Regional Seniors Travel Card axed
WITH the suspension of new applications for the Regional Seniors Travel Card on 7 July this year, it was pretty clear that the card would not survive the budget process, in its current form and maybe not at all.
The presentation of the NSW Budget yesterday confirmed this, or rather, the fine print did. Buried deep in the budget papers (Budget Paper 1, p138) the Regional Seniors Travel Card was allocated a budget of $36 million for the 2023-2024 financial year.
While $36 million is a lot of money, it’s not enough to run the Regional Seniors Travel Card for a year. In 2022–2023, when the card ran without restrictions, it cost the budget $102 million. In its first year of operation in 2021-2022, the card cost $98 million.
The NSW Government told CPSA in a letter that applications for the card had been suspended while Service NSW reviewed it. Cards in circulation were not affected. The reason for the review, the NSW Government told CPSA, was that the card was being used for purchases which had nothing to do with transport, “including tobacco and gambling products”.
Technically, this is where the card is still at. It’s under review and no new applications will be received.
However, CPSA wonders if this is a softly-softly way of axing the card.
The Regional Seniors Travel Card operates like a credit or debit card. This means that all the card management features available to credit and debit cards are available. These include the facility to record what types of purchases are made and the facility to block the card from being used to buy, let’s say, cigarettes and scratchies.
$36 million would be about one-third of the full annual cost of the card to the NSW Budget. Enough to cover purchases made using cards in circulation until they run out, mostly at some point during 2023-2024.
There might be optimists who will assume that the Regional Seniors Travel Card will be started up again in 2024–2025 as part of the 2024-2025 budget process. Their optimism is to be admired.
For all practical purposes, the Regional Seniors Transport Card has been axed, certainly for those people who became newly eligible for one, or whose old card expired on or after 7 July 2023, when applications were suspended.
The NSW Regional Seniors Travel Card has helped older people in regional, rural and remote areas of NSW to stay connected. The loss of this card will be felt keenly by regional seniors who are already struggling to make ends meet as living costs continue to climb.
Energy rebates up
While the Regional Seniors Card is all but gone, CPSA does welcome increases in NSW energy rebates. The Low-Income Household Rebate as well as the Medical Energy Rebate will go from $285 to $350. The Seniors Energy Rebate for self-funded retirees will rise from $200 to $250 and the Life Support Energy Rebate has also received a significant boost from $1,343 to $1,639.
It is currently unclear whether eligible customers living in places which have private ‘embedded’ energy networks will receive a similar increase, or how much that might be.
1,500 more social housing units
Also welcome is the NSW Government’s commitment to providing 1,500 additional social housing dwellings under the $610 million Commonwealth Social Housing Accelerator program.
This number will go nowhere near solving the social housing shortage, but it is more than has been achieved in recent years. A year ago, housing advocacy group Everybody’s Home calculated that constructing 25,000 social homes needed now would cost $12.9 billion.
The percentage of older people who own their own homes is declining and due to an undersupply of social housing, more people over 65 are experiencing housing insecurity in the private rental market.
Rates of homelessness amongst older people, particularly older women, continue to rise. Like many other advocacy organisations and charities, CPSA calls on the NSW Government to commit to resolving the housing crisis in NSW and to commit to building the social and affordable housing needed. This would also enable it to lower the eligibility age for the social housing priority list from 80 to 65.
Read CPSA’s 2023-24 NSW Budget media release here.