INTERNATIONAL Free Hugs Day is nearly here.

Also known a July 1, 2018, the start of the new financial year brings with it the usual raft of changes to fees, charges, taxes, rules, regulations and laws.

Here's what you need to know.

POWER PRICES TO DROP

Power bills are set to fall slightly across the country from July 1, with Origin Energy and AGL both announcing modest but welcome relief following last year's eye-watering hikes of up to 20 per cent.

Residential Origin customers in NSW and ACT will see no change to electricity, while prices in southeast Queensland and South Australia will drop by 1.3 per cent and 1 per cent respectively. Origin gas bills will drop by 3 per cent in NSW and remain flat elsewhere.

Origin electricity prices for small business customers will stay flat in NSW and ACT but will fall by 4 per cent in southeast Queensland and 1.4 per cent in South Australia. Gas prices will fall by 4 per cent in NSW and 1.9 per cent in ACT but will stay flat elsewhere.

AGL will cut residential electricity prices by 0.3 per cent in NSW, 1.6 per cent in Queensland and 0.4 per cent in South Australia, but will increase gas prices by 1.8 per cent in NSW and 2.1 per cent in South Australia. Gas prices in Queensland will remain flat for both business and residential customers.

AGL small business customers will have their electricity bills fall by 0.1 per cent in NSW, 1 per cent in Queensland and 0.3 per cent in South Australia, but gas prices will increase by 2.5 per cent in NSW and 4.6 per cent in South Australia.

EnergyAustralia has yet to announce its updated prices. A spokeswoman said the retailer was in the process of reviewing its retail energy prices for households and small businesses in NSW, Queensland and South Australia. "We intend to announce the outcome of this review shortly," she said.

PLASTIC BAG BAN

From July 1, single-use plastic bags will be banned in Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia, bringing them into line with South Australia - the first state to ban the bag in 2009 - the ACT, Northern Territory and Tasmania. While NSW is standing firm, most major retailers have instituted a virtual nationwide ban.

Woolworths actually got in early, announcing a full phase-out on June 20, 10 days ahead of the official deadline. Both major supermarkets have been talking up their green credentials in recent months, with Coles pledging to reduce plastic waste and Woolworths ditching single-use straws.

A 2012 review of South Australia's bag ban found just 15 per cent of consumers purchased bin liners before the ban, compared with 80 per cent after, "increasing some scepticism about the broader environmental benefit".

But rather than buying plastic liners to make up for the lost bags, shoppers have been urged to go bin commando. "I haven't used a plastic bin liner in 25 years," environmental campaigner Jon Dee said last year. "The simple fact is you don't actually need to have a plastic bin liner in order to put your rubbish out."

A 2014 paper by the WA government suggested "reusing or composting leftover food", "wrapping food scraps in sheets of newspaper prior to disposal (if this is done properly, the waste will not 'sweat' and begin to smell as it does in plastic bags)", "lining bins with several layers of newspaper" and "freezing food scraps prior to the scheduled collection day".

PASSPORT GLASSES BANNED

From July 1, glasses will not be allowed in passport photos. The Australian Passport Office said the move "further strengthens the integrity of the Australian passport".

"Research has shown that glasses adversely affect passport facial matching," the APO said in a statement last month. "Matching is more accurate without glasses. A limited exemption for medical reasons may apply where supported by a medical certificate."

The APO website states that valid medical reasons may include severe light sensitivity or recent eye surgery, but vision impairment alone was not sufficient for medical exemption. If glasses must be worn for medical reasons, the frames "must not obscure the eyes and there must be no reflection from the lenses".

 

ONLINE SHOPPING TAX

Amazon will stop shipping to Australian addresses from its international store in response to the government's new online GST laws coming into effect on July 1, which require businesses with annual turnover greater than $75,000 to collect GST on purchases under the current low-value threshold of $1000.

The controversial changes came as a result of heavy lobbying from local retailers like Gerry Harvey. Amazon, eBay, Alibaba and Etsy flagged the possibility of geo-blocking Australian users during a Senate inquiry last year.

The other retailers have so far said they are working to have their sites ready for July 1, but experts have warned the likes of ASOS, Nordstrom or Macy's could follow Amazon's lead. Treasurer Scott Morrison said if Amazon wanted to "take their bat and ball and go home" Australians had "many other choices available to them".

DOWNSIZING CONTRIBUTIONS

As part of its housing affordability package in last year's federal budget, the government announced an incentive for older Australians to downsize to free up housing stock for first homebuyers.

From July 1, people aged 65 and older will be able to contribute up to $300,000 from the sale of their family home to their superannuation. The downsizer contribution, which can only be made for the sale of one home, is not affected by existing contributions caps.

To be eligible, the downsizer must have owned the home for at least 10 years prior to the sale and live in it as their main residence. Downsizer contributions are not tax deductible, however, and will be taken into account when determining eligibility for the age pension.

BETTER CREDIT SCORE

From July 1, comprehensive credit reporting (CCR) will become mandatory, meaning banks will be forced to share detailed positive and negative financial history with other lenders.

Currently, most lenders only share negative information such as credit applications, defaults, overdue payments, bankruptcy and court judgments. Under the new system, they will also have to share positive information, such as when you made all your repayments on time.

CCR has been around since 2014, but with the Big Four largely refusing to take part, Treasurer Scott Morrison was forced to step in. Experts say the change will likely result in most Australians seeing their credit score increase.

A credit score is a rating between zero and 1000 indicating your financial history. Most credit scores sit between 300 and 750, and a higher score is better. It gives you more leverage to negotiate a better deal from banks, telcos, insurance companies and utilities.

"Currently credit files are paper thin, and this means that scores generally inflate risk because there's not much information to use," said Daniel Foggo, chief executive of peer-to-peer lender RateSetter.

"The introduction of mandatory positive information means a history of making regular payments, repaying a loan early or closing unused accounts, can help a borrower demonstrate their creditworthiness and ultimately be rewarded with a better deal from lenders."

MODEST TAX RELIEF

As part of the government's seven-year tax plan announced in last month's federal budget, taxpayers will be receiving modest relief in the form of either an annual lump sum tax offset or increased tax brackets from July 1.

People earning up to $37,000 a year will get a maximum offset of $200, while people earning between $37,000 and $90,000 will get a maximum offset of $530. A person currently earning $90,000 a year will also pay $135 less tax.

That's because the 32.5 per cent tax bracket is being increased from $87,000 to $90,000 to ward off bracket creep - the process by which inflation pushes taxpayers into ever higher tax brackets.

FAMILY PAYMENTS CHANGES

Parents receiving the Family Tax Benefit Part A could see their payments reduced by up to $28.28 per fortnight, per child, if their children aren't immunised. Human Services says it will contact parents if their child doesn't meet immunisation requirements, and will let them know what they need to do before their payments are affected.

Meanwhile, the government is overhauling its childcare subsidy scheme by combining existing subsidies into a single means and activity-tested payment from July 2. The change is expected to increase payments by as much as $1333 a year for the average child.

About 1.2 million families are eligible for childcare subsidies, but parents must update their Centrelink details through MyGov or risk missing out. Under the new system, both parents must be working, studying, volunteering or searching for work at least eight hours a fortnight to be eligible.

A family on $50,000 with both parents working and two children under the age of six in daycare two days a week will be about $2000 a year better off, a family on $80,000 will be more than $3000 better off, and a family on $150,000 will be around $1000 better off.

PARKING FINES SLASHED

Motorists in NSW are set to benefit from a major penalty overhaul by the state government, with the 10 most common parking fines to be slashed by 25 per cent. The changes affect zones around Barangaroo, the Sydney foreshore, The Botanic Gardens, Centennial Park, Sydney Olympic Park, and Wentworth and Parramatta Parks.

The State Government issues about 10 per cent of all parking fines - about $15 million a year compared with $172 million doled out by local councils. Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said he was pushing councils to follow his lead in slashing minimum fines from $110 to $80.

"Fines should be a deterrent to an offence, but they also should be fair, and not used as an easy option to build a bankroll for whatever project is flavour of the day," Mr Perrottet said earlier this month.

The 10 fines to be cut by 25 per cent will be 'park for longer than permitted', 'park without ticket displayed', 'park after ticket expired', 'stand vehicle in area longer than allowed', 'stop in restricted parking area', 'park after meter expired', 'not stand vehicle in marked parking space', 'remain in ticket-operated loading zone after ticket expired', 'park without current loading zone ticket' and 'park without paying meter fee'.

MINIMUM WAGE INCREASE

About 2.3 million of Australia's lowest paid workers will get a 3.5 per cent pay increase from July 1, with the national minimum wage to increase by $24.30 per week following the Fair Work Commission's 2017-18 Annual Wage Review.

That brings the weekly minimum wage to $719.20, up from $694.90. Shine Lawyers employment law expert Christie Toy said while the increase doesn't come into effect until the first full pay period after July 1, employees should be vigilant.

"Make sure you are receiving regular pay slips," Ms Toy said. "A pay slip should be provided within one business day of you being paid. You should [also] keep an accurate record of the hours you worked.

"Don't rely on your employer to do so, your records can be valuable evidence down the track if you need to start a case. An easy way of recording your hours is through the 'Record My Hours' app.

"Check your pay slips after the increase is to take effect to make sure that you aren't being ripped off. If you have any concerns about your pay you can speak to your employer about this. Your employer can't sack you for asking about your pay."

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN

A two-year transition phase to improved country-of-origin food labelling ends on June 30, with all food packaged and imported from July 1 required to comply with the Country of Origin Food Labelling Information Standard 2016.

While country of origin labelling has been mandatory for many years, consumers have often found the wording confusing - such as the dreaded "made with Australian and imported ingredients".

Under the new system, labels will contain a statement about where the food was produced, grown, made or packaged, and Australian food will carry the kangaroo symbol and an indication of the proportion of Australian ingredients by weight through a statement and a bar graph.

 

SINGLE TOUCH PAYROLL

Employers with 20 or more employees will be required to report payments such as salaries, wages, pay-as-you-go (PAYG) withholding and superannuation directly from their payroll or accounting software from July 1.

The Single Touch Payroll system will give the Australian Taxation Office near-real time visibility of an employee's wage and super payments, meaning employers who attempt to rip off their workers will have nowhere to hide.

Last year, the ATO revealed employees missed out on $2.85 billion of their super guarantee payments during in 2014-15, with small businesses the worst offenders. Subject to legislation, Single Touch Payroll will be expanded to include employers with 19 or fewer employees from July 1, 2019.

"Single Touch Payroll is a game-changer for both employers and the ATO," ATO assistant commissioner John Shepherd said in March. "This will allow employers to be able to meet their reporting obligations to us using their own payroll or accounting software."


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