Why the Pensioner Concession Card is so valuable

The Minister for Human Services, Senator Kim Carr, has ordered Centrelink to apologise to tens of thousands of single parents who were mistakenly told that they were no longer eligible for a Pensioner Concession Card (PCC) after being moved from Parenting Payment Single (PPS) to Newstart Allowance on 1 January 2013. The letter to parents affected by changes to PPS eligibility arising from the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Fair Incentives to Work) Act 2012 advised them to destroy their concession cards even though most would still be eligible for a PCC. The PCC is a valuable supplementary benefit which provides access to a wide range of discounts and subsidies. The following explains who is eligible for the card and why the possibility of losing it would create distress.

Who is eligible for a PCC?
All social security pensioners are eligible for a PCC including recipients of the age pension, Disability Support Pension (DSP), Carer Payment and Parenting Payment Single. Certain recipients of other payments are also eligible for the card including:
  • Newstart and Youth Allowance recipients who either have a partial capacity to work or are single principal carers of dependent children
  • Some long-term income support recipients aged over 60
  • Parenting Payment Partnered recipients who have a partial capacity to work.
Once a recipient loses eligibility for a qualifying payment they generally must stop using their PCC. However, there are some instances where the card can still be used if the person has moved from income support into paid employment. For example, PPS recipients and single principal carers in receipt of Newstart Allowance or Youth Allowance can continue using the PCC for 12 weeks if they have lost eligibility for the payment due to an increase in employment income. When the 12 weeks expire, recipients can access a Health Care Card (HCC) for a further 14 weeks if they received income support continuously for a year prior to losing eligibility (the HCC offers a more limited range of concessions). These provisions are intended to assist people making the transition from income support to work.
Why the PCC is valuable
The PCC offers access to a wide range of benefits including lower cost medicines on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), lower expenditure thresholds for accessing the Medicare Safety Net, incentives for GPs to bulk-bill card holders, and access to free hearing services. State, territory and local governments also offer a wide range of discounts to PCC holders, most importantly discounts on rates, utility bills, motor vehicle registration charges and public transport tickets. For example, in NSW PCC holders can receive a $215 rebate on their yearly electricity bills (and a further $35 if they are in receipt of Family Tax Benefit). NSW PCC holders are also exempt from RTA fees for licences, driving tests, registration, and the motor vehicle tax.
The HCC, offered to most other income support recipients, offers access to the PBS and Medicare Safety Net as well as a range of other concessions depending on the jurisdiction. The range of benefits is however more limited than that available to PCC holders.
Impact of removal of PCC
The policy change which took effect on 1 January 2013, removing eligibility for PPS to any single parent whose youngest child was over the age of eight, attracted significant attention and criticism (the change affected a group who had been protected from a change in eligibility rules in 2006). The primary reason for the criticism was the significant loss of income to those no longer eligible for PPS. Many of these single parents who were unable to support themselves were moved to Newstart Allowance which is paid at a rate around $131 less per fortnight than PPS and has a much tighter income test. The letter from Centrelink informing the PPS recipients affected by the change at the beginning of the year that they could no longer use their PCC, and thus lose hundreds of dollars’ worth of benefits, would have been an additional blow for those individuals trying to adjust to the significant drop in their payment rates.
Under the tighter income test applied to Newstart, some single parents affected by the 1 January changes who have higher earnings have lost eligibility for income support altogether and have therefore also lost their entitlement to a PCC. Because these parents lost eligibility for PPS due to the age of their children, and never qualified for Newstart because of their income, they were ineligible to hold onto their PCC for an extra 12 weeks under the provisions described above.
A proposal has been made by the National Welfare Rights Network that single parents be allowed to hold onto their PCC for an additional 12 months after moving off income support.


Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament

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