ACOSS raises concerns with Debit Card Trials

29 September 2015

The Australian Council of Social Service has called on the Senate Committee inquiring into the proposed trials of the ‘cashless’ welfare card in disadvantaged communities to withhold supporting the Government Bill until a number of important concerns have been addressed.

In releasing its submission today to the Senate Inquiry into the trials that will significantly restrict people’s access to cash (a benchmark 20% cash, and 80% quarantined), ACOSS raises a number of questions for the Committee to investigate before determining whether the trials are appropriate.

ACOSS concludes that supporting the Bill before resolving these issues could result in trials being undertaken with limited chance of meeting the Bill’s objectives, and would be likely to have significant detrimental impacts on people in the trial locations.

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said:

“We have long opposed compulsory forms of income management, except in cases where schemes have clear individual or community support. Previous experience shows that, beyond some limited success where people have entered into a scheme voluntarily, there is no evidence of widespread or long-term benefit from income management.

“We are concerned about schemes that are imposed broadly on groups of people according to type of payment or category of circumstance, rather than by reference to a specific individual’s circumstances. Income management schemes of this type misunderstand the relationship between income support and drug and alcohol and other problems and attempt to apply a technological fix to a complex social issue.”

The stated aim of this Bill is to reduce the amount of income support available to be spent on alcoholic beverages and gambling, to reduce violence and harm and encourage socially responsible behaviour. It provides for income management to apply to all people receiving income support payments in trial sites, and specifies that a default 80% of their social security income will be quarantined to a Government nominated account that prevents cash withdrawals, and requires all purchases to be made via EFTPOS or online.

“We are not convinced that the necessary work has been done to ensure there is broad community understanding of the proposed reforms. We are also concerned that there is little publically available information about the consultation process making it difficult for the Committee to assess the level of community support.”

“The Senate Committee should recommend that the Government release a report of the consultations, including information provided to community members, concerns raised, community perspectives, numbers reached and outcomes. This will improve the transparency and accountability of the process and can be done in a way which protects the privacy of individuals consulted.

“As these trials are ultimately intended to inform potential future applications of income management, it is critical that the trials are properly evaluated, including the cost, financial support provided and issues particular to each community.

“It is fairly clear important questions still need to be resolved. These include concerns about current under-resourcing of key services for which there may be greater demand once the trial commences, particularly financial counselling and drug and alcohol services. Furthermore, there is an urgent need for other support programs, such as employment pathway programs, and crime-prevention programs.

“The trials may also limit the ability of people to access the goods and services they need, or travel, due to lack of access to cash and other issues with the card’s technology.

“Overall there needs to be a commitment that these issues will be addressed, and that community organisations will be given the resourcing and support they need to properly administer the trails.

“Any trial of this cashless card should only be introduced as part of a wider legislative package that clearly recognises a range of interventions in the trial sites. As ACOSS and peak Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak bodies have previously argued, this must include resourcing of complementary services that go to addressing the underlying causes of alcohol and drug addiction. It must also provide employment pathways to improve long-term outcomes, and case management to co-ordinate service interventions,” Dr Goldie concluded.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155


More information about the Inquiry:
Social Security Legislation Amendment (Debit Card Trial) Bill 2015