Pensioners three decades behind on council rate discounts

Most Australians are doing all they can to cut costs and one of the big bills for homeowners is council rates. Councils do have a rate discount for pensioners and while that sounds great, there is a problem.

The council rate pensioner discount – and its shortcomings – has been highlighted by the Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association (CPSA).

For pensioners in NSW, a rebate of 50 per cent is available on council rates. That sounds generous, but there’s a slight problem with it. The rebate was introduced through state legislation in 1993 and, to ensure that lower value property owners benefitted most, it was capped at $250.

Back then, there were some properties that commanded rates of $500 a year, or even lower. Fast forward to 2024, and there are no such properties. Over more than three decades, house prices have skyrocketed, and council rates have kept pace with the increase.

But the pensioner rebate? The discount still stands at 50 per cent. What about the cap? That would have been indexed to property values, or at least to CPI – wouldn’t it? Actually, no.

Not only has the cap not been indexed, it has not once been raised – by any method – in 30 years. There are no properties in NSW that have annual council rates below $500. So the use of the term ‘50 per cent’ is now irrelevant.

Council rates for pensioners in Victoria and beyond

If you live outside NSW and you’re feeling a little sorry for Sydneysiders, you might want to reserve your sympathies.

Those living south of the Murray looking to brag about ‘having one over’ their northern counterparts will be sadly disappointed. In Victoria, the pensioner rebate scheme is basically identical, right down to the annual capped amount.

For 2023-24, the state government rebate is 50 per cent of the current year’s rates to a maximum of $253.20. So on the surface, Victorian pensioners have suffered the same council rate ‘bracket creep’ as their NSW counterparts.

Some Victorian councils offer a further pensioner discount in addition to the state government rebate. The City of Melbourne offers an extra 25 per cent rebate, also to a maximum of $253.20. This means some pensioners will be eligible for a discount of up to $506.40.

Another inner Melbourne council, the City of Yarra, offers a rebate of $204.10 in addition to the state discount. A check of several NSW councils revealed no apparent council equivalent supplementary council rates discount, although it would be worth checking with your local government authority.

The $250 cap is relatively consistent across the country. In South Australia, pensioner homeowner-occupiers can claim $243.90. Western Australia’s Concessions WA website advertises pensioner discounts without specifying an amount. However, several council websites suggest a similar 50 per cent rebate with a significantly higher cap of $750.

Queensland offers a subsidy of up to 20 per cent with a maximum of only $200, while in Tasmania the reduction is 30 per cent, “capped at a maximum amount each year”.

Should our states territories be doing more?

The CPSA certainly believes the NSW government should be doing more. It has written to the NSW Treasurer asking for an inquiry or investigation into pensioner council rates.

It is waiting on a response. An argument for redress to a rebate amount frozen at the same figure for three decades certainly seems reasonable.

Regardless of your state or territory, if you are a pensioner, it is worth taking the time to investigate what discounts are available through your local council.

Were you aware of the variations in council rate discounts across the states? Have you claimed a pensioner rebate? Let us know via the comments section below.

Also read: Could council rate hikes drive low-income Aussies out of their homes?

Written by Andrew Gigacz

Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.

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