Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Eligibility Requirements Changes Set to Hit Pensioners Hard

Brisbane pensioners are set to be hit with both the loss of their benefits and a massive rates hike, and the loss of their 40 per cent rates discount, Labor's lord mayoral candidate has warned.

Brisbane City Council offers a 20 per cent remission on rates for people on a part-pension, up to $420 a year, with the state government contributing a further 20 per cent, up to $200 a year.

The Abbott government announced the changes in the eligibility requirements in its budget handed down in Canberra last week, which would see about 91,000 lose access to their part-pension.

Labor candidate Rod Harding said he estimated about 4500 Brisbane ratepayers would be among those 91,000.

Mr Harding, who watched part of Tuesday's council meeting from the public gallery at City Hall, said they would be faced with the double blow of losing their benefits and having their council rates discount taken away as a result.

"The cruel reality is that a retired part-pensioner who may only be losing as little as $100 per year in their pension will be hit by (Lord Mayor) Graham Quirk with a rates and charges increase of more than $1000," he said.

"A part-pensioner currently paying $2900 in annual council rates and water charges will suddenly see their bill increase to $3500 – a massive increase of $600 per year.

"At these rates, Graham Quirk will suddenly be pocketing an extra $2.5 million a year in rates and charges from people who certainly wouldn't be classified as rich.

"I don't believe the Brisbane City Council should be making a windfall gain from these retired part-pensioners."

However, according to the council's policy, the most part-pensioners could lose in rates remissions was $620 a year, not "more than $1000" as claimed by Mr Harding.

Facing questioning from the Labor opposition in the council chamber, Cr Quirk said there were no plans to change the council's policy.

"The rules around eligibility for rates discounts on pensions have not changed in this place for decades," he said.

"They have applied the same under Labor administrations as they have under this (administration) and that is the lists provided by the federal government in relation to eligibility form the lists of those people who are eligible for rates discounts.

"That has always been the case."

Cr Quirk said Labor had the opportunity to change the system during its time in administration.

"There is no change of policy in this place and the same policy will continue," he said, before directing his comments to former Labor administration finance chairman Kim Flesser.

"Cr Flesser, you were the finance chairman and you had the chance if you wanted to change the policy," he said.

"You chose not to in the years you were there as finance chairman ... this policy has been in place for decades."

Outside the chamber, Cr Flesser said he never sought to change the policy because there were no changes at a federal level to necessitate such a move.

Mr Harding said, as lord mayor, he would Labor introduce a "grandfathering" of the 40 per cent rates discount to insulate part-pensioners from the sudden increase.

"I believe it's incumbent on council not to grab a windfall from retirees as a result of an eligibility change by the federal government," he said.

A spokesman for Cr Quirk said Mr Harding did not take into account those moving from a part to full pension.

"So any 'million dollar windfall' is pure speculation," he said.

"Council estimations are that 1781 part pensioners will lose their pensions, offset by approximately 974 pensioners moving from part to full pension."

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