Budget 2019: Cashless Debit Card – Further extension and expansion

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This measures extends the Cashless Debit Card trial and Income Management program by a further year, adding to the extensions announced in the 2018-19 MYEFO measures entitled Cashless Debit Card Trial — extension and expansion and Income Management — extension and consultation.

The Cashless Debit Card quarantines up to 80% of a person’s income support payment. When using the card a person will be unable to purchase alcohol, gamble or withdraw cash from the card.  There are limited exemptions where a person may be exempt from participating in the trial. This includes, whether participating in the trial would seriously risk the person’s mental, physical or emotional well being.

Brief overview of the measure

The extension and expansion of the Cashless Debit Card trial announced in the 2019 Budget will:

  • extend the Cashless Debit Card trial in existing regions (affecting all people receiving working age payments residing in Ceduna, the East Kimberley and the Goldfields regions) for a further year to 30 June 2021, and
  • transition people participating in Income Management regimes to the Cashless Debit Card on 1 January 2020.

The measure also extends the Income Management program to Cape York to 30 June 2020.

When will the measure be implemented?

The process to transition Income Management participants in trial regions to the Cashless Debit Card will begin on 1 January 2020.

Costs associated

The Government will invest $128.8 million over four years to extend the Cashless Debit Card (CDC) trials for a further year to 30 June 2021, including:

  • Technological advancements to administer the trial, and
  • Allowing interest to be calculated, and paid on any funds accrued in Cashless Debit Card accounts (to commence from 1 July 2019).

The total expenditure for this measure is not for publication as negotiations with potential commercial providers are yet to be finalised.


In NSSRN’s view, this third extension and expansion of the compulsory Cashless Debit Card trial represents an unwarranted continuation of compulsory income management schemes without credible evidence that the trials are meeting their stated objectives and despite evidence of the harm being caused to participants.

The trial has been widely criticised for its lack of adequate baseline evidence, flawed evaluation methodology and performance indicators.

Our member centres have assisted people who have been disempowered and have experienced financial and mental stress as a result of their participation in the trial. The exemptions to participation in the trial which were introduced in the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card Trial Expansion) Act 2018 acknowledge that the Cashless Debit Card may pose risks to a person’s mental, physical or emotional well being.

We acknowledge that attempts have been made to address some of the problematic aspects of the day-to-day use of the cards. These include technological advancements enabling payment of interest on funds accrued in Cashless Debit Card accounts, greater accessibility through an increase in the number of places where the cards will be accepted, and changing the look of the cards to make it less obvious that the person is an income support recipient.

However, these improvements constitute window dressing on a fundamentally flawed measure, which is based on the incorrect and paternalistic assumption that people in receipt of income support payments have poor financial management skills, rather than having a basic lack of resources.

As outlined in our previous submissions on the Cashless Debit Card to Senate Committees and in our pre-Budget submission to Treasury, we continue to maintain that the Cashless Debit Card sends a concerning message about people being responsible for their difficult situation. In many cases, there are factors beyond a person’s control, including the lack of availability of genuine employment opportunities, the casualisation of the workforce, the inaccessibility of childcare and other barriers to workforce participation.

The $128.8 million that the one-year extension of the trial will cost, demonstrates the high costs of delivering and administering the trial. This is an unfortunate diversion of funds from legitimate purposes which are more likely to lead to the outcomes that the income management regimes aim to achieve, such as: addressing inadequate levels of income support, providing programs and services to address chronic health conditions, and access to housing and education.

In NSSRN’s view, mandatory income management regimes, including Cashless Debit Card, should be abolished.


This factsheet was prepared by the National Social Security Rights Network (NSSRN). The NSSRN is the peak community organisation in the area of income support law, policy and administration. NSSRN members are community legal centres across Australia which provide free and independent legal assistance to people experiencing issues with social security and family assistance payments.

April 2019