In early May, the displaced persons faced the problem of paying pensions again: the money just did not come. The government agencies shrug their shoulders and ask to wait.
"We received numerous calls to the Donbass SOS hotline on Saturday, May 5. People complained massively that they had not received the pension. Pensioners started calling to the Pension Fund where they were told different reasons for the suspension: some people were told that the displaced persons were removed from the database, others were told to wait for a special order, or for a month and the money would come, etc. In general, the real mess began", - coordinator of Donbass SOS Olha Hvozdiova told OstroV.
"The pension for May did not come, although I waited it on May 4. I called to the Pension Fund, they explained nothing for sure. The order to suspend payments came "from upstairs". 50 hryvnias ($2) in a purse and a half-empty refrigerator. Tell it to the officials in Kyiv. I wish they can feel all their verification experiments on themselves. Sick and tired of all this", - IDP from Donetsk Iryna told OstroV.
Unfortunately, this problem is not new: during the war in Donbass, the government has several times changed the procedure for the payment of social benefits (including pensions), and each and every time, it only engaged in tightening it, depriving a lot of displaced persons of the source of subsistence.
CF Right to Protection notes that most times, the displaced persons have such questions regarding the payment of pensions:
- Suspension of pension payments in connection with resolution No. 365 of the Cabinet of Ministers.
- Termination of pension payments to persons who have refused IDP certificates and registered at the place of residence in the controlled territory (the termination of payments is motivated by the absence of a paper pension file).
- Non-payment of pensions to persons who, due to their venerable age or illnesses, could not leave for the controlled territory and register as displaced persons.
- Refusal to award a preferential pension due to the lack of possibility in the Pension Fund to verify information on the availability of preferential service.
Whom and why the pensions were suspended
IDP from Donetsk Serhiy has lived in Kharkiv for three years. During the war, he just once went to his hometown: one and a half years ago to visit the graves of relatives. He stayed in the occupied territory only for three weeks, but because of this, he was suspended from paying his pension.
"The pension did not come at the appointed time. I came to the social services office, made an appearance, threatened them with an appeal to journalists and non-governmental organizations and the payments were quickly resumed. Now the history repeats itself. I had to receive the pension on May 4 but I never got it. I called to the Pension Fund and social services office but they just told me to wait because they received some instructions to conduct additional checks on those who had traveled to the occupied territory. Nothing else was said. It is still unknown when the pension comes. And this is the only source of income, no savings", - he complains.
Donbass SOS non-governmental organization recorded a lot of similar reports:
"I did not receive a pension yesterday. I managed to call the Pension Fund, they said that all the IDPs were removed from their database, and they know nothing about it".
"The Pension Fund told me that there were no payments to the IDPs. They asked to wait for a month and did not explain the reasons. My mother and brother did not receive their pensions as well".
"I did not get my pension on May 4. I got a phone call from the Pension Fund saying that they had frozen payments for all the IDPs. They do not know the deadline. There will be a total check".
"My mother did not receive her pension. She called to the Pension Fund and was told that they were waiting for a special order. They said to wait for a month".
"The displaced persons were not charged a pension. It was said in the Pension Fund that the government decided how to pay a pension to the IDPs in May".
"She did not receive a pension yesterday. She called to the Pension Fund and was told that all the displaced persons had been removed from the database. They themselves know nothing".
OstroV appealed to the Pension Fund for explanations on Saturday, but got only the following in return:
"Due to the technological changes in the mechanism for verifying the recipients of pension payments, the terms for making payment documents for the first ten days of May for pensioners from among internally displaced persons changed. At the same time, all pensions will be paid in full in May to those individuals who are entitled to such payments”.
The PFU could not name the exact dates for the renewal of payments, noting that "for now, this information is all that we can provide".
This situation was explained in a completely different way by the Ministry of Social Policy. According to Deputy Minister Mykola Shambir, at present the internally displaced persons, who have returned to the occupied territory, are being checked.
"One thing is for sure - all IDPs will receive pensions on time, there was and will be no stoppage of payments. Another question is the verification of those who returned to uncontrolled territory, there is a general check of payments for these people. Concerning those who are displaced and permanently reside in the controlled territory…. we have an information exchange and if the person gets a pension through Oschadbank, conducts an operation there once in six months, after that no one checks this person", - he said.
"I also heard these rumors, but they are connected with the checks only of those people who returned to uncontrolled territory", - Shambir assured.
At the same time, according to OstroV, the pensions were not paid to the IDPs who had not been to the uncontrolled territory for several years. The Pension Fund has already promised that retirees from among IDPs will be paid pensions with a delay of several days.
"There was a change in internal procedures for calculating pension for internally displaced persons", - the PF said.
The Ministry for Temporary Occupied Territories and Internally Displaced Persons assures that they do not know what delays in payments are related to. Deputy Minister Heorhiy Tuka even made an official request to the Ministry of Social Policy to provide "a legislative justification for the reasons for the delay in pension payments and the timing of their restoration".
"On Friday, I talked with the Minister of Social Policy Andriy Reva, and he said that these are irregular failures in the Pension Fund and that he will deal with this issue", - Tuka told OstroV.
Yulia Tralo, legal aid coordinator of Right to Protection charity fund, believes that it is too early to be alarmed, because according to Article 47 of the Law of Ukraine "On Compulsory State Pension Insurance", "a pension is paid monthly, no later than 25th day of the month, for which a pension is paid...".
"The schedules of pension payments are determined by the PFU bodies independently. Therefore, it is too early to talk about the violation of the rights of pensioners. It will be possible to identify violations of the law in each specific situation only after May 25, 2018", - she told OstroV.
If the pension for May is not received, then first of all it is necessary to find out the reason for the termination of the pension payment in the territorial body of the Pension Fund of Ukraine at the place of actual residence.
"To do this, you need to send a written request to the PFU body by mail with a letter of acknowledgment of receipt or personally submit a written request to the office/reception office of the PFU (receiving a note on acceptance on the second copy) for explaining the reason for the termination of payments", - explained Yulia Tralo.
If the pension is not paid even after the request, it is necessary to apply to a qualified lawyer for advice and, possibly, file a statement of claim.
In order to submit a statement of claim to a court it is necessary to have:
- card of a taxpayer individual,
- IDP certificate,
- pensioner's ID,
- documents received from the territorial body of the Pension Fund of Ukraine, following the results of the request,
- an account statement (if possible),
- receipt for payment of court fees for filing an administrative claim.
How to solve the pension issue?
"Senior officials say that they cannot pay pensions to citizens living in uncontrolled territories, since there is no mechanism for this, but they did not even look for such an opportunity. Pensions are not just social payments. They are property of citizens, guaranteed by the Constitution, regardless of where they live", - said Olha Hvozdiova, coordinator of the Donbass SOS.
IDPs are forced to apply to the courts and so seek the restoration of pensions payment.
In early May, the Supreme Court of Ukraine completed the examination of the exemplary case on the termination of payment of a pension to a retired IDP and adopted a decision that satisfied the claim in full and ordered to restore the pension payment to the pensioner from April 2017. The pensioner stopped getting her pension on 01.04.2017 on the basis of the decision of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine No. 365 of 08.06.2016, namely due to "verification through the SBU lists".
After the court decision comes into legal force (in 30 days, if no appeal is filed), it should be used as a sample by all administrative courts when considering similar cases.
Along with this, the public organization understands that this victory is unlikely to solve all the problems with the payment of pensions.
"Unfortunately, PFU bodies continue to violate the rights of thousands of IDP pensioners, although there are hundreds of court decisions that have recognized such actions as illegal, but these decisions are of an individual nature. Decision on an exemplary case is mandatory for administrative courts in dealing with similar cases, but the PFU will not be guided by it when deciding whether to stop paying a pension to a pensioner. Therefore, if you stopped getting pension, you need to apply for a qualified legal help, for example, of lawyers of Right to Protection charity fund for the necessary pre-trial activities and filing a lawsuit", - Yulia Tralo said.
In April, People's Deputy of Ukraine Hryhoriy Nemyria said that the European Union urged the Ukrainian authorities to immediately solve the problems with the payment of pensions to citizens residing on temporarily uncontrolled territories and internally displaced persons.
"The Verkhovna Rada is blocking the consideration of this issue, we see a gap between the words and actions of the leaders of the state that promise to resolve this issue. I received an official letter from the European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy Johannes Khan. On behalf of the European Union, he urged the Ukrainian authorities to immediately solve the problems with the payment of pensions to citizens residing on temporarily uncontrolled territories and internally displaced persons", - the politician said.
Even the President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, agreed with the deputy, who, according to Iryna Lutsenko, personally initiated the development of a separate bill that would settle the issue of paying pensions to residents of the occupied territories and IDPs.
There was even a decision of the National Reform Council under the President of Ukraine to include the issue of IDPs into the pension reform, but it was ignored.
Moreover, it is unclear why a separate law is needed to address the pension issue of IDPs, if they are citizens of Ukraine and have the same rights as everyone else, regardless of where they live. In this case, Petro Poroshenko's initiative is not solving the problem, but delaying it...
"The Ministry of Social Policy confirmed that they were instructed to draft a separate bill. They did not disclose details, but promised to involve the public in its development. But as far as we know, there is no work in this direction for now", - the Donbass SOS told OstroV.
Not so long ago, head of the Donetsk regional military-civil administration Pavlo Zhebrivskyi suggested transferring the authority to pay pensions to residents of the occupied Donbass to the International Committee of the Red Cross
"I recently met with representatives of the Red Cross... If the Red Cross takes the obligation to pay pensions on the territory temporarily occupied by Russia and will see to it, the Ukrainian government will not object I suppose", - he said.
In general, there are many initiatives and proposals, but the solution of the problem has not been found yet.
The bill No. 6692 "on the right of certain categories of citizens to receive pensions", which has been stuck in the Verkhovna Rada for almost a year, could solve the problem, but the people's deputies still cannot get their hands on it. The authors of the initiative suggest to:
- simplify the procedure for proving the right to receive pension and its size by eliminating the obligation to provide documents for persons entitled to getting pensions and forced to leave their place of residence as a result of armed conflict, temporary occupation, widespread violence, violations of human rights and emergency situations of natural or man-made nature;
- cancel the restrictions on the possibility of receiving an unclaimed pension only for three years’ period for this category of persons;
- lay the foundations for a special regime and the procedure for obtaining pensions for pensioners who stayed to live in the temporarily uncontrolled territories.
Currently, the bill is under consideration in the profile committee and it is unknown when it will be brought to the parliament for voting. IDPs can only wait that the common sense of the MPs will prevail, and they will be able to normally receive their rightful pension.
According to OstroV’s information, the Ministry of Social Policy supports the adoption of this law only in the first reading and has already prepared a number of revisions that essentially neutralize all innovations to simplify the receipt of pensions by IDPs.
The deputy minister on issues of temporarily occupied territories and internally displaced persons Heorhiy Tuka believes that there is no political will to adopt such a law yet.
And while officials come up with new barriers to the payment of pensions and only imitate the process of solving the problem, people can only hope for the best.
"For four years now you feel like an incomplete person in your country, constantly reading the news and hearing how someone stopped paying a pension, forced to us beg different social services, to stand in long lines and be humiliated. After all, pension is the only financial aid for the elderly. We do not need the Maldives and other delights, we want only peace. And although I have never experienced issues with that, I worry every month: what if the pension does not come?", - says Maria, a 70-year-old IDP from the Crimea.
Vladyslav Bulatchik, OstroV