Australia Post has come under pressure from retiree advocates to raise public awareness of postage discounts available to pensioners after an investigation by The New Daily found that Australian health card holders are set to forego up to $74 million of stamp concessions in 2016.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission on Friday gave Australia Post the all clear to hike the cost of sending a standard letter to $1.
The repricing means that the cost of sending a letter within Australia will rise by 42 per cent (or 30 cents) from 4 January next year.
Most Commonwealth health card holders, including aged pensioners, unemployed workers and veterans should not be affected by the price hike because they are eligible for a sweep of discounts on postal services.
However, most of these people are not aware that they can get free and discounted stamps from Australia Post if they open a special ‘MyPost Concession Account’ at any post office.
Australia Post revealed on Friday that less than half of the 5.7 million Australians eligible for concessions have applied to get the discounts.
Only two million accounts have been opened with AusPost since the concession scheme was introduced in March 2014.
Under the scheme, all health card holders who take out a MyPost concession account can get five free stamps and a 40 cent discount on the new $1 standard postal rate for 50 stamps each year.
That means 3.7 million pensioners will potentially miss out on up to $74 million worth of discounts when the new pricing regime takes effect early next year.
Grey groups call on Australia Post to promote concessions
While retiree advocacy groups said they understood the commercial pressure weighing on AusPost’s traditional letters business, they called on AusPost chief executive Ahmed Fahour to do more to highlight the discounts available to pensioners.
Ian Yates, the chief executive of COTA Australia, said too many people were missing out on the discounts.
“A concession is not real if people don’t know about it,” he said.
“We would like to see Australia Post advertise the discounts for pensioners prominently in all post offices and in regular Centrelink publications.
“Australia Post is also well placed to do their own mail drop to all Australian households.”
Michael O’Neill, the chief executive of National Seniors, said AusPost had a social responsibility to inform eligible customers about the discounts.
“The simplest method would be to do a direct mail across the country to raise public awareness that not everyone has to pay the new one dollar rate,” he said.
“A promotional campaign in the media would also be appropriate.”
AustPost under pressure
Australia Post has come under severe financial pressure in the last year after reporting a $222 million net loss for the financial year to the end of June.
The rising use of email has magnified losses in the letters business in recent years and although the ecommerce boom has stoked parcel volumes, the postal business appears to be in strategic decline.
Mr O’Neill said he was concerned that the cost of sending letters was rising again, but that he recognised that the service was confronting a extremely difficult market.
“I’m concerned by the ACCC decision to allow the price increase, but not overly distressed,” he said.
“We think Australia Post has taken reasonable steps to shield older Australians who do not use email against the price increases, but we would like to see more done to highlight those benefits.”
Mr O’Neill said that around 50 per cent of people aged over 60 were using email.
“Email is growing rapidly, but there are many people who still only feel comfortable sending a letter,” he said.
Mr O’Neill drew a distinction between the concessions offered by Australia Post and Telstra’s new fee hikes on customers who receive their monthly telephone bills in the mail.
Earlier this month, Telstra increased the fee levied on customers who receive their monthly bills in the post from $2 to 3.20.
“The Telstra fee hike blatantly penalises those who do not have the internet or do not know how to use the internet,” Mr O’Neill said.
Are you eligible for a discount?
Welfare recipients, including age pensioners, war veterans and unemployed workers are able to acquire stamps at a discount to the standard rate if they apply for a MyPost account at an Australia Post outlet.
• Australia Post estimates that around 5.7 million Australians are eligible for such discounts.
• Pensioners get five free stamps when they open an account and can buy up to 50 standard stamps a year at the concessional rate of 60 cents each.
• MyPost accountholders also receive concessions on other services, including mail holding and letter redirection.
• You can open a MyPost Concession account at any AusPost outlet or by completing an application form here.