Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Problems with Pensions

The European Union has some great ideals. One of them is free movement of its citizens between the member states. This, of course, necessitates the implementation of systems to cover health care (already a touchy subject, if one takes as an example the situation of the state health care in Spain when applied to non-Spanish residents) and, of course, pensions.

The time has come to apply for Elise's pension. I therefore checked the website of the European Union to find out what a European citizen from one member state now residing in another had to do in order to claim their pension.

The site contains all sorts of apparently useful information and should form a reliable source for European citizens wishing to check on their rights on various issues. The information is available in many of the languages used in the EU (sadly, Welsh is not represented).

The page that deals with retiring abroad (here in English and here in Dutch) states,
When the time comes for you to claim your pension, you'll have to apply in the country where you're living - unless you have never worked there. In this case, you should apply where you last worked.
 Als voor u de tijd is gekomen om op pensioen te gaan, moet u dat aanvragen in het land waar u woont, tenzij u daar nooit hebt gewerkt. In dat geval moet u de aanvraag indienen in het land waar u het laatst hebt gewerkt.
Note, "…unless you have never worked there. In this case, you should apply where you last worked."

That seems clear enough and, given that Elise last worked in Belgium (she stopped working in 1982), we took it to mean that she should apply for her pension to the Belgian pension authorities, the Rijksdienst voor Pensioenen, in the Zuidertoren in Brussels.

The necessary information was sent together with a request for payment of pension, but soon the request was returnd with a covering letter in which was stated,
U moet in principe uw aanvraag indienen bij de bevoegde pensioeninstelling van uw land, omdat u in een land woont van de Europese Economische Ruimte (EER)…
U gaat met dit bericht en de bijgevoegde aanvraag als bijlage naar de bevoegde pensioeninstelling met het verzoek ons de gebruikelijke verbindingsformulieren en een kopie van uw originele aanvraag naar mijn diensten toe te sturen
In principle, as you live in a country of the European Economic Area (EEA), you have to make your request to the authorised pensions service of your country…
Take this notice together with the enclosed request to the authorised pensions service and aske that they send the usual forms and a copy of your original request to my services…
This appears to be different to what the EU had to say on the matter in their own website, so Elise phoned the Rijksdienst voor Pensioenen in Brussels and pointed out the discrepancies, noting that she had never worked in Spain and that her last employment was in Belgium in 1982.

Her explanation was simply brushed aside. Nope, that's the way things have to be done and the EU website must refer to functionaries (civil servants).

Well, no, the website does not refer to functionaries: it refers to State Pensions for Citizens.

I suspect that the wording of the EU's website is unclear and that the pension authorities in the various countries really are acting correctly. Whatever the reason, the result is confusion for the EU citizen. This might result in mistrust and suspicion of any other information that can be found on the EU site regarding the rights and obligations of such sitizens and that is simply not a desirable situation.

Somebody from the Plain English Campaign (and the Plain Dutch Campaign, too, if there is one) needs to tidy up the information provided by the EU.