FARMERS’ wives shocked by a decision by the Department of Social and Family Affairs to take back their pensions have appealed the move to the Pensions Ombudsman.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen was also confronted by the IFA about the decision in his home county Offaly.
At least 85 elderly farmers’ wives are being asked to pay back state pension payments – some as much as tens of thousands of euro – after a major departmental blunder. The women, many in their 70s and 80s, have been told the department wants the money back, as they were not eligible because they had not paid at least one year’s PRSI before the age of 66 under a department scheme.
In a letter to the office of the ombudsman, one woman said: “I am very shocked that my State Pension Contributory is now being disallowed and would appreciate your immediate review of my file within the Department of Social and Family Affairs. I am amazed that the department can choose to stop my pension payment without any notice.”
The elderly woman told the ombudsman she’d had a number of direct debits being paid from the bank account into which her pension was being paid.
“As the pension payment was discontinued without any notice, I had to reorganise my finances to ensure that all of my payments were honoured. This was very stressful,” she said.
She said she appealed to the department but was told a decision would take at least five weeks.
The department says the mistake, which will see at least 85 women having to pay back pensions, is not a change in policy or law and stems from the fact that the pension applicants were approved wrongly.
Social Affairs Minister Mary Hanafin called it a “department error”. Some women did not satisfy the “commercial partnership” scheme with their husbands as the wives had not paid at least one year’s self-employment contributions.
However, the ombudsman has been told the situation it is “totally discriminatory against older females” who worked with their husbands on farms for 30 years while their neighbour who is under 65 has time to arrange their partnership scheme and their PRSI before they reach the cut off age of 66, the woman’s letter says.
Mr Cowen was confronted about the debacle on Monday night in Tullaghmore by IFA family andsocial affairs chairwoman Margaret Healy: “He wasn’t familiar with the situation at all. We pressed him about a meeting with the minister [Mary Hanafin]. He said he’d look into it and discuss it with her.”
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