Pensioners to miss out on Brown's free bus pass

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The Independent Online

Thousands of pensioners are set to miss out on the free bus travel promised in Gordon Brown's Budget last week because of where they live.

Thousands of pensioners are set to miss out on the free bus travel promised in Gordon Brown's Budget last week because of where they live. The Government this weekend admitted that free bus passes for pensioners will only cover travel within the local authority in which they are resident.

The restriction means pensioners who want to travel to towns in other authorities, even if they are just a few miles away, will have to pay for their journeys. Pensioner groups, which had already expressed disappointment following the post-Budget announcement that the free bus passes would only cover travel in off-peak periods, reacted angrily to the latest catch in the scheme.

In many areas of the country, particularly outside metropolitan centres, pensioners' nearest amenities, including shops and hospitals, for example, are in neighbouring authorities. In such cases, the Chancellor's promise of "free local bus travel for every pensioner" will not be fulfilled, said Mervyn Kohler, the head of public affairs at Help the Aged. The charity has already discovered hundreds of pensioners living in Hertfordshire, who are being treated in hospitals in Greater London, will continue to be charged when they travel to appointments.

Erfan Hussain, a spokesperson for Help the Aged, added: "If you are going to claim to be offering free transport, it needs to be genuinely free whatever journey pensioners are making." Help the Aged pointed out that local authorities in London, which already offer free bus passes to pensioners, had managed to come up with a scheme enabling cross-borough travel at no charge. A similar system also operates in Scotland.

A spokesperson for the Department of Transport said: "Local authorities will continue to have the discretion to go further than the concessions the Government has announced." But she confirmed there would be no additional money from central government.

The row is the second blow to the Chancellor's attempts in the Budget to woo pensioners. It emerged this week that thousands will miss out on the £200 council tax rebate promised by Brown, because the money will not be available to people already entitled to council tax benefit. While this benefit is meant to pay the council tax bills of pensioners on low income, about 220,000 older people fail to claim the cash each year.

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