House of Representatives

Social Services Legislation Amendment (Energy Assistance Payment and Pensioner Concession Card) Bill 2017

Second Reading Speech

Mr Porter (Pearce-Minister for Social Services)

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

This bill provides for a one-off energy assistance payment to welfare recipients who have a limited ability to earn additional income; and reinstates the pensioner concession card to more than 92,000 former pensioners that ceased being eligible for a pension on 1 January 2017 due to the rebalancing of the pension assets test.

Energy assistance payment

This bill provides for a one-off energy assistance payment to recipients of the age pension, disability support pension, parenting payment single and veterans and their partners paid the service pension, the income support supplement and relevant compensation payments who are eligible for payment and residing in Australia on 20 June 2017 (the test date) to assist them with their energy costs.

The energy assistance payment will be $75 for singles and $62.50 for each member of a couple, providing additional assistance to around 3.8 million Australians, including:

·
2.5 million age pension recipients
·
770,000 disability support pension recipients
·
260,000 parenting payment single recipients, and
·
235,000 recipients of veteran payments.

To be eligible you must be in receipt of one of the qualifying payments and be residing in Australia on 20 June 2017. Those qualified will automatically receive the payment through Centrelink or the Department of Veterans' Affairs-they will not need to take any action, and no claim is necessary. The payment will not be taxed and will not reduce their rate of income support.

Those people who have made a claim for payment on or before the test date and subsequently have that claim granted, will also be paid the one-off payment.

Legislation ensures that a person cannot receive more than one entitlement and no payment would be made to non-Australian residents. People who are not in receipt of payment because they are suspended on the test date will not be eligible. This may include people who are in gaol on the test date.

Qualifying veterans will include those receiving disability pension and war widow(er)'s pension under the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986, permanent impairment compensation, special rate disability pension or wholly dependent partner payments under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004 or permanent impairment compensation under the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 on the test date.

Pensioner concession card

This bill will also reinstate the pensioner concession card to around 92,300 former pension recipients. Former pensioners who lost entitlement to the pensioner concession card when they ceased being eligible for the pension on 1 January 2017 due to the rebalancing of the pension assets test will once again be eligible for this card.

This consists of 88,700 former pensioners paid by the Department of Social Services and 3,600 former pensioners paid by the Department of Veterans' Affairs.

From 1 January 2017, these people were all issued with a health care card, and those over age pension qualification age were also issued with a Commonwealth seniors health card. From the Commonwealth perspective, these cards provide the same benefits to the card holder in terms of access to cheaper medicines through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and the lower extended Medicare safety net. These cards did not, however, provide access to free hearing services provided by the Department of Health or a range of concessions and benefits provided by states and territories, and/or private providers, which are available to pensioner concession card holders.

The government has decided to reinstate the pensioner concession card to maximise concessions to this cohort.

While eligibility criteria for concession cards are set by the Commonwealth government, the decision to use certain Commonwealth government concession cards as the trigger or as a vehicle for targeting state and territory concessions is a choice made by state and territory governments, and other private providers.

State concessions on rates, utilities, motor vehicle registrations and public transport are all determined by the type of card you hold. Due to the decisions of state and territory governments, and/or private providers, some concessions available to pensioner concession card holders are not available to holders of other types of concession cards, including a health care card and a Commonwealth seniors health card. Reissuing the pensioner concession card will help overcome this anomaly, and help facilitate people to again access these discounts and concessions.

It will cost $3.1 million over two years to reinstate the pensioner concession card to this cohort of former pensioner recipients whose pension was cancelled due to the rebalancing assets test measure. This is a small expense to the government, but will go a long way to assist this group in managing their daily budgets.

Consistent with the health care card and Commonwealth seniors health card they have now, the pensioner concession card will be automatically reissued from 9 October 2017 with an ongoing income and assets test exemption.

To maintain their current Commonwealth benefits, those former pensioners issued with a Commonwealth seniors health card will also retain that card. As the pensioner concession card provides all the benefits the health care card does, the health care card would become redundant and would be deactivated for those former pensioners issued with a health care card on 1 January 2017 due to the rebalancing of the pensions assets test.

The eligibility requirements ensure that these former pensioners will maintain ongoing eligibility to the standalone pensioner concession card, but still have to meet some of the conditions in place for usual pensioner concession card holders. These conditions include portability requirements where cardholders will have their card suspended after being overseas for six weeks. The card will be reactivated on return to Australia. the pensioner concession card will also be cancelled if the cardholder is in jail.

This bill acts on the government's commitments outlined in the 2017-18 budget and I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.