Our system of concessions needs to be fixed, so that everyone in South Australia who needs concessions can access them.
Like all state governments, the South Australian state government provides concessions for people living on very low incomes and struggling with affordability of essential services. Those who are eligible receive a discount, subsidy, rebate, or exemption from fees for goods or services, to assist people to get where they need to go, meet their basic needs, and live healthier lives.
Concessions are extremely important, and can make a huge difference in people’s lives when they are struggling financially, or trying to get by on very little. But our concessions system in SA presents a complex patchwork of different payments with varying eligibility criteria. The system is complex to navigate, and worse, creates poverty premiums and barriers to accessing support.
“the analysis and resultant recommendations outlined in this report highlight the need to review and reform the concessions system as a whole to ensure it is as robust and responsive as possible.”
- The State of Concessions in SA, 2021
Concessions are meant to provide vital support for people living on very low incomes. This is an issue that affects people young and old – it doesn’t discriminate. So just as it makes sense to have concessions available for age pensioners, it also makes sense to extend these concessions to other people when they are living on similar or lower incomes.
If we want a robust and responsive concession system, we must ensure that we do not leave any low-income groups behind. The bottom line is – you should be able to get concessions if you need them.
What SACOSS is calling for
SACOSS is calling for 3 major initiatives to address the systemic flaws in concessions:
- 3.1 Initiate a broad review of the concession system as a whole to ensure consistency, proper targeting and ease of access across the system
The concessions system is broken: that was the conclusion of SACOSS’ The State of Concessions in South Australia report. The system has grown through piecemeal reform, and so the report concluded that given the flaws that are now evident there is a need to review and reform the concessions systems as a whole. At the most basic level, the review would need to aim to remove poverty premiums and barriers to access. This would require a commitment to adopting the overarching recommendations below (extending all concessions available to age pensioners to other Centrelink recipients, and implementing an addition generic low income eligibility criteria). The review would also need to systematically address the range of other issues identified in the SACOSS report – as well as reviewing other barriers, gaps or inadequacies in support.
- 3.2 Extend all concessions available to age pension recipients to other Centrelink recipients receiving lower payments (most notably in relation to driver’s licence and motor vehicle concessions, and to Ambulance Cover).
Concessions should be available on the basis of need, not based on particular income sources or types of payments. While most concessions are available to age pensioners, many are not available to Centrelink recipients whose incomes are lower than the age pension (e.g. those relying on JobSeeker, Youth Allowance, or a Parenting Payment). Concessions like Cost of Living, energy, water and public transport are available to a range of Centrelink recipients, but the eligibility requirements for all other concessions needs to be expanded to include other Centrelink recipients.
- 3.3 Implement an additional low-income eligibility criteria for all concessions which is not based on receipt of Centrelink benefits.
SACOSS’ research on waged poverty showed that around one-quarter of South Australian households living below the poverty line have wages as their main source of income, and around half of these receive no Centrelink payments. Despite the number of people experiencing poverty who do not receive Centrelink payments, there are very few concessions available for those outside the Centrelink system. We need an additional low-income eligibility criteria for all concessions, which is not based on receipt of Centrelink benefits. Eligibility could be based on the income thresholds set for the Commonwealth Low Income Health Care Card, with income evidenced by wage slips, tax returns or bank statements.
In addition to the key measures called for above, SACOSS has ten specific proposals:
- 3.4 Ten specific concessions proposals to be addressed:
- Recognise both the Health Care and Low Income Health Care Cards as valid forms of eligibility for a range of concessions, and allow cardholders to present their existing card as proof of their income status.
- Recognise a range of concession cards for public transport, and waive concession-related transport fines after issue if the person can show that they were eligible (but just did not have documents).
- Introduce free public transport for all South Australian children and young people until the end of their secondary education.
- Extend public transport concessions for seniors to all concessions holders.
- Lift the income cap for low-income eligibility for the Cost of Living Concession.
- Increase the Cost of Living Concession for renters to the level applying to home owners.
- Shift from a flat rate to a percentage-based energy bill concession.
- Increase the shared-householder income limit for the energy bill concession to at least the $18,000 limit set for the Cost of Living concession, but preferably to the Low Income Health Care Card thresholds.
- Introduce a partial energy bill and Cost of Living concession for people on low incomes sharing a house with people unrelated to them earning over $18,000 (capped, if needed, at the average wage), with the amount based on the number of household members.
- Introduce an additional concessions eligibility criteria to allow access for asylum seekers.
The rationales and details for these specific proposals is set out in the SACOSS State of Concessions report
Concessions are directed to low-income groups, but tthe eligibility criteria and application processes differ across each concession program and provider. This can make concessions difficult to navigate, and can have unintended consequences for users, or create barriers to accessing support.
In 2021 SACOSS published a major report, The State of Concessions in South Australia. The report examined 13 different state concessions and identified a range of instances of poverty premiums, where those on lower incomes (e.g. working age Centrelink payments) are denied concessions available to people on higher incomes such as the age pension.
The report also found that most concessions are not extended to people living on low incomes who are not receiving support from Centrelink – for instance, asylum seekers, or those in waged poverty whose main source of income is wages, but who are still living below the poverty line.
The report also detailed a range of unfair or, at times, arbitrary bureaucratic barriers to accessing concessions, while some people are locked out entirely by poorly targeted, or poorly designed eligibility criteria. For instance, having the wrong form of identification may lead to people missing out on concessions or paying fines on public transport, while people living in share households may be excluded from energy or Cost of Living Concessions by a housemate’s income that they have no access to.
Policy briefs and report:
- Report: The State of Concessions in South Australia
- 3. Policy Brief: Concessions in South Australia
- Policy Brief: Concessions eligibility – Family Tax Benefit Part A Health Care Card
- Policy Brief: Free public transport for school children