By Staff Reporter
SOME 17,000 elderly people eligible for low pensions have not filed an application for guaranteed minimum income (GMI), the chairman of the House labour committee said on Thursday.
The deadline for filing GMI applications for this category of beneficiaries expired on September 30.
According to AKEL MP Andreas Fakondis, by that cut-off date around 30 per cent of beneficiaries had not put in the paperwork, meaning they would lose out on the complementary pension, also commonly known as the “small cheque,” which in certain cases accounts for up to 25 per cent of elderly people’s pension income.
As a result of the fewer claims the government now stands to save around €15m, an amount Fakondis said could be diverted to the GMI programme as a whole, the funding of which for next year has come up short to the tune of €100m.
“We don’t know for certain whether this was the government’s goal all along, that is, to take from the low pensioners in order to fund the GMI fund,” Fakondis said, suggesting that this may have been a calculated redistribution of welfare money.
There are several reasons why the elderly missed the application deadline, the MP said. It seems pensioners were unaware that, as per regulations, by not applying in time they would automatically lose their complementary pension.
Another reason was confusion about eligibility. There is a clause in the GMI law stipulating that those with bank deposits over €5,000 or possessing real estate worth more than €100,000 are not eligible for the benefit.
However this particular restriction did not apply to recipients of low pensions, although many pensioners apparently thought that it did apply to them and so did not bother to file an application.
Fakondis said the misunderstandings proved that recipients of low pensions should not have been lumped into the GMI scheme along with everyone else, and that a separate scheme or process should have been set up for them.
A number of elderly people did not file an application for more mundane reasons, such as health or mobility issues.
The house labour committee plans to revisit the matter and will be inviting government officials to quiz them on what they intend to do with the elderly who have missed out on the low pensions.
GMI was introduced this year, replacing the previous system of public assistance allowance. After it went live, it emerged that the government had underestimated the number of applications and thus the cost of the programme.