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 protection cover protects your most valuable asset – your ability to earn an income. It acts as a replacement income if you are injured or disabled and will help support your family and current lifestyle 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, contact the team at Sunlife today.