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Pensioner rebate rise ruled out as rates soar

Monday, 26th August, 2013

By Andrew Robertson

 The NSW government has ruled out increasing the $250 concession pensioners receive on their rates until the State’s finances reach a “sustainable level”.

The position is a blow to the city’s pensioners whose residential rates jumped by nine per cent this financial year after a City Council rates redistribution.

The rise, which was on top of the 3.4 per cent increase allowed under the rate peg, comes after successive increases in electricity, water and gas prices in the past few years.

It also further erodes the benefit of the rebate which, when introduced, was designed to cover half the cost of council rates paid by pensioners. 

One concerned ratepayer earlier this month called on council and the government to recommit to the rebate and to bring its value up to date.

Roger Edwards said the $250 rebate had never been increased with inflation and had lost 60 per cent of its value.

NSW Councils currently pay 45 per cent of the rebate and the government 55 per cent.

“With the current situation, and the recent massive increases in water and electricity costs, this rebate has never been more important or more needed,” Mr Edwards said in a letter to the BDT.  

Local Government Minister Don Page has said the rebate was safe, but he has ruled out increasing it any time soon. 

He recently dismissed claims by Labor MLC Sophie Cotsis that the Liberals and Nationals were in talks to abolish the rebate.

“Nothing could be further from the truth. And the truth is we would like to increase the rebate, but can only do so when the State’s finances reach a sustainable level.”

Mayor Wincen Cuy yesterday said that council also had no plans to scrap its share of rebate, though he too ruled out an increase.

“We’re saying it should be maintained,” he said. 

An independent panel currently reviewing the State’s local government system has suggested the entire rebate should be paid by the state or federal government, and not councils. 

Independent Local Government Review Panel member Glen Inglis said yesterday it was unfair to ask ratepayers to subsidise the rebate, particularly in areas where there is a high proportion of pensioners.

“(The panel’s) view is the pensioner concession should remain. We think it’s a good thing but local government shouldn’t have to pay for it,” Mr Inglis said.

“The concession should remain at the level it is but 45 per cent should not be paid by councils but by the state or federal government because it is a welfare payment.”

Mr Inglis also supported an increase in the rebate.

“The principle of indexation to CPI is a fair one.”

Clr Cuy said he would be happy for the federal government to take over council’s portion of the rebate. 

“We’re happy for some other level of government to take over this payment but if they don’t we haven’t considered reviewing it.” 

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