21st February 2020, 13:27
The directors of Community Care say there have been no changes to the Household Cost Allowance or its eligibility requirements, but that they have reviewed the fairness of payments for male community officers as, they say, this was amounting to discrimination on the grounds of sex. The community officer scheme will now be means-tested for occupational pension income, and will not be available to anyone who is employed.
The directors say the scheme was introduced for male Gibraltar residents aged between 60 and 65 who were unemployed, had exhausted unemployment benefit and had difficulty finding alternative employment. They say this was later extended to those who earned less than £15,000 a year, with reduced provision for those earning up to £21,800. The scheme allowed these men to receive a payment in exchange for 80 hours' volunteering for the charity per month - a requirement later dropped to eight hours, given the number of volunteers and the lack of work available. Pension income, the directors say, was not included in the calculation, meaning men with up to six-figure pensions were eligible for the full benefit of £511.97 a month.
The directors of Community Care say this has become unfair and unjustifiable, and that it has reverted to the original scheme for community officers while it considers the need of others in the community who need the charity's assistance. It says this is based on a review of the fair application of payments in keeping with charitable objectives.
The statement by Community Care follows comments on social media and a statement from the GSD, in which the Opposition Party said it had been advised that the entitlement to payments for men aged between 60 and 65 had changed, causing distress to newly retired pensioners.
Asked by GBC why a public statement was not issued before the change was implemented, a spokesperson for the directors said Community Care is a charity and that it was prepared to tell people if and when it was approached.
Men aged between 60 and 65, who are not yet eligible for a state pension, can now become community officers if they are not employed and are prepared to volunteer 80 hours a month to the charity.
If they have any additional income in the form of an occupational pension (or, for example, they are landlords and collect rent from tenants), this must not total more than £15,000 in order to be eligible for the full community officer payment, or £21,800 for a reduced community officer payment.
This change was introduced on the 17th February. It is not retroactive: it does not affect those who were already community officers before that date (around 700 people).
They add the charity will make announcements in future as to whether it proposes to change the eligibility requirements: in terms of the £15,000 threshold, the hours of volunteering needed, and any other changes.
The Community Care Trust is a private charitable trust helping elderly people in Gibraltar. The Trust pays a sum of money to anyone of pensionable age in Gibraltar to assist them in meeting household costs (the Household Cost Allowance). These payments are made by the Trust in equal amounts to everyone of pensionable age resident in Gibraltar, regardless of nationality. HCA rates are currently £1080.00 per quarter for a married couple (jointly) and £720.00 per quarter for a single person.
Like old age /state pensions, Community Care payments are tax exempt.
In his 2019 budget speech, Fabian Picardo earmarked £25 million as a contribution to Community Care Trust in order to “build up its reserves so that it can be totally independent of Government grants”.
The Chief Minister said that State Aid windfalls from the European Commission would be donated directly to Community Care Trust: at that point £9 million, with a further approximately £80 million “under active consideration”.
The Minister for Economic Development Sir Joe Bossano said: "Community Care came into existence to meet a particular need to supplement the incomes of our senior citizens, it was one of the many initiatives undertaken by the Socialist Government from 1988 onwards".
Sir Joe said Community Care reserves stood at £100 million, which he said were "equivalent in today's money" to the £60 million the GSLP had left the charity with in 1996. But he said "this level of revenue of reserves is now much lower as a multiple of the running costs" and said the Government remained committed to coming as close as possible to building up £230 million "as quickly as we can".
A long-running row between the GSLP-Liberals and the GSD over the Community Care Trust flared up ahead of the last election. The GSD said the private charitable trust would not be in danger if the party led by Keith Azopardi were in power, but the alliance said the evidence spoke for itself.