Seniors have rubbished the government’s latest sweetener deal aimed at placating Australians who have been booted off the pension.
Parliament passed a government-sponsored bill last week that reinstated concession cards to 92,000 age pensioners who were stripped of their part payments in January.
Pensioners rely on these cards to claim much-needed state and territory discounts on rates, power bills and driving licenses, as well as Commonwealth-subsidised hearing services.
In addition to returning the concession cards, the bill also included a one-off payment to help ease the cost of electricity and gas for pensioners.
The payments, due from Centrelink on Tuesday, are worth $75 for single recipients and $125 per couple for those on the age, disability, parenting and DVA pension.
These were two small wins for seniors and their advocacy bodies, who rallied hard against the harshness of the new age pension assets test.
However, National Seniors, the peak body for older Australians, criticised the concession card return as “cold comfort” because the 92,000 affected pensioners won’t get the cards until October 9.
It also said the one-off energy payments would be of little help to the full age pensioners who have lost up to $5000 a year under the tougher assets test.
“The asset test change has hit many people hard since its introduction in January and we have been a vocal opponent of the severity of the changes,” National Seniors chief advocate Ian Henschke told The New Daily.
“Even those who will have their concession cards returned aren’t due to receive them until at least October this year, which means they are missing out on rebates on rates and utilities in the meantime.
“It’s shaping up as a long and hard winter for many.”
Minister for Social Services Christian Porter said the government now recognised that those who lost access to the concession card in January as a consequence of “reforms” to the asset test had suffered.
“The government recognises that the small number of people who had their part-pension cancelled have, as a consequence of losing the Pensioner Concession Card, lost access to a range of private and state and local government concessions,” he said in a statement.
“Although most of those concessions are not provided by the Commonwealth, we are restoring the pensioner concession card so they can continue to access these benefits.”
The Department of Human Services will automatically reissue the card to affected recipients on October 9.
Bob Parry, a vocal advocate for seniors who fought against the asset test changes, said the government’s backflips were inadequate compensation.
“Whilst any crumbs are better than nothing, these fail to compensate for the savage doubling of the asset test in January,” Mr Parry said.
Australia’s only remaining advocacy group specifically for pensioners – the Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association of NSW (CPSA) – welcomed the return of the concession cards, saying it was “big news” for those affected.
“The pension concession card provides access to concessions and discounts that can add up to a couple of thousand dollars a year, so this is big news for those who lost their pension in January,” CPSA policy coordinator Ellis Blaikie said.
Ian Yates, chief executive of COTA, said he had advocated for the return of concession cards and welcomed it “as it was an unintended consequence” that ex-pensioners also lost their state government concessions.