The loss of the last school shoes retailer in a remote South Australian town has exposed an unexpected problem with a contentious cashless debit card scheme and left families scrambling to dress their children for school.

Key points:

  • A national charity will step in to provide shoes to school children after a local store’s closure
  • People on the cashless debit card say the closure affects them more, because the card does not allow expensive cash purchases
  • Ceduna’s local MP says the card is aimed at reducing substance abuse and is working as intended

With the last sporting goods retailer closing in Ceduna, a fishing town on the state’s west coast and one of the trial sites for the Federal Government’s contentious cashless debit card (CDC) program, locals were left with no outlet for school shoes.

People using the card said the shutdown would affect them more than others due to restrictions on the card making it difficult to buy second-hand items from local classifieds.

Under the CDC program, also known as Indue, 80 per cent of an individual’s welfare payments are quarantined on a card that cannot be used to buy alcohol or gambling products.

It is aimed at reducing substance abuse, but card users say it has created difficulties buying second-hand goods.

The store was where school shoes could be bought locally. While there are still places in Ceduna to buy new shoes, the stock is not appropriate for school — and local op shops only have a small selection.

Indue user Anne Dunn said the shop closure came when she needed shoes for her daughter.

Ms Dunn eventually found the money for a pair of shoes for sale on a social media marketplace but said living on the card was not easy.

People using the cashless welfare card are unable to withdraw large amounts of cash.(ABC Wide Bay: Nicole Hegarty)

“People say, ‘Just go buy online’. Well, that’s no good because you can’t get them for two weeks through postage and when they get here a lot of time they don’t fit,” she said.

“They end up on the Ceduna Buy Swap Sell page [on Facebook] where people on Indue just don’t have access to these shoes.”

And on that Facebook page, a pair of children’s shoes can sell for up to $150.

Charity stepping in

A listing of an expensive pair of shoes for sale in an online marketplace, which does not accept Indue payments.(Facebook)

After hearing about the issues caused by the shop’s closure the National Homeless Collective, a Melbourne-based charity, stepped in and started a fundraiser to get shoes for schoolchildren.

“We managed to fundraise about $2,000 in the first 24 hours, as well as collect shoes in Melbourne to take over as well,” said Donna Stolzenberg, the charity’s founder and chief executive.

“We’re hoping to get the kids good quality shoes.”

Ms Stolzenberg said once the shoes arrived in Ceduna they would be distributed through local churches and youth groups.

“We’re hoping to also bring a podiatrist to make sure the shoes are fitted properly and that if there are any other underlying issues with the children’s feet,” she said.

While everyone in Ceduna will be affected by the store’s closure, Ms Stolzenberg says the charity will prioritise families on the CDC program.

“We’re looking to give shoes to at least a couple thousand children so we need to make sure that cohort is looked after first.”

Card working as intended

Ceduna’s local MP Rowan Ramsey is a supporter of the cashless debit card and says it is working as intended.

“It’s a cashless debit card — you can’t extract cash from your cashless debit card,” he said.

Mr Ramsey said the card could be used to purchase goods, including shoes, from any online retailer except eBay.

“From a sports shop, you’re not buying used goods, you’re buying new goods, and those new goods are available on the Internet,” he said.

“In fact, it’s probably cheaper than they were buying it locally, quite frankly, because we know local retail is being seriously undermined by online buying.”

Local MP Rowan Ramsey says the cashless debit card is working as intended.(ABC News: Nick Haggarty)

Mr Ramsey said if people on welfare, including the cashless debit card, managed their income “correctly”, taking into consideration available subsidies, then “they should manage”.

“If the sports store’s closed, and people can’t buy new shoes, theoretically they should still have money to buy shoes online,” he said.

“I am surprised they [the charity] has to step in, in that case.

A spokesperson for Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said the store’s closure would equally affect Ceduna residents with or without the card.

“The cashless debit card can be used to purchase products outside of the Ceduna region, as well as online,” the spokesperson said.

“In fact, it can be used at more than 900,000 merchants around Australia to purchase any goods — with the exception of alcohol or gambling products.”