Govt backs down on seniors’ car licencing
Government has hit the brakes on plans to make seniors pay to license larger cars from April 1 onwards.
Premier Paula Cox revealed the proposal is being “fine tuned” to make it “more compassionate” after being tackled over the issue by seniors at a public meeting last night.
“We want to be firm but we also want to be fair. That’s why the legislation couldn’t be tabled yet,” she said, explaining she is seeking advice from the Attorney General and the Minister of Transport.
Ms Cox added that it will not be tabled before the current House of Assembly session finishes on Monday, meaning it will not be implemented, as previously announced, in time for April 1.
At present, seniors are exempted from fees for any size of car. However, Ms Cox, who is also Minister of Finance, announced in her Budget statement last month that seniors who own cars with a length exceeding 156 inches (class E and above) would have to pay from April 1.
Those with smaller vehicles in the classes A, B, C and D would still qualify for free licences. She anticipated that the rollback of the policy would recover an estimated $3 million for Government in 2012/13.
Ms Cox revealed in a pre-budget report in December that the policy has been abused since it was introduced in 2007.
She said the number of vehicles registered to seniors has jumped by 26 percent and the number of H class cars, which is the largest type registered to seniors, has risen by 358 percent.
The annual fee for a class H vehicle is $1,551 and Government believes seniors have been abusing the perk to put large cars on the road for other people. Overall, the policy was said to have cost the taxpayer $17 million.
Two seniors spoke out at a public meeting about the Budget at Port Royal Primary School last night, urging Ms Cox to rethink the abolition of the tax break.
One man asked why he was being “punished” for abuse perpetrated by others.
He he could not afford a car any more but he lives three quarters of a mile uphill from the nearest bus stop and “sometimes I can walk and sometimes I can’t”.
He suggested seniors should be issued with special registration plates to prevent abuse rather than axing the policy.
A retired educator said she bought her class E car back in 1996 to drive students around and kept it after she retired.
She said she “really enjoyed” the fee exemption and had not budgeted for having to pay again. She urged Ms Cox to think about whether older large cars should continue to be exempted.
Ms Cox replied by saying she was trying to find a way to penalise those seniors who have abused the system without affecting the innocent who are encountering hardship.
“I have signalled what we are going to do but we are always looking at how we are going to temper that sign,” she told the audience, which was largely made up of seniors.
She said the proposed legislation had “discretion where there’s financial need” and added, “we haven’t tabled the legislation yet because we want to fine tune it to get it right.”
Ms Cox gave no indication as to when it will be tabled but said when it is, it will be “more compassionate to those who have a need or special circumstances.”
She also indicated that a revised plan might involve seniors having to pay “a slice” of the fee for a larger car but not all of it.
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