Retirees have access to a range of concession cards, and some can access more than one card at the same time. These cards offer a variety of concessions to the card holder. Benefits can include medicines being available at a lower cost under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme or access to subsidised hearing devices.

Here we outline the eligibility and portability rules for the Pensioner Concession Card (PCC), Low Income Health Care Card (LIHCC) and the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card (CSHC) and compares the benefits available with each of them.

Eligibility

Broadly, a PCC is issued to pensioners, a LIHCC to those on lower income regardless of age and a CHSC to those above age pension age and does not qualify for any social security pension.

These cards are issued by Centrelink/Department of Veteran Affairs (DVA) based on the eligibility criteria as explained in Table 1 below.

Table 1: Eligibility criteria issued by Centrelink/Department of Veteran Affairs

Criteria Pensioner Concession Card Low Income Health Care Card Commonwealth Seniors Health Card
Basic eligibility Automatically issued to recipients of a social security pension. For example, to individuals receiving age pension, disability support pension or carer payment. Can also be received by: individuals age 60 or over who receives a social security payment and has been in continuous receipt of the payment for at least 39 weeks; • recipients of Newstart allowance, Parenting Payment or Youth Allowance and these recipients have partial capacity to work; or • Department of Veterans’ Affairs service pensioners and income support supplement recipients. Meet residency rules Meet residency rules Age 60 or over for a veteran with qualifying service, or Age Pension age or over;   Do not qualify for a social security pension or benefit; or DVA service pension or income support supplement.   Meet residency rules

 

Criteria Pensioner Concession Card Low Income Health Care Card Commonwealth Seniors Health Card
Means test applicable Eligibility dependant on accessing a social security payment listed above, unless holding a non-means tested card due to the 1 January 2017 assets test changes (see below) Income test applies No assets test Income test applies unless holding a non-means tested card due to the 1 January 2017 assets test changes (see section below)   No assets test
Assessable income and assets Income and assets tests based on qualifying payment Income that will be assessed includes: • Ordinary income; • Social security pension; • Social security benefit; • Pension or an income support supplement payable; • New Enterprise Incentive Scheme; • Payment of compensation; • Payment of Defence Force Income Support Allowance; and • Lump sum payments – redundancy, leave, or termination payments. Income that will be assessed includes: • adjusted taxable income ; and • deemed income from account-based pensions
Means test thresholds Thresholds only applicable to payments with which the PCC is issued. There are no separate thresholds to be eligible for PCC Weekly income should be less than: • $564 (single, no children); • $974 (couple combined, no children); • $974 (single, one dependent12 child); • $1,008 (couple combined, one dependent child); and • $34 added for each additional dependent child. Annual income should be less than: • $55,808 (singles); • $89,290 (couples); and • $111,616 (illness separated).
May also be eligible for LIHCC PCC or CHSC LIHCC

Means test cut-off limits for the concession cards

The following tables outline the various income and asset cut-off thresholds for the concession cards. Note, that means tests differ across all the three concession cards.

Pensioner Concession card

Table 2 below lists the upper income and assets test thresholds beyond which an individual loses their pension and as a result their PCC. Different cut-off thresholds apply to PCC recipients receiving an allowance.

Table 2: Upper income and assets test thresholds

Income limit (p.a.)                        Asset limit

Single Homeowner                                   $53,060.80                                 $574,500

Couple Homeowner                                 $81,172                                       $863,500

Single non-homeowner                           $53,060.80                                 $785,000

Couple Non-homeowner                         $81,172                                     $1,074,000

                                                                                                                                                                          

Low Income Health Care Card

Unlike PCC, the assessment for LIHCC is only based on income test. Table 3 below includes the income limit and the level of financial assets beyond which an individual;

  • does not initially qualify for the LIHCC; and
  • cannot maintain the LIHCC.

Table 3: The income limit and the level of financial assets for the LIHCC

Income limit to apply (p.a.)10 Asset limit to apply Income limit to retain (p.a.)10 Asset limit to retain
Single $29,328 $1,012,133 $36,660 $1,256,533
Couple $50,648 $1,745,733 $63,310 $2,167,800

Assumptions: The figures are for singles and couples with no dependants. All assets are subject to deeming.

Commonwealth Seniors Health card

Although the CSHC is based solely on income test like LIHCC, the definition of income differs significantly. The income assessed for CHSC is based on adjusted taxable income and deemed income from account-based pensions.

Table 4 below shows the income limit beyond which an individual is not eligible to receive or loses their CHSC. The right most column also shows the level of assets on which the calculated income (the column on the far right) equates to the income limit depicted below.

 

Table 4: Income limit beyond which an individual is not eligible to receive or loses their CHSC

Income limit (p.a.)                                 Asset limit

Single                                           $55,808                                           $2,642,200

Couple                                          $89,290                                           $4,150,700

Assumptions: Assets includes account-based pension of $400,000 for singles and $800,000 for couples. The remaining assets earn a taxable income of 2%.

Benefits

Table 5 below explains the common concessions available in all states. Generally, the PCC offers the most benefits.

State, territory and local governments may provide additional concessions to card holders like concessional fares on public transport, discounted property and utility rates or discount on motor vehicle registration charges. These differ from state to state. For more detailed information on the benefits, please refer to the article ‘How much is a pensioner concession card worth’.

Table 5: Common concessions available in all states

Criteria Pensioner Concession Card Low Income Health Care Card Commonwealth Seniors Health Card
Discounted rate on medicines listed under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme Yes Yes Yes
Bulk Billing for doctors’ appointments Yes Yes Yes
Discounted out-of-hospital medical expenses above the concessional threshold of the Medicare Safety Net Yes Yes Yes
Access to subsidised hearing services program14 Yes No No
Discounts on certain services provided by Australia Post, e.g. mail re-direction Yes Yes Yes

Note: Individuals can get a digital copy of their health or concession card on their smart device by downloading the Express Plus Centrelink mobile app.

Renewal

The rules differ based on time frame and process when it comes to renewal of these cards. These are outlined in Table 6 below.

Table 6: Renewal of cards

Criteria   Pensioner Concession Card   Low Income Health Care Card   Commonwealth Seniors Health Card  
Time frame for renewal Two years One year One year
When to renew Automatically renewed on the individual’s birthday after two years. Individual does not need to apply for the renewal. Individual needs to apply for renewal after a year. Automatically renewed each August. Individual does not need to apply for the renewal.

Portability

A person leaving Australia permanently should have their concession card cancelled immediately upon departure. If the recipients depart Australia temporarily, their cards are generally cancelled after a set period.

This period is the ‘non-cancellation’ period.

Recipients must notify Centrelink about their departure and if known, their expected return date before leaving Australia. After returning, recipients must notify Centrelink of their date of arrival to ensure their concession entitlement continues.

Table 7 outlines when cards are cancelled when travelling outside Australia.

Table 7: Cancellation of cards when travelling outside Australia

Criteria Pensioner Concession Card Low Income Health Care Card Commonwealth Seniors Health Card
Travel outside Australia The card is cancelled when the recipient: • is temporarily absent from Australia for longer than six weeks; or • permanently departs Australia. The card is cancelled when the recipient: • is temporarily absent from Australia for longer than six weeks; or • permanently departs Australia. The card is cancelled when the recipient: • is temporarily absent from Australia for longer than 19 weeks; or • permanently departs Australia.

Non-means tested cards

On 1 January 2017 when changes were made to the pension assets test, some individuals lost their pension and their PCC. As a result, Centrelink issued a non-means tested LIHCC to those who were under pension age or CHSC to those who were pension age and over. However, on 9 October 2017, they reinstated the PCC those who were impacted.

When the non-means tested PCC was reinstated, the non-means tested LIHC was cancelled. However, those that were issued the non-means tested CHSC could retain the card in order to continue receiving the energy supplement.

Recipients who hold the non-means tested CHSC and the PCC do not need to meet any income test rules. They will receive these cards indefinitely irrespective of the change in their income or assets. However, these recipients may lose the card temporarily if they depart Australia for a time frame that exceeds the non-cancellation period. On return to Australia, their cards will be re-instated.

Notification for change of circumstances

The cardholders have a responsibility to inform Centrelink if there is any change in their personal, business or financial circumstances. If there is a change, they have an obligation to notify Centrelink within 14 days of the change.

How much are the Centrelink concession cards worth? A Victorian example.

One benefit of receiving the Age Pension is the Pensioner Concession Card (PCC). But how much value does the PCC provide?

To address this question, we compare the benefits of the PCC with other Centrelink cards, including the Low-Income Health Care Card (LIHCC) and the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card (CSHC).

Another consideration on top of the different national Centrelink cards are the state and territory-provided seniors cards. Between each state and territory eligibility for and value provided by concession cards differ widely, so it is important to know the entitlements of each card.

This article explores both the national and state benefits provided by the three Centrelink concession cards and the state or territory seniors cards.

The information in this article is current as of 6 March 2020.

National benefits

Centrelink concession cards

All three Centrelink cards we discuss in this article (PCC, LIHCC and CSHC) provide the following national benefits:

  • Extended Medicare safety net (EMSN) – Concession cardholders are entitled to a lower EMSN threshold. Out-of-pocket costs (the difference between doctor charges and the Medicare rebate) are counted towards this cap every calendar year. When concession cardholders hit the lower concession EMSN threshold, they are entitled to be refunded the lower of 80% of their out-of-pocket costs or the EMSN cap for that medical item.

For clarity, the Original Medicare safety net (OMSN) is different and has just one threshold (there is no concessional threshold) that relates to out-of-hospital services (including services such as general practitioner (GP), specialists and many pathology and diagnostic imaging services).

  • Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) – Concession cardholders can use the PBS to pay a maximum of $6.60 ($41 for non-concession cardholders) for each medicine on the PBS. You can enquire about a medicine’s PBS eligibility at your pharmacy or on the PBS website.

Once a concession cardholder pays an amount in a calendar year equal to the PBS safety net threshold ($316.80 for concession cardholders), their medicine will be free for the rest of the year. Where two or more brands offer the same medicine, they may have different prices and therefore a more expensive brand may charge a premium on top of the PBS prescribed amounts.

  • Bulk-billed doctor visits – doctors can receive higher payments from Medicare if they treat a concession cardholder, therefore some practices which do not bulk bill for a general patient may bulk bill for a concession cardholder (but are not required to).
  • Australia Post – discounts for stamps and mail redirection.

It is important to remember as we go through this article that the above benefits are not provided by any of the state or territory seniors cards. Therefore, you can benefit from holding any of the Centrelink concession cards on top of their seniors card. The PCC also provides additional national benefits which the LIHCC and CSHC don’t, including:

  • hearing services – subsidised hearing aids and assistive listening devices. For more information see the Australian government Hearing Services Program Client Information Booklet;
  • Telstra – Pensioner discount offered for home customers.

Therefore, you can benefit from holding the PCC if either of the above apply to them.

Seniors cards

Whilst these benefits are not national per se, they are common across all eight seniors cards:

  • public transport concessions; and
  • local business discounts across Australia and New Zealand.

Since the Centrelink concession cards do not provide these benefits in all states and territories, you can gain by holding the seniors cards in the state or territory on top of a Centrelink concession card.

Strategy considerations

Generally, the PCC provides the most benefits of the three Centrelink cards, followed by the LIHCC, then CSHC. However, this is not always the case so check each relevant state or territory section.

PCC

Generally, most who are trying to get some Age Pension have an assets test issue. Asset reducing strategies include but are not limited to:

  • gifting within allowable limits;
  • spending;
  • principal home – upgrade or renovations;
  • lifetime income stream that meets the declining capital access schedule (60% of purchase price assessed);
  • accumulation super for a spouse under Age Pension age;
  • funeral bonds up to $13,250 or prepaid funeral expenses; and
  • burial plot.

If you are not receiving Age Pension due to the income test, read strategies for LIHCC. LIHCC The LIHCC has an income test that includes more than just ordinary income. Strategies to reduce LIHCC assessable income include:

  • investment bonds in a trust;
  • deferred lifetime annuities (during deferral period);
  • spending;
  • gifting within allowable limits; and
  • term annuities with nil residual capital value (RCV) and CPI indexation – this can help to reduce assessable income initially, and although assessable income will increase over time, the cut-out threshold is higher for maintaining the LIHCC as opposed to gaining the LIHCC.

CSHC

The CSHC income test assesses adjusted taxable income and deemed income from account-based pensions. Strategies to reduce CSHC assessable income include:

  • annuities (term or lifetime) purchased with super monies;
  • non-super annuities with a deduction amount e.g. term annuities with nil RCV

or lifetime annuities;

  • investment bonds; and
  • gifting.

Assumptions

To attempt to assign a value to the various concession cards for each state and territory, assumptions have been made. Please note the footnotes and links provided throughout the article to ensure you understand the benefits available and how to access them. Key assumptions include:

  • Age 66+: We only consider those who are Age Pension age or over.
  • Eligible for seniors card: We assume you are retired and eligible for the seniors card in their state or territory.
  • State or territory residency: We assume you are residents in the relevant state or territory and live there for six months or more each year (some states and territories require local residency to receive certain benefits).
  • Centrelink only: Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) cards, e.g. Gold/White/Orange cards, and pensions are not considered.
  • Receiving Age Pension: Some states provide benefits for PCC holders who are receiving a payment. For this article, by ‘PCC’ we mean currently receiving the Age Pension. Some  who receive a non-means tested PCC (for example, those who lost Age Pension due to the 1 January 2017 assets test changes) or non-Age Pension Centrelink payments, are affected by tougher eligibility for some benefits.
  • Couples: The benefit amounts mentioned in the article are generally for one person, for example rates and utilities. However, couples may benefit from public transport, glasses, dental services and car concessions (if they own more than one car) if they both have a concession card.
  • Mainstream benefits include:

– homeowners: assume you own a house (not a unit), therefore estimates are based on house costs for water, energy and council rates;

– car owners: assume you register a standard, petrol, four-cylinder sedan for private use each year and have drivers licence, both renewed every 12 months;

– dental services: assume general check-up is $150; and

– spectacle: assume one pair of glasses is $100.

We consider the above mainstream benefits to be applicable to most, which we use as the basis for comparing the value of each concession card. However, it is important to note that many additional benefits may apply less and/or are applicable on a less-than-annual basis, are available. We have listed some additional benefits for each state or territory, however, we suggest checking the links provided to determine the full extent of the various benefits offered.

Below is an example for the benefits available in Victoria.

VIC seniors card eligibility

  • 60 or over
  • working less than 35 hours per week
  • permanent resident of Victoria

Table 2: VIC mainstream concession card benefits p.a.

Benefit type PCC LIHCC CSHC Seniors
Council rates Up to $235
Water Up to $329 Up to $329
Electricity $402 $402
Gas $177 4177
Car registration $417 $151
Value $1,560 $1,059

Concession cards value

From the mainstream state benefits listed above, the PCC can be worth $501 p.a. more than the LIHCC due to council rates and TAC discounts.

The LIHCC can be worth $1,059 p.a. more than the CSHC due to water, gas, electricity and car registration discounts (the PCC therefore can be worth $1,560 p.a. more than the CSHC).

One large benefit of the PCC, LIHCC and CSHC in Victoria is the one-off Pensioner stamp duty concession. Homes bought for $330,000 or less receive a full exemption (the maximum concession is $12,870 for $330,000 purchases).

The concession scales down in value for homes up to $750,000 where it ceases. Additional state benefits There are other less common concessions you might benefit from, including but not limited to:

  • non-mains water concession (PCC and LIHCC)
  • excess electricity concessions (PCC and LIHCC) – if electricity bill greater than $2,890 p.a.
  • excess gas concession (PCC and LIHCC) – if gas bill greater than $1,588 p.a.

Useful links

Tips

  • Try and get at least one Centrelink concession card before downsizing to a home worth less than $750,000.
  • The LIHCC has a significant benefit in Victoria, so consider income reducing strategies if you are non-pensioners (see strategy considerations).