Thousands of low-income pensioners struggling to make ends meet over the Christmas period will from January 1, 2023 be able to apply for a new support scheme, said the Union of Cypriot Pensioners (Ekysy) on Thursday.

The new Support Scheme for Pensioners on Low Incomes, which will come into force on January 1, 2023, is expected to simplify procedures, in the hope of reducing the time taken to examine applications.

It also corrects an “injustice” that deprived thousands of low-income pensioners of the right to apply to participate in the scheme because they had not submitted their application by November 2014, Ekysy said.

As such, should affected low-income pensioners meet the criteria and conditions, they can apply from January 1, 2023 using the new application forms that will be issued.

Ekysy noted that several thousand pensioners won’t have any income over Christmas and on New Year’s Day because of the ongoing “very long and completely unjustified delay in the examination of applications by both the Social Insurance Department and the Welfare Benefits Administration Service.”

“Unfortunately, this problem has remained unresolved for the last several years, both due to understaffing at the departments and the fact that the government did not bother to digitise and simplify procedures for examining applications. Nor has it so far been able to operate a call centre to serve pensioners.”

The pensioners’ union added that after nine years of strong protests on its part, the junior minister for Social Welfare recently announced changes to the plan for low-income pensioners who meet the criteria – suggestions made by Ekysy that had been repeatedly rejected over the last nine years by the labour ministry.

Ekysy meanwhile clarified that low-income pensioners included in the scheme of pensioners on low incomes and receiving the ‘small cheque’ do not have to apply nor will they benefit from the new scheme.

Low-income pensioners who were entitled to the Easter benefit will no longer be eligible for it after changes introduced to means-testing. Several thousands would miss out because the limit for someone to be eligible is having up to €30,000 in bank savings. Meanwhile the respective limit for eligibility for the ‘small cheque’ is now €100,000 in savings.

Ekysy went on to stress that numerous problems still remain concerning low-income pensioners, such as repatriated Cypriots not entitled to a pension from the Social Insurance Fund are also not entitled to the ‘small cheque’, while their income from pensions abroad is below the defined poverty line.

“However, because they are not entitled to a pension from the Social Insurance Fund, they cannot apply and are stuck with their low incomes that come to under €710 for a single woman and under €1,210 for a low-income couple,” Ekysy added.