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There are two types of concessionary bus fares – statutory concessions (i.e. those that local authorities must provide in accordance with national legislation) and non-statutory, discretionary concessions (i.e. those that local authorities can provide from their own funds if they so wish).

The English National Concessionary Travel Scheme (ENCTS) currently consists of guaranteed free travel for people over state pension age and people with an eligible disability on all eligible local bus services anywhere in England from 0930 until 2300 on weekdays and all day at weekends and on Bank Holidays. In May 2020 the Government announced that it had asked bus operators to accept bus passes for travel before 0930 during the coronavirus pandemic.

Local authorities may provide further concessions in accordance with their local priorities – these extend only to the local authority area borders, unless a cross-border agreement has been reached with a neighbouring authority. For example, in London and other major cities, there is often concessionary travel on other modes of transport, and travel during peak hours.

In London the ENCTS is folded into a far more generous concession known as the Freedom Pass. There is also a wide array of discretionary fare schemes for younger people, those aged over 60 but under state pension age, apprentices, veterans and job seekers. In May 2020 the Government agreed an emergency financial support package for TfL, which involves the amendment or suspension of some of these schemes.

Local authorities are responsible for reimbursing bus operators for journeys made by passengers with a bus pass. The Government funds this reimbursement as part of the main Revenue Support Grant for local authorities. In 2018/19 £879 million was reimbursed to local authorities in England by the Government. Around 75% (£662 million) went to authorities outside London. There were 9.1 million concessionary travel passes (8.2 million older passes and 0.9 million disabled passes) issued across England and 884 million concessionary bus journeys taken. The average reimbursement per pass was £83 per year in England outside London and £184 in London.

In October 2019 the Transport Select Committee published a report by the TAS Partnership, which provides a comprehensive overview of concessionary travel schemes in England.

Concessionary travel is a devolved policy area. There are separate schemes in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland with different eligibility criteria and benefits. They are funded by the Governments (national and local) in those nations.

The Commons Library has further briefings on bus policy and issues on its website.

Documents to download

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