On 1 June 2022 outstanding HELP debts were indexed, using a CPI-based formula, at 3.9 per cent. Someone whose HELP balance was $50,000 on 31 May owed $51,950 the next day.
There had been no change to indexation policy; CPI indexation has been in place since HECS was introduced more than 30 years ago. But the politics did change. A topic on which I previously received few media inquiries, and then only during the periodic doomed government attempts to impose a ‘real’ interest rate, suddenly became the subject journalists asked me about most often.
In a low inflation environment – indexation was 0.6 per cent in 2021 – public reaction to this annual increase in HELP debt was minimal. But higher indexation in 2022 revealed latent issues. With increasing average debt the same percentage indexation leads to larger absolute dollar increases. Huge growth in debtor numbers means that indexation affects more people than previously.
Calls to talkback radio programs suggest that the lower initial payment thresholds introduced since 2018-19 create a particular annoyance. At the current lowest threshold 1 per cent of income repayment rate debtors repay $500 or so, but high CPI indexation means that their total HELP debt still increases.
The Greens have a bill in the Parliament to remove indexation entirely. This is unlikely to happen, but even an organisation at the opposite end of the ideological spectrum as the Greens, the Productivity Commission, sees high CPI indexation as a problem. In their big 5-year productivity report last week they suggested that indexation could be a lesser of CPI and real wage growth (this concession made in the context of proposing higher student contributions to fund more student places).Read More »