Fact check: Will pensioners be forced onto cashless welfare cards?

Jun 18, 2021
Labor MP Justine Elliot and Liberal Senator Anne Ruston have gone head to head over the welfare program. Source: Twitter/Getty

Over the past few weeks, rumours of a government plan to introduce a cashless debit card scheme for pensioners have swirled on social media, culminating in a heated exchange between Liberal and Labor MPs in parliament on Thursday.

So should you be worried about the future of your pension and how you can spend it? Here’s what we know:

The Coalition introduced the cashless debit card program for working-age welfare recipients in some regional areas across Australia in 2016. The scheme limits the ways welfare recipients can spend their government money, blocking them from using the card to purchase alcohol, gambling products, some gift cards or withdraw cash. Age Pension recipients have never been included in the program, but can volunteer to participate if they want.

This week, Labor MP Justine Elliot caused a stir when she tweeted saying the Morrison Government is planning to add pensioners to the program, therefore restricting the way older Australians access and spend their money. She shared a 2020 video of Social Services Minister Anne Ruston saying the government was considering making the cashless debit card a “universal scheme”, although Ruston stopped short of saying pensioners would be included in that scheme.

The Twitter posts understandably garnered huge attention from worried pensioners.

Elliot told Starts at 60 that as long as the card is in action in Australia, it was “a threat” to older Australians.

“I’ve been contacted by a lot of pensioners, initially both locally and throughout the country, who are really concerned about the Morrison Government’s plan to expand the cashless welfare card. That’s why I raised it, particularly this week in parliament,” she said.

“They are really worried about it and when we look to what the government’s been doing, there has been a lot of talk about them expanding it, in fact, Minister Anne Ruston havs previously said ‘let’s have a conversation about rolling it out universally’ a lot of government MPs have talked about wanting to roll out the cashless welfare card right across the country.”

Ruston has since dismissed Elliot’s comments as “misinformation” and told Parliament on Thursday that the government “will never” extend the cashless debit card to pensioners.

“The opposition are running an absolutely shameful scare campaign aimed at age pensioners,” she said. “They are lying to them. Let me be absolutely crystal clear. The government has no plan to force age pensioners on to the cashless debit card, and we will never have such a plan.

“The cashless debit card is for working-age payments to help people stabilise their lives, become job-ready and get back into the workforce. Those opposite must cease telling Australians lies. They must tell the truth, which is something that they are not doing at the moment.”

Current information on the Depart of Social Services website states there is no plan by the Government to expand the cashless debit card beyond existing sites, and that pensioner participation in the program remains voluntary. The program will continue to operate in some regions until December 2022, when it will be up for review again.

How do you feel about the idea of a cashless debit card for pensioners?

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