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Aussies on Centrelink could have Opal fees slashed

Social services groups are urging for a new card to be created for people on Centrelink's Newstart payments. (Source: Getty, Transport NSW)

For those living on the bottom line, the cost of transport can be outside the realm of affordability – which can then be a barrier to job interviews.

Single Australians who receive payments from Centrelink’s Newstart get $555.70 a fortnight, or $277.85 a week.

While the rate of Newstart in real terms has not risen in more than two decades, the cost of living in Australia – which covers basic necessities such as housing, food, and transport – have soared to $433 a week.

In order to ease transport costs for those on welfare payments, social services groups are urging the NSW government to ease the cost of transport for Newstart recipients, who they say should receive the same $2.50 fares pensioners pay on the Gold Opal Card.

‘A new Opal card should be developed’

In a submission to the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART), which is conducting a review into Opal rates, the NSW Council of Social Service (NCOSS) said it was “unequivocal” that costs of living outstripped Newstart rates and “inequitable” that those on Newstart don’t have the same concessions as seniors and pensioners.

“Not having enough money to keep up with bills is a major barrier to employment and getting out of poverty,” the submission read.

“Providing deeper concessions to the costs of transport for people living below the poverty line could make a big difference.”

This would then have flow-on effects to the economy as the employment participation rate is raised and there is less reliance on financial assistance from the government.

In a submission into the same review, the Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association (CPSA) said there were nearly 54,000 people on Newstart in NSW aged between 55 and 64.

But in order for 55 year olds to remain on Newstart, at least 30 hours of paid or voluntary work must be completed.

“Volunteering may require the use of public transport which means Newstart recipients could spend over 10 per cent of their weekly allowance on transport alone,” CPSA’s submission read.

And if transport costs were so high it prevented people from meeting their Newstart obligations, they could be cut off from their welfare benefits.

“A new Opal Card for people on the Newstart Allowance should be developed.”

“An Opal Card for people on the Newstart Allowance should charge users the Gold Opal Card fare. This new card should also have the ability to be blocked or reactivated in a more efficient manner than the current reissuing of Concession Opal Cards.”

CPSA urged the IPART review to take into consideration the “wellbeing of people living on Newstart Allowances”.

But NSW transport minister Andrew Constance has said there are no plans to lesson costs for Newstart recipients as taxpayers primarily foot the bill for Opal fares.

"Newstart, as a program, is designed to act as a transition payment for people to go from being unemployed to a new job," Constance said.

Current Opal Concession card not enough

An Opal concession card currently exists for those receiving Centrelink benefits, such as those on Newstart on Youth Allowance.

On this card, travel is capped at $8 a day or $25 a week, and $2.80 on Sundays.

Concession card trips are less than half the fare of standard adult Opal tickets.

But even just one day of casual employment can render people ineligible to hold the concession card, which expires every three months anyway, meaning Centrelink recipients have to apply over and over again to hang onto their concession cards.

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