Zinaida moved from Makeyevka to Mariupol two years ago. In her sixties, the woman leads an active lifestyle, takes long walks, goes to the theater, attends concerts and takes care of the homeless animals. But lately, after her health had broken down, Zinaida became less likely to leave her house. She believes that one of the reasons of her poor health is stress due to the payment of pension and resettlement money.
“The problems with pensions and other payments have existed from the beginning. I couldn’t stand in long queues for registration and re-registration for having these money. I lost my nerve, so now I can’t talk about that without tears in my eyes. At some point, I wanted to give everything up and go back home, to Makeyevka. But my children talked me out of it”, – says the displaced person.
“How to keep getting pensions and social benefits?”, – this question is often asked on public organizations’ hotlines by displaced Ukrainians from the Crimea and Donbas. In 2016, internally displaced persons have experienced several waves of shocking changes in the assignation and extension of social benefits. It all started at the beginning of the year with the so-called “Security Service lists”, in which all payments were suspended for thousands of displaced residents. Then it was the scandalous Resolution №637, which provided inspections of actual residential places of such people and making housing inspection report.
The final point was the Resolution №167 of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, which was adopted on March 14, 2016. It states that from July 1, all social benefits and pensions for internally displaced persons could be received only through Oschadbank.
The main feature of this decision is that displaced pensioners must receive an electronic bank card which will be simultaneously a pensioner’s ID. After that they need to pass a physical identification in Oschadbank branches every 6 months (during the first year) and then once a year (the next two years). Otherwise all payments to pensioners will be stopped automatically.
Public organizations unanimously declare that such a decision discriminates internally displaced persons. However, the Ministry of Social Policy decided to go even further and now there are new changes on turn that are going to enhance the governmental control over displaced pensioners.
Oschadbank: good or bad?
In fact, the reason of transferring of all displaced residents to Oschadbank service is obvious – control and quick blocking of the accounts in case of any suspicion. In this way, the Ministry of Social Policy intends to fight the so-called “fictitious” displaced residents and “pension tourism” – the situation when internally displaced persons actually live in the occupied Donbas but come to receive Ukrainian social payments. Of course, all this is done under the official slogan “for the benefit of displaced persons themselves” and “don’t let to fund the militants in Donbas”. The goal may sound honorably, but in real-world terms ordinary displaced citizens of Ukraine have been and still are suffering.
Ksenia Karagheaur, a legal analyst of The Right to Protection charitable foundation, told OstroV about the main challenges faced by internally displaced persons when opening accounts in Oshchadbank. Firstly, there are huge queues in almost every settlement, especially in small ones.
Secondly, Oschadbank’s ATMs, especially in rural areas, often break down or there is no cash, and withdrawals from ATMs of other banks are prohibited. Therefore displaced persons are forced to travel to other settlements to receive funds.
“At the same time, there are large queues in other settlements. For example, a queue was fixed at the ATM of Oschadbank’s central office in Stanytsia Luhanska. After communication with people we have figured out: in order to withdraw money you need to enroll the list, and at that moment the list consisted of 300 recorded people”, – Ksenia Karagheaur said.
Thirdly, The Right to Protection organization regularly receives complaints that Oschadbank blocks cards, if money are not taken out from them within a few months. It is noteworthy that this information is not confirmed in the bank. In particular, Oschadbank’s employees report on other possible causes of card blocking.
Fourthly, all account transactions can be carried out only at the bank’s cash department and ATMs (for example, online shopping, payment for utility services, mobile account replenishment and so on are impossible). Furthermore, displaced residents can not transfer their funds to the other banks' cards.
The only advantage of Oschadbank, according to the Ukrainian authorities, is its reliability. In case of bankruptcy the state is obliged to return all the funds in full.
Ruslan Kalinin, a head of All-Ukrainian Association of displaced persons public organization considers that the monopoly in any field is unacceptable. This also applies to the situation with Oschadbank and internally displaced persons.
“Every citizen of Ukraine has the right to choose a hospital to get treatment, a university to enter and a bank to serve him. This also applies to displaced residents. The monopoly of Oschadbank is a direct violation of the rights of displaced persons. Moreover, each bank has its own credit rate and service quality. I do not mind displaced residents serviced by Oshchadbank. But this bank has to win the competition among the other banks. And if there is a monopoly, it doesn’t make any sense for the bank to improve the conditions for consumers. It should be noted that recently Oschadbank started to raise the quality of service and take an interest in the challenges faced by displaced persons. Their representative took part in our discussions and declared willingness to dialogue. I hope this is not just words, and since at the moment the bank single-handedly serves displaced residents, it has to bear a great responsibility”, – he told OstroV.
Along with that, the deputy minister for temporary occupied territories and internally displaced persons, Georgiy Tooka, supports Oschadbank’s payments initiative, especially given the instability of the banking system of Ukraine.
“Basically, from the national point of view, I would maintain the state bank to make these payments. Especially on the basis of the number of banks that went bankrupt the last year or year and a half. But I do not know the real motives of the government’s choice of Oschadbank. Displaced persons did not address me massively with the problems associated with Oschadbank. There were only isolated cases“, – he said.
Problems with electronic pension certificates
Displaced pensioners suffered from these innovations more than anyone else. They were obliged to obtain a new card (or change the old one) of Oschadbank, that will simultaneously be an electronic pension certificate, from August 1, 2016. And along with receiving this card, regardless of age and health status, they “subscribe” to appear personally in Oschadbank and pass the so-called “physical identification”: every 6 months during the first year and then once a year in the next two years. Card-pension certificate is issued for a period of three years and then reissued by the bank for free.
In order to get a new bank card, which will be the pension certificate, you need to:
1. Contact the the management of the Pension Fund according to the place of actual residence, write an application for the manufacture of the electronic pension certificate, provide passport, identification number, certificate of internally displaced person;
2. Appeal to Oschadbank’s branch, pointed by pensioner in the application, after 1 month, and provide passport, identification number, certificate of internally displaced person;
3. Conclude a contract with Oschadbank, receive electronic pension certificate and activate it immediately in the cash department.
But in practice problems already start at the first stage of this seemingly simple algorithm of actions. Because of the queues’ increase in the managements of the Pension Fund of Ukraine, a lot of displaced residents have to live in the settlement, where this management functions, for a few days to issue electronic pension certificate. In some cities people can get into the PFU only by ticket system.
“For example, a queue of 2000 people in the list was fixed in Severodonetsk management of the Pension Fund, while in fact 500 people were present. The reception is conducted by tickets. The tickets are issued for late January 2017 in some managements of the PFU. That means that displaced persons will be able to get the reception to the PFU only in a few months", – legal analyst Ksenia Karagheaur said.
Furthermore, according to Ksenia Karagheaur, cabinets (where the issuance of tickets is performed) in some managements of the Pension Fund are arduous for old age pensioners or persons with disabilities.
People with disabilities and diseases, physically unable to go to the management of the Pension Fund or Oschadbank, face much more difficulties. Lawyer Alena Luneva points out that banking services in Ukraine are not provided at home, accordingly, Oschadbank cannot issue cards and receive information at home. In this way, not walking pensioners and pensioners with limited mobility will have to get to Oschadbank in any possible way to receive cards and then every 6 months to confirm that they are alive.
“For example, the management of the PFU in Kharkiv refused to come home to displaced resident with disability, unable to move, in order to take his documents for making electronic pension certificate”, – analyst of The Right to Protection organisation Ksenia Karagheaur said.
The lawyer of East SOS non-governmental organization Alena Luneva emphasizes that physical identification of the displaced persons in Oshchadbank is unacceptable and constitutes discrimination.
“The existing physical identification and its planned form, when every displaced person receiving social payments has to come in Oschadbank to show himself every six months, is unacceptable. This is discrimination. These additional measures have a relation only to displaced persons. After all, when we talk about the singling out of a certain group and complicating its life, mostly it is a discrimination”, – she considers.
New tortures for displaced pensioners?
Despite the appeals of the Pension Fund to issue new cards (they even send out corresponding SMS), to put it mildly, displaced residents do not hurry to do it. It’s because they can safely receive pensions and all social payments without physical identification in the bank with the old Oschadbank’s cards. In addition, there is no deadline for receiving pensions by internally displaced persons using existing payment cards in Oschadbank’s institutions.
The Pension Fund told OstroV that only 168 768 displaced pensioners have applied for new payment cards as at November 10, 2016. And this despite the fact that 1097,35 thousand displaced residents officially registered in Ukraine have applied to the Pension Fund for the payment of pensions. In this way, only 15% of displaced pensioners have applied for new cards. The Government of Ukraine decided to deal with the problem in a very original way.
OstroV recently found out about a new initiative of the Pension Fund of Ukraine which is preparing a resolution where displaced pensioners will have to pass a physical identification in Oshchadbank every three months. It is planned to introduce these measures until they do not receive special bank cards that are pension certificates at the same time. According to the PFU, they intend to deal with so-called “dead souls” that are pensioners who have died, but continue to receive pensions.
“People do not hurry to receive these special certificates because there was no deadline for exchange of pension certificates for cards (or receiving these cards) or due to other reasons. Since the emission of pension cards inhibited, the PFU apparently decided that “every six months” was not enough, and now they want displaced pensioners to come in Oschadbank’s branches for physical identification every three months in order to receive this special card. And in the case of absence all additional operations on the account will be terminated”, – lawyer of East SOS non-governmental organization Alena Luneva said.
Today Zinaida (from the beginning of the article) can not even listen that she will have to go to Oschadbank for physical identification every three months (or even six).
“People from social service recently came to me to check my living conditions. It was coldly, not nice and demeaning. They said that now I will have to go to Oschadbank by myself. Do you know about its queues, shouts and tense atmosphere? I would not wish it on my worst enemy! Soon the action of my Oshadbank’s card will end and I will have to go to make a new one. I am waiting for this day with fear”, – Zinaida resents.
This initiative was discussed on the meeting of representatives of the Pension Fund and non-governmental organizations on November 9. And according to Alena Luneva, the PFU have not yet agreed on the document on 100%, so there is a possibility that it will not be accepted.
OstroV sent a formal request to the Pension Fund of Ukraine for clarification on the development of this resolution. They did not deny that the work in this direction is underway.
“We also inform that the Pension Fund of Ukraine takes part in the developing of the draft resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine on amendments to the resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine dated 05.11.2014 №637 with the aim of improving the identification procedure of recipients of social payments, that are internally displaced persons, in order to ensure the payment of their social payments in the institutions of the JSC State Savings Bank of Ukraine before their receiving of electronic pension certificate in accordance with the established procedure“, – answered in the PFU.
Non-governmental organizations are already predicting new mass terminations of social payments. As soon as the the first six months will expire, when it will be necessary to pass the first verification, massive queues will fill the branches of Oshadbank, and not everyone will have time to go through the physical identification. As a result, they will be automatically deprived of pensions.
“There is a feeling that our country wants to additionally control the people, displaced persons in particular. And this feeling appeared when the former prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk start talking about the typical banking transactions of displaced residents at the beginning of 2016. And this have raised a question of how did the Cabinet of Ministers may hold this information at lightning speed. One thing is clear: the authorities can easily control such initiatives as physical identification and mandatory Oschadbank and immediately stop payments”, – lawyer of East SOS Alena Luneva notices.
Vladislav Bulatchik, OstroV