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



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BILLS DIGEST NO. 109, 2016-17 14 JUNE 2017

Social Services Legislation Amendment (Energy Assistance Payment and Pensioner Concession Card) Bill 2017 Michael Klapdor Social Policy Section

Contents

Purpose of the Bill ............................................................... 3

Background ......................................................................... 3

Energy Assistance Payment ..................................................... 3

Pensioner Concession Card reinstatement ............................. 4

Pensioner Concession Card ................................................... 4

Asset test changes ................................................................. 4

Committee consideration .................................................... 5

Policy position of non-government parties/independents ..... 5

Position of major interest groups ......................................... 5

Financial implications .......................................................... 5

Statement of Compatibility with Human Rights .................... 5

Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights .................. 5

Key issues and provisions..................................................... 6

Schedule 1—Energy Assistance Payment ................................ 6

Qualifying payments.............................................................. 6

Allowance payments excluded .............................................. 6

New payment at odds with policy to remove Energy Supplement ........................................................................... 6

Key provisions........................................................................ 7

Social Security Act 1991 ...................................................... 7

Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986 ......................................... 7

Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 ....................................... 7

Schedule 2—Pensioner Concession Card ................................ 7

Minor difference in Commonwealth entitlements ............... 7

Energy Supplement ............................................................... 8

Date introduced: 24 May 2017

House: House of Representatives

Portfolio: Social Services

Commencement: Schedule 1 on Royal Assent and Schedule 2 on 9 October 2017.

Links: The links to the Bill, its Explanatory Memorandum and second reading speech can be found on the Bill’s home page, or through the Australian Parliament website.

When Bills have been passed and have received Royal Assent, they become Acts, which can be found at the Federal Register of Legislation website.

All hyperlinks in this Bills Digest are correct as at

June 2017.

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Key provisions........................................................................ 8

Social Security Act 1991 ...................................................... 8

Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986 ......................................... 8

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Purpose of the Bill The purpose of the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Energy Assistance Payment and Pensioner Concession Card) Bill 2017 (the Bill) is to amend the Social Security Act 1991 (SS Act), the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999, the Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986 and the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 to:

• pay a one-off energy assistance payment (EAP) to recipients of certain pension and veterans’ payments on 20 June 2017 and

• reinstate a Pensioner Concession Card (PCC) to former recipients of certain social security pensioners and veterans’ payments who had their payments cancelled as result of asset test changes that commenced 1 January 2017.

The EAP measure was announced in March 2017 as part of a deal to secure passage of a company tax cut and was included in the 2017-18 Budget.1 The PCC measure was announced in the 2017-18 Budget.2

Background Energy Assistance Payment The EAP will be a one-off payment of $75 for single recipients and $125 for couple recipients (combined) paid to those to whom a qualifying payment is payable on 20 June 2017 and who are resident in Australia. The qualifying payments are Age Pension, Disability Support Pension (DSP), Parenting Payment Single (PPS), Service Pension, veterans’ Income Support Supplement, veterans’ Disability Pension, War Widow(er)’s Pension, permanent impairment payments under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004 and the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988, and the Special Rate Disability Pension under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004.

The payment was announced as part of a deal between the Government and the Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) to secure passage of the Treasury Laws Amendment (Enterprise Tax Plan) Bill 2016.3

The Government agreed to the one-off payment despite pursuing a separate measure to remove the existing Energy Supplement payment to new recipients of income support payments (including all pensions and allowances).4 The existing Energy Supplement was introduced as part of the carbon price compensation package in 2013.5 Per year, it is worth around four to five times the amount of the EAP for pensioners ($366.60 for single pensioners and $551.20 for couple pensioners (combined)).6 Prior to the 2013 election, the Coalition committed to removing the carbon price but keeping the compensation package.7 However, it has since changed this position and determined that there is no ‘need for ongoing carbon tax compensation for new welfare recipients’.8

The Government has passed legislation to stop payment of the Energy Supplement to new recipients of Family Tax Benefit and new holders of the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card (CSHC) from 20 March 2017.9 However, it has been unable to pass legislation to remove the Energy Supplement for other payment types.10

1. G Chan, ‘Company tax cuts: deal struck with Xenophon in return for pension boost’, Guardian Australia, online edition, 31 March 2017; Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2017-18, 9 May 2017, p. 148. 2. Ibid., p. 155.

3. Parliament of Australia, ‘Treasury Laws Amendment (Enterprise Tax Plan) Bill 2016 homepage’, Australian Parliament website; N Xenophon, Summary of media conference at Ainslie IGA (ACT) on tax cuts, power prices and solar thermal plant at Port Augusta, media release, 1 April 2017; Chan, op. cit.

4. D Arthur, A Dunkley, M Klapdor and M Thomas, Social Services Legislation Amendment (Omnibus Savings and Child Care Reform) Bill 2017, Bills digest, 76, 2016-17, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 22 March 2017, pp. 28-38. The proposed measure is currently before the Parliament: Parliament of Australia, ‘Social Services Legislation Amendment (Ending Carbon Tax Compensation) Bill 2017 homepage’, Australian Parliament website.

5. P Yeend and L Buckmaster, Clean Energy (Household Assistance Amendments) Bill 2011, Bills digest, 58, 2011-12, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 21 November 2011. 6. Department of Human Services (DHS), ‘Energy supplement’, DHS website, 6 June 2017. 7. T Abbott (Leader of the Opposition), Address to the NSW Liberal Party State Council, Central Coast, speech, 1 June 2013. 8. S Morrison (Treasurer), Transcript: Sky News, David Speers: Monday 3 April 2017, transcript, 3 April 2017. 9. Budget Savings (Omnibus) Act 2016. 10. The Government amended the Bill which proposed closing the Energy Supplement for all payment types so that it only affected Family Tax

Benefit and the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card. Parliament of Australia, ‘Budget Savings (Omnibus) Bill 2016 homepage’, Australian Parliament website.

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Pensioner Concession Card reinstatement

Pensioner Concession Card The PCC is automatically provided to recipients of pension payments, the Service Pension, the veterans’ Income Support Supplement, and to some allowance payment recipients in special circumstances.11 The PCC provides access to discounted medicines under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and a range of other benefits including:

• lower expenditure thresholds for accessing the Medicare Safety Net

• incentives for GPs to bulk-bill PCC holders

• free hearing services through Australian Hearing

• discounted mail redirection through Australia Post and

• a range of concessions from state, territory and local governments such as discounted energy bills, discounted rates, reduced public transport fares, discounted motor vehicle registration and licence costs.12

Apart from the PCC, the Commonwealth offers two other main concession cards: the Health Care Card (HCC) and the CSHC.13 The HCC is primarily provided to some allowance payment recipients and low-income earners while the CSHC is provided to those over Age Pension age who do not qualify for the Age Pension because of their income and asset levels. The CSHC has an income test but no assets test.

Both the CSHC and HCC provide access to discounted medicines under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, the lower Medicare Safety Net thresholds, GP bulk-billing incentives and discounted mail redirection but neither card provides access to subsidised hearing services in the same way as the PCC.14 Concessions available from state, territory and local governments also vary between the type of cards and a more limited range of concessions is available to HCC and CSHC cardholders in many jurisdictions when compared with the PCC.

CSHC holders who first claimed the card on or before 19 September 2016 (or who were receiving an income support payment on or before 19 September 2016 and claimed the CSHC within six weeks of stopping income support) also receive the Energy Supplement.15 As discussed above, the Government recently passed legislation to stop payment of the Energy Supplement to new CSHC holders from 20 March 2017 (those who first claimed a CSHC between 20 September 2016 and 19 March 2017 had the Energy Supplement removed).

Asset test changes Changes to the social security assets test which commenced on 1 January 2017 resulted in a group of pensioners and veterans’ payment recipients losing eligibility for their payment and therefore losing their PCC.16 As part of the measure which commenced on 1 January 2017, those who lost eligibility for their payment as a result of the asset test changes were automatically granted either a CSHC (for those over pension age) or an HCC (for those under pension age).

The asset test changes were effected through the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Fair and Sustainable Pensions) Act 2015. There were two changes:

• an increase in the asset test free areas—allowance recipients with assets valued over the free area are no longer eligible for payment while pensioners with assets over the free area have their payment rate reduced and

• an increase in the taper rate—the rate at which fortnightly pension rates are reduced for assets over the free areas.

11. DHS, ‘Pensioner Concession Card’, DHS website, 21 February 2017. 12. Ibid.

13. DHS, ‘Health Care Card’, DHS website, 13 June 2017; DHS, ‘Commonwealth Seniors Health Card’, DHS website, 31 May 2017. 14. Holders of the HCC or CSHC are eligible for subsidised hearing services on the basis of the concession card but some cardholders may meet other eligibility criteria such as receipt of Sickness Allowance or being a National Disability Insurance Scheme participant. Department of Health (DoH), Am I eligible to receive subsidised hearing services?, Hearing Services Program fact sheet, DoH, June 2016.

15. DHS, ‘Commonwealth Seniors Health Card’, op. cit. 16. For background and detail of the changes see M Klapdor, Social Services Legislation Amendment (Fair and Sustainable Pensions) Bill 2015, Bills digest, 129, 2014-15, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 22 June 2015.

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The taper rate was increased from $1.50 for every $1,000.00 of assets over the relevant free area, to $3.00.

At the time, the Government estimated that around eight per cent of pensioners (327,300 people) would be negatively affected by the changes.17 Approximately 236,000 social security and veterans’ pensioners would have their payment rates reduced and approximately 91,300 would lose eligibility for income support.18

Committee consideration At the time of writing, the Bill has not been referred to any committees and has not been considered by the Senate Scrutiny of Bills Committee.

Policy position of non-government parties/independents The Australian Labor Party (Labor) has stated their support for the Bill. Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services Jenny Macklin stated ‘of course we will not deny pensioners the very modest one-off payment that is outlined in this Bill’.19 However, Macklin suggested that the EAP was ‘merely an attempt to distract Australian pensioners from the fact—and this is a fact—that this Liberal government still intends to try to abolish the energy supplement’.20

Labor also welcomed the reinstatement of the PCC measure.21 Labor had previously criticised the Government on the issue of fewer concession entitlements for those affected by the asset test changes and who were given a CSHC.22

NXT have stated their support for the Bill.23 As noted above, the EAP arose as a result of a deal between NXT and the Government.

Position of major interest groups Major interest groups do not appear to have stated a position on the measures in the Bill.

Financial implications According to the Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill:

• the EAP measure will cost $268.9 million over the forward estimates and

• the PCC reinstatement measure will cost $3.1 million over the forward estimates.24

The PCC measure will also have a financial impact on some state and territory governments who provide different concession entitlements to PCC and CSHC holders.

Statement of Compatibility with Human Rights As required under Part 3 of the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Act 2011 (Cth), the Government has assessed the Bill’s compatibility with the human rights and freedoms recognised or declared in the international instruments listed in section 3 of that Act. The Government considers that the Bill is compatible.25

Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights At the time of writing, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights had not commented on the Bill.

17. Department of Social Services (DSS), Submission to Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee, Inquiry into the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Fair and Sustainable Pensions) Bill 2015, 11 June 2015, p. 8. 18. Ibid.

19. J Macklin, ‘Second reading speech: Social Services Legislation Amendment (Energy Assistance Payment and Pensioner Concession Card) Bill 2017’, House of Representatives, Debates, (proof), 30 May 2017, p. 43. 20. Ibid.

21. Ibid., p. 45. 22. R Harris, ‘More pain on the cards’, Herald Sun, 21 December 2016. 23. R Sharkie, ‘Second reading speech: Social Services Legislation Amendment (Energy Assistance Payment and Pensioner Concession Card) Bill 2017’, House of Representatives, Debates, (proof), 30 May 2017, p. 73.

24. Explanatory Memorandum, Social Services Legislation Amendment (Energy Assistance Payment and Pensioner Concession Card) Bill 2017, p. 1. 25. Ibid., p. 14.

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Key issues and provisions Schedule 1—Energy Assistance Payment Schedule 1 will provide a one-off EAP of $75 for single recipients and $62.50 for partnered recipients, paid to those to whom a qualifying payment is payable on 20 June 2017 (the test day). Some veterans’ payment recipients will receive the $75 rate regardless of their relationship status. The payment will be tax-exempt and not considered income for the purposes of social security means testing.

Qualifying payments The qualifying payments are Age Pension, DSP, PPS, Service Pension, veterans’ Income Support Supplement, veterans’ Disability Pension, War Widow(er)’s Pension, permanent impairment payments under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004 and the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 and the Special Rate Disability Pension under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004.

The Government estimates that around 2.5 million age pensioners, 770,000 DSP recipients, 260,000 PPS recipients and 235,000 veterans’ payment recipients will receive an EAP.26

The list of qualifying payments has a notable omission: Carer Payment. Carer Payment is considered a social security pension under social security law and is generally treated in the same way as other pensions such as the Age Pension or DSP in terms of means testing and supplementary payments.27 Other pension payments excluded from the list of qualifying payments include Wife Pension and Widow B Pension. While these payments are closed to new recipients, there are around 11,000 remaining recipients of these two payments.28

Allowance payments excluded Allowance payments (such as Newstart Allowance and Youth Allowance) and Parenting Payment Partnered (PPP) are also excluded from the list of qualifying payments. In his second reading speech to the Bill, Minister for Social Services Christian Porter stated the EAP will be paid to ‘welfare recipients who have a limited ability to earn additional income’.29 This suggests that the payment is being targeted at those with significant barriers to work or who are no longer expected to work.

Arguably, some allowance recipients have a limited ability to earn additional income. Many allowance and PPP recipients face barriers to work including disability and caring responsibilities and have minimal participation requirements as a result.30 The payment rates for allowance payments are also much lower than pension rates— maximum of $544.10 per fortnight for a single Newstart Allowance recipient with no children compared to $888.30 per fortnight for a DSP recipient in the same situation.31

New payment at odds with policy to remove Energy Supplement Introducing a new payment whose name suggests it is intended to help with energy costs is at odds with the Government’s policy, announced in the 2016-17 Budget, to close off the existing Energy Supplement paid to new income support recipients.32 On the one hand, the Government is indicating that certain income support recipients need assistance with rising energy costs, and on the other it is suggesting that assistance with energy costs is no longer needed following the abolition of the carbon price.33

This suggests that the EAP’s principal rationale is to meet the Government’s commitment to NXT in securing support for its company tax cut.

26. Ibid., p. 2. 27. Subsection 23(1), Social Security Act 1991. 28. DSS, ‘DSS demographics December 2016’, data.gov.au website, 7 April 2017. 29. C Porter, ‘Second reading speech: Social Services Legislation Amendment (Energy Assistance Payment and Pensioner Concession Card) Bill

2017’, House of Representatives, Debates, (proof), 24 May 2017, p. 11. 30. For example, as at March 2017, around 42 per cent of Newstart Allowance recipients were not considered ‘job seekers’. Job seekers are those with job search requirements. DSS, Labour market and related payments: a monthly profile: March 2017, DSS, Canberra, 26 April 2017. 31. Rates include Energy Supplement for both payments and Pension Supplement for Disability Support Pension. DHS, A guide to Australian

Government payments: 20 March-30 June 2017, DHS, Canberra, pp. 15, 27, 38. 32. Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2016-17, pp. 143-144. 33. Morrison, op. cit.

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Key provisions

Social Security Act 1991 Item 2 inserts new Part 2.6—One-off energy assistance payment into the Social Security Act 1991 (SS Act). New sections 300 and 301 set out the qualifying conditions for the EAP and the payment rates.

The qualifying conditions are that Age Pension, Disability Support Pension or Parenting Payment Single is payable to the person on 20 June 2017; and the pension is payable because of a claim made on or before 20 June 2017; and the person is residing in Australia on that date.

The payment rates are $75 for a single person or a member of an illness separated couple, a respite care couple or a couple where one partner is in gaol. For other partnered people, the rate is $62.50 per person.

New subsection 300(3) prevents a payment of EAP where a person is eligible for and receives an EAP under the Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986 (VE Act).

Item 4 inserts new section 1223ABG which provides for the amount of the EAP to be recoverable as a debt in cases where it is later determined that a qualifying payment was not payable to the person on 20 June 2017 for the reason, or for reasons including the reason, that the person knowingly made a false or misleading statement, or knowingly provide false information.

Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986 Item 9 inserts new Part IIIF—One-off energy assistance payment into the VE Act which provides for the qualifying conditions and payment rates of the EAP to recipients of the Service Pension; Income Support Supplement; Disability Pension; War Widow(er)’s Pension; certain permanent impairment payments under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004 (MRC Act); Special Rate Disability Pension payment under the MRC Act; certain compensation payments to wholly-dependent partners under the MRC Act; or a permanent impairment payment for a defence-related claim under the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988.

All qualifying veterans’ payment recipients on 20 June 2017 will receive the EAP at the rate of $75, with the exception of Service Pension and Income Support Supplement recipients who will either receive a single rate of $75 or a partnered rate of $62.50 (members of an illness separate or respite care couple will receive the single rate).

New section 67B provides for only one payment of the EAP under new Part IIIF of the VE Act regardless of how many times the person may be eligible (as a result of receiving multiple qualifying payments such as the Service Pension together with a Disability Pension). New subsection 300(3) of the SS Act (inserted by item 2) prevents payment of an EAP under the SS Act where a person is entitled to an EAP under the VE Act.

Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 Items 10-16 amend the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 so that the EAP is exempt from income tax.

Schedule 2—Pensioner Concession Card Schedule 2 will reinstate a PCC to pensioners and veterans’ payment recipients who lost eligibility for the card as a result of losing eligibility for a qualifying payment following changes to the assets test that commenced on 1 January 2017. The Government estimates that 92,300 pension recipients (including 3,600 veterans’ payment recipients) lost both their pension and PCC entitlement as a result of the changes to the assets test.34 The cards will be reinstated from 9 October 2017.

Minor difference in Commonwealth entitlements As discussed above, the main difference, in terms of Commonwealth entitlements, between the PCC and the CSHC is access to subsidised hearing services. As all of those who lost their PCC following the asset test changes were granted a CSHC (if they were over pension age), this will be the only change in their entitlements from the Australian Government.

The major difference between the two cards is in terms of concessions from state and territory governments. For example, in New South Wales, PCC holders do not have to pay motor vehicle registration fees, motor vehicle

34. Explanatory Memorandum, op. cit., p. 10.

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tax or drivers licence fees.35 PCC holders are also entitled to a Low Income Household Rebate of $235 if they hold an electricity account.36 CSHC holders are not entitled to any of these concessions.

Access to these state and territory concessions will be the primary benefit arising from the proposed measure— it also means that the financial burden of the measure will primarily rest with state and territory governments.

The Abbott Government abolished the National Partnership Agreement on Certain Concessions for Pensioner Concession Card and Seniors Card holders which provided around $300.0 million a year to the states and territories towards concessions granted to certain cardholders—the agreement was terminated from 1 July 2014.37

Energy Supplement As noted above, the Energy Supplement is paid to some CSHC holders (it is no longer paid to new CSHC holders from 20 March 2017). PCC holders do not receive the Energy Supplement in respect of their cards—instead they receive the Energy Supplement as a component of their qualifying payment, such as the Age Pension. Instead of simply replacing CSHCs with PCCs, the proposed measure will allow those having their PCCs reinstated to keep their CSHC so that they continue to receive the Energy Supplement.

Key provisions

Social Security Act 1991 Item 1 inserts new subsection 1061ZA(1B) into the SS Act to add an additional set of qualification criteria for the PCC. The amendments will mean that a person will be qualified for a PCC if:

• they were receiving a social security pension immediately before 1 January 2017

• the Secretary of the Department of Social Services is satisfied that their pension rate was reduced to nil because of the asset test changes that commenced 1 January 2017 and

• they are not otherwise qualified for a PCC.

Existing PCC qualification criteria such as being an Australian resident and in Australia (subsection 1061ZA(3)) will also apply.

Item 5 adds subsection 1061ZA(5) which ensures that those who were qualified for an Australian social security pension under the international social security agreement with New Zealand prior to 1 January 2017 can have their PCC reinstated if they meet the requirements set out in new subsection 1061ZA(1B) and are in Australia. It means that the Australian residency requirements set out at subsection 1061ZA(3) do not apply to individuals in these circumstances.

Item 8 repeals sections 1061ZRA and 1061ZRB so that those under pension age who were automatically granted a HCC as result of losing their pension payment following the 1 January 2017 asset test changes will lose their HCC once their PCC is reinstated.

Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986 Item 16 inserts new subsection 53A(1A) into the VE Act to provide for ‘fringe benefits’ to Service Pension and Income Support Supplement recipients whose payment rate was reduced to zero as a result of the asset test changes that commenced on 1 January 2017. Fringe benefits is the term used in the VE Act to cover benefits and concessions made available by the Commonwealth, state and territory, and local governments to those in receipt of the Service Pension or Income Support Supplement. Service Pension and Income Support Supplement recipients eligible for fringe benefits are issued a PCC.38

35. New South Wales (NSW) Roads and Maritime Services, ‘Registration costs and concessions’, NSW Roads and Maritime Services website, 21 November 2016; NSW Roads and Maritime Services, ‘Licence: fees’, NSW Roads and Maritime Services website, 23 February 2017. 36. NSW Department of Planning and Environment, ‘Low income household rebate’, NSW Department of Planning and Environment website. 37. M Klapdor, ‘Changes to support for pensioners and retirees’, Budget Review 2014-15, Research paper series, 2013-14, Parliamentary Library,

Canberra, 30 May 2014. 38. Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA), ‘5.8.1 overview of fringe benefits’, Compensation and Support Policy Library, Consolidated Library of Information and Knowledge, DVA, 14 October 2013.

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