The procedure for examining unemployment benefit applications needs to be reviewed, deputies said on Tuesday after social insurance department officials asked the neighbours of an applicant whether she was employed.

Although deputies saw this as an abuse of power, the social insurance department defended this action, saying inspectors were allowed to take statements from third parties.

Diko’s Panicos Leonidou said that in the process of examining an application for unemployment benefit, officials often overstep their powers and in an abusive manner. The result was that the rights of citizens were violated in the context of this “supposedly objective investigation” he told reporters after the House labour committee meeting.

He referred to a recent example, when a woman who was fired from her job applied for unemployment benefit and the social insurance services sent an inspector to investigate the case. In addition to visiting the house of the applicant, Leonidou said the official also went to her neighbour’s houses to ask if the claimant was working.

“Such actions are unacceptable as they is an affront to the personality and dignity and personal data of the person,” he said.

He added that extreme delays were recorded in paying unemployment benefit, sometimes up to 18 months. He suggested that the problem could be tackled by a small, provisional allowance being paid until the application was examined.

The unemployment benefit, he said “should be paid at the time when [the person] is unemployed and needs to take in income.”

If the state delays, it could not call itself a welfare state, Leonidou said. Officials should be providing a public service, in a spirit of sensitivity and good administration, and not abuse their power he added.

Director of Social Insurance Services, Evangelia Georgiadou told reporter that inspectors act on the basis of the powers granted to them by the law.

“The Social Insurance Services do all the inspections, both as far as the collection of contributions and the payment of benefits are concerned, to comply with the provisions of the legislation,” she said.

Georgiadou cited the relevant article of the social security act, which states that “the inspector, at reasonable times, shall enter any premises, except for dwellings, where it is reasonably believed that employees are employed. He [or she] shall make such checks and investigations as may be necessary to ascertain whether the provisions of the Act are being complied with in the premises in question.”

According to the law, the inspector has the authority to inquire whether the particular person receiving unemployment benefits is employed.

“All of that is within the powers of an inspector, which are clear and written into the law,” she said.