The Department of Social Services has revealed there is no end in sight for the dual system of the Basics card and the Cashless Debit Card in the Northern Territory.

The controversial Cashless Debit Card (CDC) was extended for two years in trial sites after the Morrison government failed to make it permanent in some communities.

The government had also planned to transfer about 20,000 people from the Basics Card to the CDC in the Northern Territory, but the program will instead be optional for welfare recipients in the region.

Speaking at a senate estimates hearing on Thursday, DSS officials confirmed that only five of almost 25,000 people in the NT have so far volunteered to go on the Cashless Debit Card.

Under the program, 80 per cent of a welfare recipients’ payments are frozen and can only be spent on what the government deems essential, with Indigenous people making up 81 per cent of all people on the card in the Northern Territory.

The scheme is currently operating in the Ceduna region (South Australia); the Goldfields and East Kimberley regions (Western Australia); the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay region; selected Cape York communities and Doomadgee (Queensland); and the Northern Territory.

When questioned by NT senator Malarndirri McCarthy about the card’s future, DSS senior official Liz Hefren-Webb said they have extended the program until December next year but expect it to keep going.

“The legislation for the cashless debit card goes to 31st December 2022 so at least until then, but beyond that, likely,” she said.

Social Services Minister Anne Ruston confirmed earlier in the week nearly 4,000 people will be forced onto the card in coming weeks after a temporary pause on new participants was put in place in March last year due to COVID-19.