Time to review your income protection cover?

If you’ve owned an individual income protection or salary continuance policy in recent years, you may have seen your premiums increase as insurers struggled to cover their large losses on these products.i

Given the ongoing competition and generous features in some products, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) has decided it’s time for some new rules to ensure income protection cover remains sustainable and affordable for customers.

This will result in sweeping changes to these types of policies from 1 October 2021, so it’s essential to review your insurance protection cover before insurers start altering their product offerings.

What is income protection?

Income cover protects against the loss of your most valuable asset – your ability to work and generate an income. If illness or injury prevent you from working, income cover can step in and help to ensure your household needs continue to be supported while you recover.

What’s more, your premiums are generally tax-deductible, so they can potentially help reduce your tax bill.

Major changes to income protection

Reform of income protection policies started back on 1 April 2020, when insurers were no longer permitted to offer customers Agreed Value income protection policies. Agreed value income protection provided more certainty about the amount you would be paid if you claimed and was based on your best 12 months earnings over a three-year period.

Following this initial change, APRA is implementing further changes from 1 October 2021 that will make new income protection policies much less generous. The reforms mean insurers will be offering new policies that base insurance payments on your annual income at the time you make a claim (or the previous 12 months), not on an agreed earnings amount.ii

For people with a fluctuating income, insurance payments will be based on your average annual earnings over a period appropriate for your occupation and will reflect future earnings lost due to the disability.

To further reduce costs, new policies will no longer offer supplementary benefits like specified injury benefits.

Limits on income payments

Other changes include a requirement for the maximum income replacement payment for the first six months to be capped at 90 per cent of earnings, reducing to 70 per cent after six months.ii If your insured income amount excludes superannuation, the Superannuation Guarantee can be paid in addition to the 90 per cent cap.

One of the most significant changes is that the terms and conditions of an existing income protection policy will no longer be guaranteed until age 65. Policies will no longer be offered for longer than five years, so your policy and its terms will be reviewed every five years.

You won’t need to undergo medical review, but any changes to your occupation, financial circumstances or taking up a dangerous pastime will need to be updated in the policy. Even if your circumstances remain the same, you will still be required to review the policy.

If your policy has a long benefit period, you are also likely to face a tighter definition of disability, rather than the previous definition of simply being unable to perform your ‘normal job’. APRA is keen to ensure claimants who are able to return to some form of paid employment do so, rather than remaining at home and receiving a payment.

Impact on existing and new policies

So what does this mean for you?

If you currently have an income protection policy outside your super, you will not be immediately affected by these changes, but it would be wise to check your policy is still appropriate for your circumstances.

Given the extent of the changes to income protection cover, if you have let your insurance lapse or don’t currently have income protection, it could make sense to consider signing up before 1 October 2021 to take advantage of the more generous current arrangements.

Income protection is often overlooked because of a perception that it’s too costly or not essential, but like all insurance, the cost of not being insured can be far greater. This type of cover offers valuable benefits that should be a key component in your wealth creation – and preservation – strategy.

If you would like help reviewing or selecting appropriate income protection cover, get in touch with one of our Financial Advisors on 03 51 20 1400 or book a consultation via our website.

https://www.apra.gov.au/news-and-publications/apra-resumes-work-to-enhance-sustainability-of-individual-disability-income

ii https://www.apra.gov.au/final-individual-disability-income-insurance-sustainability-measures

Material contained in this publication is a summary only and is based on information believed to be reliable and received from sources within the market. It is not the intention of RGM Financial Planners Pty Ltd ABN 36 419 582 Australian Financial Services Licence Number 229471, RGM Accountants & Advisors Pty Ltd ABN 69 528 723 510 or RGM Finance Brokers Pty Ltd ABN 81 330 778 236 (RGM) that this publication be used as the primary source of readers’ information but as an adjunct to their own resources and training. No representation is given, warranty made or responsibility taken as to the accuracy, timeliness or completeness of any information or recommendation contained in this publication and RGM and its related bodies corporate will not be liable to the reader in contract or tort (including for negligence) or otherwise for any loss or damage arising as a result of the reader relying on any such information or recommendation (except in so far as any statutory liability cannot be excluded).

Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation.

Life cover: More essential than ever

Living through COVID-19 has brought many challenges and shifting priorities as we deal with the financial impacts of the pandemic, and that includes the issue of life insurance.

On the one hand, the pandemic has highlighted the importance of life cover. On the other, those who may have lost a job or lost income are questioning its necessity.

Many Australians continue to view life insurance as a discretionary item. This is in stark contrast to car or home insurance which are seen as necessities. It seems we are willing to insure our property but not the thing that matters most – our life and our ability to earn an income.

Conflicting priorities

survey by KPMG found that only 35 per cent of Australians thought life insurance was essential and just 30 per cent believed they needed income protection. But when it comes to car insurance, 79 per cent viewed cover as essential and yet, during COVID-19, car usage reduced as many were working from home and restricting their movements.

As the COVID-19 health crisis has reinforced our vulnerability in terms of health and the fragility of life, the need for life and income protection insurance has probably never been greater.

What would happen if you became too sick to return to work or if you passed away? Who would pay the mortgage, living costs, health insurance and utility bills for you or the family you left behind? For those with outstanding debt and dependants, life insurance will always be an important consideration.

It should also be remembered that the current health crisis does not rule out people getting sick with other illnesses, some linked to COVID-19 and some not. Mental health is one these health issues and is becoming increasingly prevalent.

Claims on the rise

In the June quarter, the life insurance industry reported a net after-tax loss of $179 million on its individual income protection products, driven largely by claims for mental health issues in the wake of COVID-19.i Mental health claims are expected to grow even further as it is thought most people take more than a year to report such issues.

With claims on the uptick, this has meant the insurance industry is either looking to increase premiums or already has. This, in turn, may discourage people from keeping their cover.

Indeed, the KPMG survey said that 38 per cent of policy holders were looking to cancel their income protection insurance in the next 12 months, and 25 per cent were planning to drop life cover.

On the plus side, many Australians have some level of life and income protection insurance in their super. However, if you were to lose your job, then paying premiums on your insurance in super would come out of your fund balance, reducing your retirement savings over time.

Also, your insurance might well cease when you lose your job unless you opt to take out a private policy. You generally have 60 days to take up this option.

Redundancy payments

If your income protection insurance is outside super, then be mindful that not all policies include redundancy claims. And those that do may have restrictions. For instance, there is usually a wait period of up to 28 days before any payments will be made.

If you are thinking of taking out a policy now to cover you in case of redundancy given the current economic environment, then you will probably have to go through a six-month no-claim period before you can benefit. During that six-month period, there must be no indication from your employer that redundancy may be on the cards.

Many insurance companies recognise the financial and personal difficulties many people currently face and some have offered to reduce or even suspend premiums without any loss of continuity to your policy.

One alternative may be to look at reducing the cover you have so that your premiums reduce. But it’s important to be mindful of your needs and ensure you have adequate cover.

The road ahead

The insurance industry, like many others, is being forced to look at a different way of doing business in a post-COVID-19 world, with simpler policies and flat premiums all being discussed.

In the meantime, making quick decisions on whether you still need insurance, or your current level of insurance, may prove a mistake. If you are thinking about altering your cover, get in touch with us first to discuss your insurance needs.

i https://www.fsc.org.au/news/income-protection

Material contained in this publication is a summary only and is based on information believed to be reliable and received from sources within the market. It is not the intention of RGM Financial Planners Pty Ltd ABN 36 419 582 Australian Financial Services Licence Number 229471, RGM Accountants & Advisors Pty Ltd ABN 69 528 723 510 or RGM Finance Brokers Pty Ltd ABN 81 330 778 236 (RGM) that this publication be used as the primary source of readers’ information but as an adjunct to their own resources and training. No representation is given, warranty made or responsibility taken as to the accuracy, timeliness or completeness of any information or recommendation contained in this publication and RGM and its related bodies corporate will not be liable to the reader in contract or tort (including for negligence) or otherwise for any loss or damage arising as a result of the reader relying on any such information or recommendation (except in so far as any statutory liability cannot be excluded).

Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation.