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Gibraltar Community Care clarifies changes to ‘unfair’ community officer scheme

Pic: Johnny Bugeja

- Charity makes clear there is no change to Household Cost Allowance.

Gibraltar Community Care has implemented changes to the eligibility criteria of its “community officer scheme” to ensure payments target those who most need them, reverting to the previous system used when the charity was first established.

The charity says the scheme had changed over the years from its original format, with relaxed eligibility criteria meaning that even men who retired with large pensions received full payments amounting to an “unjustifiable” £50 per hour of volunteering.

The charity said the system had become “unfair”, hence the need for the review. In effect, the changes mean new applicants will be means tested for employment income and pensions.

But the charity’s decision to start informing pensioners without first making a full public statement explaining its decision sparked uproar and speculation on social media, where scores of people expressed alarm and concern about the change.

On Friday, Community Care issued a statement making clear that there had been no change to its Household Cost Allowance for resident pensioners and that none was envisaged.

“The public can rest assured that there has been and there will be no change whatsoever in respect of the Community Care Household Cost Allowance for residents,” the statement said.

“Community Care payments are more secure than ever [and] there is absolutely no need to worry about that, whatever anybody may be saying on social media.”

“Cheques will continue to be paid in the usual way and new applicants will be judged on the same basis as to eligibility.”

“There is therefore no change at all here to be concerned about in any way.”

The changes centre solely on the “community officers scheme” for male Gibraltar residents aged between 60 and 65, and arise from a study that the charity’s board is undertaking of the fair application of payments being made by Community Care in keeping with its charitable objectives.

The “community officers scheme” was set up alongside the Household Cost Allowance when the charity was first established, aimed at males aged between 60 and 65 who were unemployed, had exhausted unemployment benefit and were struggling to find unemployment because of their age.

It was designed to help support them until retirement age at 65 by offering them a payment in exchange for a maximum of 80 hours of volunteer work for the charity per month.

Over the years, this was extended to male residents between the ages of 60 and 65 who earned less than £15,000, with reduced provision for those earning between £15,000 and £21,800.

But pension income was not included in the calculation, which meant even males with large pensions were eligible for the full benefit amount.

Not only that, the large number of men volunteering every month meant the requirement for 80 hours of work dropped to eight hours per month because the charity was otherwise unable to find them work.

“On reviewing the fairness of these payments - which are now amounting to an unjustifiable £50 per hour of volunteering being paid to male resident pensioners, some of whom may be on six figure pensions - the directors felt that the present system for community officers has become unfair and is a discrimination on the grounds of sex which the directors consider should not continue as it is,” the charity said in its statement.

“The directors have therefore decided to revert to the original scheme for community officers whilst it considers the need of others in our community who genuinely require the assistance of the charity.”

“The charity will make announcements in the near future on whether it will propose to change the threshold of £15,000 for eligibility for the payments, what hours of volunteering it will require and what other terms for eligibility it may introduce to ensure absolute fairness in respect of the community officer scheme.”

The change was implemented as from February 17 for new entrants into the scheme, with those already receiving payments unaffected.

The charity it keeps the benefits it offers under constant review.

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