Social welfare

Cyprus

Country Report: Social welfare Last updated: 16/04/21

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International protection beneficiaries, both recognized refugees and subsidiary protection holders have access to the national social welfare system Guaranteed Minimum Income (GMI) at the same level and under the same conditions that apply to nationals. The only exception is the requirement of having five years of legal and continued residence in Cyprus, which international protection beneficiaries are exempted from. All applicants of GMI are required to reside in the government-controlled areas of RoC in order to be eligible for GMI. Other than that, there are no requirements to reside in a specific place or region.

The Ministry of Labour, Welfare and Social Insurance and specifically the Welfare Benefit Management Service is the authority responsible for the administration of the GMI. In practice applicants for GMI, both nationals and beneficiaries of international protection, face long delays in the examination of their application with most cases reaching up to six months. For beneficiaries of international protection, this period is extremely difficult as any benefits received as an asylum seeker are terminated upon issuance of a decision on the asylum application and there is no transitional assistance provided.

During this period and after the submission of the GMI application, an applicant of GMI has the right to apply for an emergency benefit at the District Welfare Office to cover basic needs. However, the amount provided under the emergency benefit is extremely low at about €100-150 for one person per month and approximately €150-280 for a family per month. The amount cannot be determined in advance and depends on the amount that is provided to the Welfare Office every month by the Ministry of Labour, Welfare and Social Insurance. Furthermore, the examination of the emergency application takes approximately one to two weeks and is subject to the approval of the supervisor of the welfare office. The application is valid only for one month and must be submitted every month, until the decision for the GMI is issued.

During 2020, and in order to provide rent allowances, GMI has been requiring a copy of the property title by the owner, rental agreements containing taxation stamps if the amount exceeds €5000, and two witnesses signing the agreement as well as providing their ID numbers and an electricity utility bill in the name of the tenant. Transfer of the electricity bill in the tenant’s name costs  €50 provided that the person’s name is included in the catalogues of GMI recipients sent to the Electricity Authority by the GMI Services, otherwise the cost is  €300. Due to delays in examining the GMI applications, a beneficiary of international protection who will be eventually approved will not be included in those catalogues before several months elapse. Therefore, transfer of the account on his/her name will take place afterwards, which results in additional delays in receiving rent allowances.

During the reporting period, an increased number of complaints was received concerning the ability of beneficiaries of international protection to open/maintain an account which affected their ability to access basic rights, including GMI. The main issues identified involve documents required by banks, (utility bills in the name of the applicant, rent contract signed by two Cypriot citizens, police record from country of origin, passport), significant delays in concluding the procedures, the large discrepancies in bank account opening policy between branches/officers, and the requirement for the applicant to speak good Greek/English.

Additionally, it was observed that banks are limiting the number of accounts owned by beneficiaries of international protection to one per person. Although one bank account is sufficient for receiving GMI, it is disruptive for disabled persons. The reason is that disabled beneficiaries of international protection who are dependent on other persons (typically children but also adults not in a position to act independently) have a separate GMI file and a joint bank account is required, with co-owners being the disabled person and the carer. In those situations, the banks typically ask existing clients to close their personal account before opening a joint one, which is a source of additional delays as it often requires resubmission of documents, and re-examination of the applicants details.

Regarding the verification of identity and residence for international protection holders, the Central Bank of Cyprus and the association of credit institutions adopted the law 64 (I)2017 which transposed the European Union Directive 2014/92/EU on the comparability of fees related to payment accounts, payment account switching, and access to payment accounts with basic features (Payments Accounts Directive). In February 2019, the Central Bank released the “Directions/Instructions to Credit Institutions in Accordance with the Article 59(4) of the Prevention and Control Revenues from Illegal Activities for 2007-2018)”.[1] Articles 16 and 17(4) stress the right of accessing basic bank accounts without any discrimination against consumers legally reside in the European Union, for reasons such as their nationality or place of residence.

It is also indicated that if a credit institution has valid doubts in regard to the originality of the documents, it should not contact any governmental agency or credit institution from the country of origin of the person but an appointed department in Cyprus.

In regard to the verification of the address of an applicant, credit institutions may visit the applicants’ residence, or use other documents, such as a recent utility bill,[2] documents issued by the State or an affidavit.[3]

Following interventions by UNHCR and NGOs, as well as meetings between Central Bank, Asylum Service, and Social Welfare Services, the situation was improved. Despite this, issues such as time needed for processing applications for opening an account, the requirement of certificate from the (Cyprus) police, effective communication in Greek or English and a requirement for a valid residence permit remain. The frequency of the occurrence of those obstacles still depends heavily on the branch or the Bank officer handling the individual claim and calls for more efforts towards a comprehensive and uniform Bank practices. It is also important to note that the abovementioned consultations mainly involve the two largest private Banks in Cyprus, which engaged in the dialogue, out of the 29 credit Institutions registered in Cyprus.

 

 

 

[1]  «Οδηγία προς τα Πιστωτικά Ιδρύματα σύμφωνα με το αρ.59(4) των Περί της Παρεμπόδισης και καταπολέμησης της Νομιμοποίησης Εσόδων από παράνομες δραστηριότητες Νόμων του 2007 Εως 2018», Φεβρουάριος 2019 https://bit.ly/3eVIxXF.

[2]Άρθρο 126, «Οδηγία προς τα Πιστωτικά Ιδρύματα σύμφωνα με το αρ.59(4) των Περί της Παρεμπόδισης και καταπολέμησης της Νομιμοποίησης Εσόδων από παράνομες δραστηριότητες Νόμων του 2007 Εως 2018», Φεβρουάριος 2019. https://bit.ly/3eVIxXF “Πέραν από την εξακρίβωση του ονόματος, εξακριβώνεται και η διεύθυνση μόνιμης κατοικίας του πελάτη με ένα από τους πιο κάτω τρόπους: (i) επίσκεψη στον τόπο κατοικίας (σε μια τέτοια περίπτωση θα πρέπει να ετοιμάζεται και καταχωρείται στο φάκελο του πελάτη σχετικό σημείωμα από το λειτουργό του πιστωτικού ιδρύματος που πραγματοποίησε την επίσκεψη), (ii) η προσκόμιση ενός πρόσφατου (μέχρι 6 μήνες) λογαριασμού Οργανισμού Κοινής Ωφέλειας (π.χ. ηλεκτρικού ρεύματος, νερού), ή έγγραφο ασφάλειας κατοικίας, ή δημοτικών φόρων ή/και κατάστασης τραπεζικού λογαριασμού. Η διαδικασία εξακρίβωσης της ταυτότητας ενός πελάτη ενισχύεται εάν το εν λόγω πρόσωπο έχει συστηθεί από κάποιο αξιόπιστο μέλος του προσωπικού του πιστωτικού ιδρύματος ή από άλλο υφιστάμενο αξιόπιστο πελάτη ή τρίτο πρόσωπο γνωστό σε προσωπικό επίπεδο στη διεύθυνση του πιστωτικού ιδρύματος. Λεπτομέρειες τέτοιων συστάσεων πρέπει να σημειώνονται στον προσωπικό φάκελο του πελάτη.”

[3]  Άρθρο 136, (i) «Οδηγία προς τα Πιστωτικά Ιδρύματα σύμφωνα με το αρ.59(4) των Περί της Παρεμπόδισης και καταπολέμησης της Νομιμοποίησης Εσόδων από παράνομες δραστηριότητες Νόμων του 2007 Εως 2018», Φεβρουάριος 2019. https://bit.ly/3eVIxXF “Με τη διεύθυνση που αναγράφεται σε ένα από τα επίσημα έγγραφα για τα οποία γίνεται αναφορά στην παράγραφο 133 και που μπορεί να αντιπροσωπεύει ακόμα και την προσωρινή διεύθυνση του προσώπου που αιτείται την έναρξη επιχειρηματικής σχέσης (π.χ. ενός κυβερνητικού κέντρου υποδοχής αιτητών πολιτικού ασύλου ή ενός μη-κυβερνητικού οργανισμού που βοηθά το εν λόγω πρόσωπο). (ii) Με ένορκη δήλωση της διεύθυνσής τους καθώς και της υποχρέωσης να ενημερώσουν το πιστωτικό ίδρυμα, το συντομότερο δυνατόν, σε περίπτωση αλλαγής της διεύθυνσής τους.”

Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection
  • ANNEX I – Transposition of the CEAS in national legislation