Market bus service for aged city residents under spotlight in funding talks

Changes to how the federal government will fund aged care services could impact Adelaide City Council programs, with concerns about the future of services including a community bus taking elderly city residents on outings to the Central Market.

Mar 07, 2024, updated Mar 07, 2024

The council’s Community Market Bus provides weekly trips to the market for up to 14 people, collecting them from outside their houses. They are accompanied by a volunteer and have time to shop and have a cup of coffee or lunch before being dropped back home.

Most market bus users are clients of the council’s Commonwealth Home Support Program, but the service can also be used by other city residents. Users contribute $2 per week to the service, which costs the council $13,500 annually in bus hire. 

The Commonwealth Home Support Program is a short-term service supporting people over 65, or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over 50, to live independently in their homes. Currently, it supports 177 residents in Adelaide and North Adelaide.

The City Council’s delivery of the Home Support Program received a $265,883 grant from the Federal Department of Health and Aged Care for the year 2023-24. 

The grant doesn’t cover all the costs, with the council allocating $18,000 to it last year, while client contributions added another $36,000. The federal government will not offer an increase in their annual grant funding to accommodate the rising costs of running these services on an ongoing basis. 

Axing the market bus service, or replacing it with other services, is just one potential outcome of how the council’s Home Support Program could change in line with federal reforms first announced in 2021. Without the grant, the council would have to find another $15,000 a year from its budget to keep the market bus on the road.

In December last year, the federal government said some of its new Support At Home Packages – which will replace current services – are on track to begin in 2025, but the Commonwealth Home Support Program will continue to run until 2027. 

The council discussed the future and funding of its aged care services on Tuesday night, with councillors concerned about what the changes could mean for ageing residents.

Lord Mayor Jane Lomax-Smith raised concerns about the possibility of removing the weekly market bus, which she said was “buried” in a report presented to the City Community Services and Culture Committee. 

“Maybe we’re too posh and important to think about old ladies but honestly getting rid of the bus, a core local government business, I’d like to think we can find a way to keep some services for these people,” she said. 

The report said that if the council withdrew from the Commonwealth Home Support Program, “this will not impact clients’ eligibility to receive funding or services” and “it would allow for a more direct provider-to-client relationship”.

Lomax-Smith said she felt “disappointed” at the idea the council would get out of providing services for aged residents because they “don’t actually do a lot of community support”. 

“We are a local government, not just a capital city, we’re not just… giving money to major events, giving money to businesses, and giving money to festivals,” she said. 

“I find it really tough to think that we’re going to give up the only thing these 177 people actually get, they’re probably paying their rates and have done for years.”

Acting CEO Michael Sedgman said that because government funding models change, “ultimately, this is a matter that will be taken out of the council’s hands in time”. 

Councillor Janet Giles, who chaired the City Community Services and Culture Committee, voiced her concerns about changes to aged care services, saying they are confusing enough already. 

“I’m not comfortable with this proposal either and the navigation of the aged care services system at the moment is just hell, and I know that personally because I’m going through it at the moment with my mother,” Giles said. 

“I think we need to have more discussion about the support of older people before we move out of that program.” 

The committee decided not to recommend transitioning out of delivering the Commonwealth Home Support Services at this stage. It requested an additional report to be presented to the council, with different options it could consider ahead of the 2024–25 Commonwealth funding year. 


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