Cyprus Mail

Benefit abuse is widespread, some paid even after death

Labour Minister Zeta Emilianidou

By Angelos Anastasiou

INSTANCES of welfare recipients who own blocks of flats and hundreds of thousands of euros in deposits, and others who continued to receive benefits even after the beneficiaries’ death, were revealed by Labour minister Zeta Emilianidou yesterday.

The cases were identified during reviews conducted as part of sifting through applications for the government’s guaranteed minimum income (GMI) allowance, the minister said.

“We find many cases of people who own substantial property – for example, blocks of flats which they rent out – but have declared no income from it,” Emilianidou said.

“In others, applicants have stated one bank account in their name, but we found three or four more, containing deposits in excess of €300,000. There have been cases of owners of property valued in excess of €1 million, as well as cases where benefits were being received even after the beneficiary’s death in 2010.”

Emilianidou said this was the result of the absence of a control mechanism that should weed out such cases by confirming application information, which is now in place.

“Most commonly, these relate to cases of joint bank accounts,” the minister explained. “Even after one party dies, the other continued to collect on the benefits.”

“We now have the necessary systems in place to check such instances,” she added. “And any delay in processing applications is attributed to the checks on applicants’ immovable property and bank accounts.”

Emilianidou said the ministry’s effort is to help the people in need, while singling out those who have abused the system.

“Criminal prosecutions will proceed with regard to such cases,” she said.

Meanwhile, parliament has extended the deadline for the GMI applications for low-income pensioners and welfare recipients to November 30.

The extension, the third so far, only applies to those who failed to file a timely application for health or other serious reasons.

According to data presented to deputies on the House Labour committee after the deadline expired, some 2,700 welfare recipients and 11,400 low-income pensioners had failed to apply.

Around 260 applications by welfare recipients and 92 by low-income pensioners were filed after the deadline.

Labour committee members removed a clause from the bill that mandated applicants to justify their failure for not submitting an application within the initial timeframes, but the change was rejected in the plenum.

Committee chairman and AKEL MP Andreas Fakontis said that the results from implementation of the GMI scheme proved his party’s warnings right, and claimed that 20,000 low-income pensioners and welfare recipients had not applied for GMI.

He also noted the delay in processing applications by the government; “2014 will go by and there will still be outstanding payments,” he said.

He added that the GMI scheme is being “funded by the poor to cover the poorer,” noting that the government saved €15m by cutting complementary pensions.

DISY deputy Nikos Nouris responded that no beneficiary had been denied any benefits, and argued that the delay in reviewing applications was due to missing information.

DIKO deputy Athina Kyriakidou also claimed the delay in evaluating applications had to be remedied, adding that another group – that of the unemployed – must also be taken into account.

EDEK deputy Roula Mavronicola said there were numerous complaints from welfare recipients about payment delays.

“The government must look through the applications immediately and make the necessary payments,” she pled. “There are many unemployed. In a month it will be Christmas time and these people must celebrate Christmas.”

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