Special investigation

Now in his late 70s, local government engineer Graeme Preston is part of the growing band of seniors who continue to work - even though they sleep each night in a retirement community.

Mr Preston began working as an 18-year-old cadet engineer with Melbourne’s City of Dandenong way back in August 1959. Since then, he has held many roles managing hundreds of staff and multi-million dollar budgets and infrastructure works projects in at least 12 councils across Victoria and Queensland.

Mr Preston started his own engineering consultancy in 2005 and soon after moved into the Living Choice Kawana Island retirement community on Queensland's Sunshine Coast. Mr Preston uses the third bedroom in his apartment as an office.

During September, the village held a ceremony to celebrate Graeme’s 60th work anniversary.

Graeme Preston at his 60th work anniversary at Living Choice Kawana Island

While most of the other residents at Living Choice Kawana Island are fully retired, Mr Preston continues to work, saying: “I needed something to stretch my mind – and staying in the workforce certainly helps me keep my IT skills up to date.”

These days Mr Preston enjoys a four-day working week. “I was working full time a couple of years ago, but that proved too much,” he says. “I feel as though I have a good work-life balance, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“Heather (his wife) and I are in close contact with the other residents….I don’t miss an opportunity to play snooker, enjoy a round of golf, and get involved in anything else that’s going on.”

Australians are working later in life

Graeme’s story reflects the growing trend towards Australians working later in life.

Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows a dramatic increase in the number of seniors who are continuing to work, over the last 30 years.

The data shows that nearly one in five men who are aged over 65 are now employed, which is around double the rate thirty years ago. The percentage of over 65 women in the workforce has meanwhile increased by more than four times.

Overall, just under 15 per cent of the over 65 population is still working, compared to around five per cent in 1989.

Of over 65s who are still working, an increasing number are doing part-time work, rather than full-time work.

Treasurer’s call for greater participation

The increased workforce trend is one that Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg wants to continue.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported this week that Mr Frydenberg had stated that government policies needed to support Australians working longer, to stop the work burden increasing falling on younger people.

Mr Frydenberg was reported as saying that in 2014-15 the number of working age Australians for every person over the age of 65 was 4.5 to 1 but that over the next four decades this was expected to fall to 2.7 to 1. He was also reported as saying that, as a result, the percentage of over 65s who were still working needed to “grow even higher”.

For those seniors willing to answer Mr Frydenberg’s clarion call, it may come as a surprise that, in most States of Australia, you can get the best of both worlds...by both working and at the same time live in a community set aside for over 55s. 

Working in over 55 communities: the rules

Seniors housing

Seniors housing projects are perfect for the younger downsizer who wants to move into a like-minded over 55s community, and continue to do part-time or full-time work.

Seniors housing projects are regulated under town planning laws, rather than the retirement village laws. Typically, the downsizer will own the title of their home within the project – and is able to buy and sell this home on the open market and keep all the capital gain.

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NSW has a specific Statewide planning instrument under which seniors housing can be approved and constructed. This instrument states that, for all seniors housing projects, a caveat must be placed on the property title says that the home must be occupied by at least one person aged over 55 (or a person with a disability). However, there are no requirements that the home must be occupied by a retired person.

In other States this type of housing is approved on a council-by-council basis.

Seniors housing projects represent an emerging housing type for Australians aged over 55 who want to transition to retirement, but continue to work.

For instance, Stockland has released two new purpose-built neighbourhoods, known as the Aspire range, which are set aside for people aged over 55, including people continuing to work. 

Stockland currently has two Aspire communities on offer – Aspire by Elara in Marsden Park NSW and Aspire by Calleya in Treeby WA. 

Stockland says the communities cater to those experiencing those sweet ‘freedom’ years between career and retirement; when children have grown up and flown the nest, people have more free time, more disposable income and more energy to pursue or revisit things they love.

Both Aspire by Elara and Aspire by Calleya have luxurious amenities on-site, including new state-of-the-art clubhouses, outdoor barbecue areas, communal kitchen and bar, heated swimming pools, gym facilities with personal trainers and more.

“As an over 55s community, many residents are continuing to work while enjoying the benefits of retirement living,” a Stockland spokesperson said. “There is a mix of those working part-time, full-time or retired, with about a quarter of residents continuing to work while living at the communities. 

“Both Aspire communities offer rooms that can be booked in advance, including conference rooms, as well as ‘study areas’ that can be used when needed. 

“Living in an over 55s community also means that residents have the benefit of additional rooms in their homes, which are sometimes used as studies while continuing to work.”

A resident at Aspire by Elara who works in Administration,told Downsizing.com.au: “We moved into the village for the lower house maintenance which has freed up more time for me to focus on my work, responsibilities and hobbies. The community suits my working needs with the Wi-Fi in the Clubhouse and the option to work from a private meeting room.”

Retirement villages

The most well-known retirement community model is the retirement village. These villages are regulated under State law. 

An analysis of State retirement village laws shows that New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria and Western Australia only require a retired person to be aged 55 years or over and have no requirements for this person to be retired to live in the village. People younger than 55 are considered retired persons, if they are no longer working full-time.

However, South Australia and Tasmania required a retired person to be both 55 years or older and to be retired from full-time work. This would indicate that, in these States, retirement villages are predominantly set aside for retired people.

Queensland has no specific definition of a retiree, but does allow retirement communities to make age-based rules.

Land lease communities

Land lease communities are an emerging and growing retirement model, whereby a resident owns a dwelling and then leases the land on which the dwelling is located.

Most State laws relating to land lease communities don’t touch on age or retirement eligibility, but leave this to be implemented on a village-by-village basis.

For instance, residents in the Ingenia Lifestyle land lease community are required to be over 50 years old in Queensland communities and over 55 years old in New South Wales and Victorian communities. 

Ingenia says that with “more Australians choosing to work for longer, many residents continue to work on a part time or full-time basis after moving into a Ingenia Lifestyle community.” 

Hampshire Villages, another land lease community operator, says it only aware of a “small number” of working residents at its village. “It seem to be a mix – plumbers, taxi drivers, accounting, mine site surveyor, a tyre distribution/sales rep, a heavy vehicle transport, retail,” a company spokesperson said.

Hampshire said it had no regulations relating to people still working while living in its villages.

Tax advantages for working seniors

Working seniors are taking advantage of a number of tax incentives to supplement their retirement or pension income.

For instance, the Australian Government’s Age Pension Work Bonus increases the amount an eligible pensioner can earn from work before it affects their pension rate. 

From 1 July 2019, the amount fortnightly income from work that is not assessed and is not counted under the pension income test, increased from $250 to $300.

Meanwhile, the Seniors and Pensioners Tax Offset (SAPTO) allows Australians over 65 to take advantage of a $2,230 tax offset for annual incomes up to $32,279 (in 2017/18) and then a lower offset amount which extinguishes at an income level of $50,119.