Wait for free bus passes will be longer
Peter WalshConcern has been raised that thousands of people in Norwich will miss out on free bus passes after the age limit for the scheme is raised.The age limit for the concessionary bus fare scheme, which currently allows free bus travel from the age of 60, is set to rise from April this year.Peter Walsh
Concern has been raised that thousands of people in Norwich will miss out on free bus passes after the age limit for the scheme is raised.
The age limit for the concessionary bus fare scheme, which currently allows free bus travel from the age of 60, is set to rise from April this year.
The changes to the scheme mean that someone turning 60 in Norwich will have to wait an extra month before qualifying for free travel.
But the eligibility threshold will be raised by a further month every two months until 2020 when it will be in line with the pensionable age for men and women of 65 - which means that up to 92,000 people look set to be denied the bus pass.
The start time for free travel is due to be extended from 9.30am to 8.30am in April.
Judith Lubbock, a Liberal Democrat city councillor for Eaton, said: 'Locally Labour are trying to position themselves as the champions of free bus travel in Norwich by extending the scheme to 8.30am, but nationally Labour is actually cutting the scheme by changing the criteria. They are giving with one hand and taking with the other.
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Mrs Lubbock said the Lib Dems were going to raise the issue at tonight's Norwich City Council budget meeting at City Hall.
She added: 'They buried this in the pre-budget report before Christmas and there are many Norwich residents expecting a free bus pass this year who will be disappointed with having to wait longer.'
Steve Morphew, leader of Norwich City Council, said the issue of free bus travel to elderly people was an important issue.
He said: 'We would support as wide a spread of free bus travel as is affordable. The extension of the hour in the city is beyond what the national scheme is anyway and whatever the national scheme is I'm sure we will be doing our best to provide as much free bus travel for older people as possible.'
Anthony Little, leader of the Conservative Group at Norwich City Council, said the issue over concessionary bus passes was a difficult one, but agreed that the qualifying age needed to be in line with the rising pensionable age.
He said: 'It was introduced to give a financial help to pensioners as they moved onto a fixed income, from work to a pension, and therefore it's probably right that, as the pensionable age has increased, that the bus pass does as well.
'The implication is while they are still at work they would still be able to use the bus as normal. It's one of the tough choices that's going to have to be made about spending - we simply can't afford to keep on doing this.'
As the Evening News reported last year, council bosses said they were nearly �2m out of pocket because of the way the government distributes the cash to pay for bus fares and pressed for the administration of the concessionary fare scheme to be passed onto Norfolk County Council.
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