Bus U-Turn? Free Passes At 60 Could Be Axed

Free bus passes at 60 could soon be a thing of the past as the Transport Secretary considers proposals to save money by making pensioners wait until they turn 65.

Changes to the 1bn-a-year travel concessions scheme are believed to be on Philip Hammond's list of ways to slash his department's budget.

The overhaul could be linked to the gradual rise in the retirement age but it is a tricky issue for the Prime Minister because he insisted the free scheme would stay during the General Election campaign.

At the Sky News leaders' debate, David Cameron accused Labour of "pure and simple lies" when they suggested he planned to rob pensioners of concessionary travel.

He told Gordon Brown: "Will you withdraw the leaflets that are going out around the country saying that the Conservatives will take away things like the free bus pass? You really should be ashamed of doing things like that."

Shadow transport secretary Sadiq Khan MP has called on Mr Cameron to apologise.

"His mock outrage during the General Election campaign has been shown up as a cynical and misleading act, and his manifesto commitment to protecting concessionary fares as a sham," he said.

The plans would cause hundreds of thousands of people anxiety, he added.

According to Sky's political correspondent Joey Jones, Mr Cameron could argue this is not a U-turn as he is not axeing the scheme altogether.

However, Jones said it would be "entirely fair" for pensioners who watched the debate to assume his comments meant the scheme would not change, particularly as Mr Cameron made several angry denials during the course of the campaign.

At Labour's last Budget, the then-Chancellor Alistair Darling had also proposed gradually changing the bus pass system to keep it in line with retirement age.

A spokesman for the DfT said it was "committed" to free bus travel for older people would continue with the timescale Mr Darling introduced to increase the age to 65 by 2020.

He denied reports ministers were considering eventually axe the free passes for all but the poorest by introducing means testing.

"Our efforts are focused on finding efficiencies through reforming the administrative and reimbursement arrangements of the scheme. This is being examined as part of the Spending Review," the spokesman added.