Wed | May 22, 2019

Pension punishment - Scores of Jamaicans giving up money by delaying their applications for NIS benefits

Published:Sunday | August 5, 2018 | 12:00 AMCarlene Davis

David Bent* died in May without collecting much of the refund he was due from the National Insurance Scheme (NIS), because he was not aware that he would be giving up cash by delaying his application for a pension.

Under the law, the NIS is unable to pay pensions for a period of more than three years before the application is made for payment.

Bent found this out after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2015, while trying to get money from the NIS to help with his medical bills. He was told that he took too long to apply for his pension and qualified for only $371,000, a fraction of what he would have been paid if he had applied once he reached the pensionable age.

Last week, NIS director Portia Magnus told The Sunday Gleaner that it was unfortunate that Bent was not aware that an application for a retirement pension could have been submitted earlier.

"Please note that Section 4A (2)(c) of The National Insurance (Claims and Payments) Regulations says that 'no sum shall be paid on account of a pension in respect of any period which is more than three years before the date on which the claim therefore is duly made'. Consequently, the period of arrears paid for benefits is three years after the date of receipt of the application," said Magnus.

She provided the example of a person who qualified to receive pension payments in 1960 but failed to apply for the payment until 1965. That person would lose out on the payments for 1961 and 1962 as those years would be outside the three-year limit.

According to Magnus, with Bent's death his widow could apply for a widow's pension, but her son Anthony Brown* told The Sunday Gleaner that the amount paid out through this scheme is insufficient to make up for the amount not paid to his late stepfather.

"Applying for widow's pension does not solve the seven years of refund due. That refund is an amount of approximately $790,000," argued Brown.

"My stepdad, who worked on the United States Farm Work Programme, never knew he was entitled to pension as he was thinking his pension was due from the US. It was only upon my queries that I discovered that our Government does not notify Jamaicans that they're entitled to pension.

"This is a travesty of justice, and resulted in him applying years late for his pension," added Brown.

But Magnus said the NIS is not responsible for informing individuals when to apply for their pensions.


Public education campaign


She said the NIS will soon embark on a campaign to give as much information as possible to the public to avoid situations like these, as the entity is aware that most Jamaicans are not aware how the process works.

"We really cannot do much apart from what we doing now, so if companies invite us to come in we do the presentation but we don't really have the money to go into mass media, and I thank God that we started getting a budget from the Ministry of Finance so we could sign an agreement with JIS (Jamaican Information Service) to help us," said Magnus, as she urged persons who qualify for pension to apply as soon as they are eligible.

"For men, the age at which they become eligible to apply is 65. He could apply at 65 or up to four months before attaining the age of 65, then you really wouldn't have much of an arrears period. You would have been able to get everything, but the fact that you might apply at 70, then you could only get the payment for three years going back.

"The best thing to do is to apply when you get to the age, don't go beyond 68 at all because if we do otherwise we would be breaking the law," added Magnus.