The Office of the Minister in charge of Pensions, Daniel Bacquelaine, on Monday defended a new control procedure for an allowance given to seniors above the age of 65 who do not have enough income.
The Office argued that the new controls on the supplement, known as the Garantie de revenus aux personnes âgées (Grapa – Income Guarantee for the Elderly), were aimed at improving the fight against fraud. They idea is also to make the controls “less constraining for Grapa beneficiaries,” representatives of the Office told a delegation comprising mainly members of the Belgian Human Rights League.
“The Office is not going to suspend the controls immediately as we are requesting,” Marlin Gevers of Wallonia’s anti-poverty network, the Réseau Wallon de Lutte contre la Pauvreté, said after the meeting.
Many associations, including the Human Rights League and the Gang des Vieux en Colère (Gang of Angry Old People) have been calling for the immediate suspension of the controls, stepped up since 1 July last.
The new system makes things easier for senior citizens, the Office said. They no longer have to go systematically to the municipality to complete a certificate of residence, and, moreover, the old controls often led to suspensions that turned out to be unjustified.
“The Grapa is a social assistance allocation that entails, contrary to a pension, an obligation to reside in Belgium,” Minister Bacquelaine’s Office said. “This obligation is not being questioned by the associations. Once there is an obligation to reside in Belgium, you need to be able to verify compliance with it, otherwise the system would be open to any person of foreign origin who, after requesting and obtaining the Grapa, could go back and live in their country of origin without any time limit.”
However, the associations feel the new control procedures hinder the freedom of movement of the beneficiaries who, since they do not know when the postman will pass, are obliged to remain at home. It also impinges on the seniors’ privacy since the list of beneficiaries is circulated at Bpost without their authorization.
“There isn’t even any need for control any longer, people have given up on their rights so as to avoid any hassle,” said Anne-Marie Balthasart, president of CSC Senior. The organisation encourages people whose allocation has been suspended to join a class action suit.
“We are ashamed to see how the elderly are treated,” said CSC Senior representative Maryvonne Flahaut. ”Do not make them die at home, glued to a chair for fear of missing the postman,” she urged. ”He used to be the friend of the elderly, sometimes their only contact” with the outside world.
According to the organisers, 150 persons were present at Monday’s action.