Budget 2015: What does it mean for people with arthritis?

With the dust settling from Budget 2015, a number of questions have been asked: what does it really mean for a person living with arthritis? Has anything else changed? What should I be looking out for? Andrew McCann, author of “Know Your Rights” tells us what Budget ‘15 really means for you and your family.

With all the news of changes to the Universal Social Charge (USC) rates and threshold, the reduction of the higher rate of tax from 41% to 40%, and plenty of other “noise” from Budget Day, practically what does it mean in your pocket and how will it affect your day-to-day life?

The key things to note are:

  • There were no changes to the eligibility to the Medical / GP Card – so if you are thinking of applying for a Medical Card, try the on-line tool www.medicalcard.ie as an indicator, but don’t be put off if you believe you may not be eligible. Applications for a discretionary card (when your income is above the means assessment) are still available although the process is very thorough and detailed medical and financial details are required to show the impact on your family without a card.
  • There were no changes to the Drug Payment Scheme – what this means in a very practical sense is that if you do not have a Medical Card, the maximum per month a family will have to pay for medications is €144 per month. Don’t forget always buy your medications in the same chemist as it helps at end of year to claim your tax back. You can get back €28.80 per month (20%) if you pay €144 per month.
  • There were no changes to the list of conditions on the Long Term Illness Card – What this means is that unfortunately arthritis was not added to the list. People with conditions such as diabetes, cystic fibrosis, spina bifida, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, MS (and a limited list of others) are automatically covered for free GP visits and medications specifically linked to their conditions

So, were there any benefits?

Yes, if you are on a long term illness payment such as Invalidity Pension or Disability Allowance or you are getting a Carer’s Allowance or Domiciliary Care Allowance payment, you will be entitled to the 25% Christmas bonus payment to be paid in December 2014 (unfortunately Illness Benefit is not covered under this scheme).

In addition, parents will receive an extra €5 per month per child in their Child Benefit payment i.e. €135 per child per month.

People in receipt of the Fuel Allowance will now also receive €100 per year Water Support payment, in quarterly instalments of €25, in addition to people in receipt of the Household Benefits package.

If you work part-time, you can now earn €231 per week without paying any USC, that is, any increase of an additional €38 per week (from the previous rate of €193 per week). What that means is that anyone working on the minimum wage (€8.65 per hour) can work at least 26 hours per week without paying USC or tax. Also, if you go over this amount the rate of USC you pay is reduced. For example, someone earning €20,000 per year previously paid USC of €13.82 per week whereas now they will only pay €10.47, a saving of €3.35 per week

In addition, single people and one income married / civil partnership households were granted an increase of €1,000 in their tax band. What this means in a very practical sense is that they can now gain an extra €200 per year i.e. €3.85 per week if they earn €33,800 as a single person and €42,800 as a one income married / civil partnership. If they do not earn up to these amounts, they will not gain anything from the changes.

One other small change not discussed in the news was the increase in the “Rent-A-Room” scheme, which will now allow someone get €1,000 per month tax free if renting a room in their house compared to only €833.33 tax-free previously.

With all the controversy with Irish Water, a tax credit of 20% will now be granted in 2016 on the amount you pay in 2015. For example, if your water bill is €300 in 2015, you will get €60 back as a tax credit in 2016 but if your bill is €600 in 2015, the most you will get back is €100 in 2016 (20% of a maximum of €500).

For further information, Andrew’s new book “Know Your Rights – Budget 2015 A Practical Guide” will be available from www.openpress.com later in the year. You can follow Andrew on Twitter @YourRights_ie or on Facebook – facebook.com/YourRights.ie or check out his website www.yourrights.ie