This note explains the legislation covering concessionary bus fares in England. It briefly summarises the positions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

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Types of concessionary fare

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

The basic statutory concession in England provides for free bus travel for older and disabled people during off-peak times (i.e. between 0930 and 2300 on weekdays and at any time at weekends and on Bank Holidays). The eligible age for the concession is rising to 66 by October 2020 in line with increases to the state pension age.

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.

How is it funded?

In 2017-18, there were 9.4 million concessionary travel passes (8.5 million older passes and 0.9 million disabled passes) issued across England and 884 million concessionary bus journeys. Taken together, the statutory and discretionary bus concessions cost approximately £1.12 billion per annum.

Local authorities are responsible for reimbursing bus operators for journeys made by passengers with a bus pass entitling them to concessionary travel. The Government funds this reimbursement as part of the main Revenue Support Grant for local authorities. There are concerns that there are shortfalls in the central Government funding for the statutory scheme, which may be resulting in reductions in other services provided by local authorities.

Concessionary bus fares in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

There are separate statutory schemes in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland with different eligibility criteria and benefits. In 2019, the Welsh Government said it would increase the age of eligibility for concessionary bus fares to bring it into line with the State Pension Age.

  • Commons Research Briefing SN01499
  • Authors: David Hirst, Louise Butcher
  • Topics: Transport

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