By Staff Reporter
A NUMBER of tweaks made to the legislation governing the guaranteed minimum income (GMI) welfare benefit have eased some of the criteria so that more people can be eligible.
The changes, incorporated into an amending law submitted to parliament on Thursday, entail an additional €11m cost to the scheme, labour minister Zeta Emilianidou said.
The amendments were deemed necessary in order to cover many people who previously did not qualify for the assistance, she added.
Until now, to be eligible, a person should have no more than €5,000 in cash or own property worth more than €100,000 – excluding the primary residence.
These conditions have been somewhat relaxed. Under the new rules, a person may have up to €20,000 in a bank and still qualify, provided however that this amount is blocked to secure a loan, is deposited in the name of a minor, relates to a scholarship or a college loan, or belongs to a disabled person.
The relaxation for the first two cases – blocked amount tied to loans, deposits in the name of minors – apply only where the blocked deposits existed prior to the implementation of the GMI law in July 2014.
In addition, the €100,000 threshold for property (other than the first residence) is waived for cases where the entire property or its majority cannot be transferred or sold due to encumbrances on it.
Previously, a couple were eligible for the GMI, if they owned a primary residence of up to 150 square meters, whereas a family could apply if they owned a house of up to 300 square meters.
Now, anyone with a house of up to 300 square meters can apply.
The land registry is authorised to back-check a person’s major transactions up to one year prior to the GMI legislation coming into force. This is to keep track of cases where people may have deliberately divested property in the meantime in order to become eligible for the assistance.
Improvements have likewise been made to the application process. A new category of applicants for special cases has been included, and these will be vetted by the welfare services.
And physically or mentally disabled persons will no longer need a court order to declare them as incapacitated in order for a representative to file an application on their behalf.
Additionally, persons with non-severe mental disability – for example, Down Syndrome – are now eligible.
For persons receiving their first pension while on GMI assistance, the pension will count toward the person’s income from the month the pension is actually paid.
Another change sees a 20 per cent increase in the rent benefit to disabled persons, where the rent being paid is above the maximum provided in the legislation.
Also, adjustments have been made so that persons whose applications have yet to be processed, or have been rejected, will not need to re-apply from scratch, but file an appeal.
Emilianidou said that since the introduction of GMI, some 7,500 families, corresponding to over 16,000 individuals, have been added to the persons receiving financial assistance from the state.
To date, the government has disbursed around €40m.
Responding to criticism of delays, Emilianidou said that all applications filed have been processed, including those submitted by pensioners.