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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2016 Week 7 Hansard (2 August) . .

Page.. 2091..

As announced in the budget, the government is making important investments to make sure that the most vulnerable members of our community receive the help they need. This includes investing an extra $35 million over four years in the territory's concessions program.

Expenditure on centrally administered concessions in the territory has been increasing at an average annual growth rate of nine per cent in recent years. There is no doubt that additional pressure has been placed on the ACT concessions program from the commonwealth government's very mean-spirited decision to cease annual funding of $2.2 million towards concessions in the territory.

The government has identified a range of options to improve the fairness and targeting of our program. Amongst these options is the restructuring of the general rates rebate.

As announced, the rates rebate for pensioners currently has an uncapped and a capped stream. The uncapped rebate is available to pensioners who entered the scheme prior to 1 July 1997; they receive a 50 per cent rebate on their total rates bill with no upper limit. Pensioners who entered the scheme after this date are on a capped rebate scheme where a rebate of 50 per cent is provided up to an annually determined rebate cap set at $700 in the 2016-17 fiscal year.

When the cap was introduced, the difference between the capped and uncapped concession was not significant. However, over the years, with increases in property values, inequality between the rebate amounts has increased, in some cases significantly.

In the 2015-16 fiscal year, for properties with an average unimproved value below $220,000, there was no difference between the value of the concession provided to a capped or uncapped recipient. However, at a land value of $525,000, an uncapped recipient received double the level of assistance to those in the capped program, while at a land value of around $780,000 an uncapped recipient received three times that of those in the capped scheme.

This bill addresses this disparity between the programs by essentially freezing the uncapped rebate amount that the 3,000 scheme participants are currently receiving. Moving forward, these applicants can also be transitioned to the capped scheme should their 50 per cent rebate fall below the determined rebate cap for that year. In this way, these recipients will not be financially disadvantaged, and the equity of the concessions program will be improved.

In addition to the general rates rebate, all eligible pensioners can access a rebate on the fire and emergency services levy. The bill also changes how the rebate for that levy is determined. Instead of eligible pensioners receiving an automatic 50 per cent rebate, in future the rebate will be determined by a disallowable instrument. In the 2016-17 budget, the rebate was set at $98.

As I noted on budget day, the amendments made by this bill have been implemented administratively, through a disallowable instrument, since 1 July 2016. Upon passage of this bill, that instrument will be revoked.

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