using the new 80c-an-hour deduction for working from home.
“A lot of people who lodged themselves through myTax are probably doing it that way, but any decent tax agent would probably tell you not to do it that way,” he said.
“You generally get a bigger deduction using the 52c rate method – that way you can claim some additional items like mobile phones and internet – or an even bigger deduction if claiming actual costs.
“The 80c rule is simple but it will give you the lowest deduction.”
Mr Chapman said people who had lodged their tax return but failed to claim all deductions could amend it online. “It’s a pretty straightforward process,” he said.