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April 2, 2020
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Czech Labor and Social Affairs Minister's housing benefit reforms criticized from all sides

1.2.2020 15:53
Members of the Platform for Social Housing protested on 29 September 2015 outside the Czech Labor and Social Affairs Ministry against a draft amendment to the law on aid to those in material distress that is supposed to reduce housing benefits for the impoverished. (PHOTO:  Jan Čonka, Romea.cz)
Members of the Platform for Social Housing protested on 29 September 2015 outside the Czech Labor and Social Affairs Ministry against a draft amendment to the law on aid to those in material distress that is supposed to reduce housing benefits for the impoverished. (PHOTO: Jan Čonka, Romea.cz)

The bill on housing allowances submitted by Czech Labor and Social Affairs Minister Jana Maláčová, which plans to reduce the monetary value of the housing benefits disbursed to individuals for half a year if their children are absent from school for a certain amount of time, for example, has been the subject of criticism since June. The Institute for Social Inclusion (IPSI), in response to a brief news report by Czech daily Hospodářské noviny entitled "Nonprofits Criticize Plan to Reduce Benefits for Truancy", is providing a fuller overview detailing who is raising objections to the bill and what they are.

In addition to nonprofit organizations, there are four other ministries and five Regional Administrations raising objections, and both the Government Human Rights Commissioner and the ombudswoman are among those recommending the bill be withdrawn entirely. News server Romea.cz is publishing IPSI's overview here in full.

"HIT PARADE" OF OBJECTIONS TO REVISING HOUSING BENEFITS

A short news item from Hospodářské noviny has brought us information about the criticism of the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry (MPSV)'s proposal to make the new housing allowance subject to certification from school officials and stamps from doctors, among other things. Let's add to what they have already begun.

IT IS NOT JUST NON-PROFITS bothered by the proposed idea, BUT 16 OTHER ENTITIES AUTHORIZED TO COMMENT, including four ministries with the Education Ministry at the forefront, five Regional Authorities, three representatives of employers and trade unions, both of the current official defenders of human rights and both associations of municipalities. Nevertheless, the threat of a guardian or parent possibly being unable to afford housing for six months because of a child's truancy did not rank first among the objections to the bill on housing allowances, but merely came in second place on the "hit parade" we have compiled for you after careful study of all the comments.

Our SUMMARY OF OBJECTIONS TO THE DRAFT LAW ON HOUSING BENEFIT is compiled according to the number of entities authorized to submit comments that had more or less the same problems with some element of the law. Our scale is ranked in descending order from aspects receiving the highest number of comments to issues where at least two entities submitted the same kind of comment on the same problem.

1. AGREEMENT OF MUNICIPAL AUTHORITIES AS A CONDITION OF THE DISBURSAL OF BENEFITS TO RESIDENTIAL HOTEL OPERATORS (19 entities object)

If this law is adopted, all a local council will have to do in order to halt the disbursal of housing benefits to operators of residential hotels on behalf of their tenants will be to convene after the law comes into effect and decide to halt disbursal. This will possible "from the first day of the fifth calendar month after the entry into force of this Act" (Section 60 of the bill), without the municipality having to explain anything to anybody involved or even to assist anyone with accessing substitute accommodation. This attempt to "punk" tenants of residential hotels bothers everyone, even the two municipal association representatives.

2.-3. QUALITY CONTROL OF APARTMENT UNITS AS A CONDITION OF THE DISBURSAL OF BENEFITS (16 entities object)

For the duration of the quality control, the Benefit Proceedings will be suspended, and the QUALITY CONTROL Code does not specify how many days, weeks, or months each review should take. Neither the beneficiary nor the claimant (if other than the beneficiary) will be able to appeal termination of the Benefit Proceedings. Once the audit has been completed and remedial action must be taken, the comments diverge as to whether three months is enough time for remediation. For example, the Karlovy Vary and Ústecký Regional Authorities propose that even just one day should be sufficient to remedy shortcomings in the quality of housing, and therefore it could be required that the remedy be completed as of the first day of the next month.

2.-3. ATTENDANCE OF PRESCHOOL AND OF SCHOOL BY APPLICANT'S CHILDREN AS A CONDITION OF THE DISBURSAL OF BENEFITS (16 entities object)

This rash proposal is tied for second place with the conditions for quality control in terms of numbers of comments. Both suggestions are equally destructive and unthinking, although both are easily wrapped in appealing slogans about living in housing in good repair and taking care of children's attendance at school. It can only be recommended that the MPSV set itself more ambitious goals for its law-making than to issue commands, audit their fulfillment, and sanction those who do not comply. If the law had been drafted in cooperation with the Education Ministry, this faux pas might not have occurred.

4. HOUSING BENEFIT-FREE ZONES (14 entities object)

Section 10 of this bill apparently aspires to become this year's candidate for the title of most farcical legislative provision. It proposes that a municipality may decide under the Municipalities Act section on housing provision that the eligible amount of rent used for the purpose of calculating housing allowances can be even less than the amount resulting from the already rather dubious standard of 10 % of the lowest values of "customary rents" locally as reported by the Deloitte consultancy for a period of one year. Municipalities would be able to "proportionately" exploit the Government regulation of 2013 to do this, but that regulation does not deal at all with the setting of benefit ceilings or even with sublets - which would, however, also be affected if this bill is adopted. In its comments, the Interior Ministry points out that municipalities, as self-governing entities, can only decide by ordinance about matters where the law explicitly provides for their doing so - which this bill does not do. (Does Interior Minister Jan Hamáček even know this? His social media comments seem to suggest otherwise.) In addition, the Ministry for Regional Development and the ombudswoman point out that the above-mentioned Government regulation for empowering municipalities to take such action is irrelevant, outdated and "weak". While some municipalities are eager to exercise such a right, both of the representatives in the commenting procedure (the Union of Towns and Municipalities - SMO and the Association of Local Authorities - SMS) somehow feel this path probably just leads to further proceedings at the Constitutional Court. The appropriate designation of such a "zone" also points in that direction as well.

5.-6. COSTS AND STANDARDS (13 entities object)

In fact, we don't know which provision to nominate for the imaginary contest of most farcical legislation hypothesized above. Indeed, the method of re-establishing the maximum eligible costs of rent, energy and housing services qualifying an applicant to receive housing supplements is also a hot candidate for that "honor". The Ministry for Regional Development has provided the rental value maps that have been anticipated for years now, and the MPSV has supplemented them with its own creative calculations of the highest eligible prices for energy, water (according to the MPSV, it is common for cold and hot water to be consumed at the same rate - see the amazed comments from the Moravian-Silesian Regional Authority and the SMO) and for certain selected services associated with housing (while ignoring others - see the comment from the ombudswoman, for example). The Environment Ministry joins the confusion, noting that the bill does not ban disbursing benefits to properties using solid fuels in low-quality boilers, followed by the Chamber of Commerce, which would most probably like to accompany all of this with some of its own paid work on improving air quality. All of that is dominated by the innovative idea of ​​the new governor of the Karlovy Vary Region that the benefit should be calculated purely according to the dimensions of the housing occupied. In short, a thoughtless proposal produces even more impulsive ones We call on the MPSV to adhere to existing norms, which may only be modified on a regional basis, as the ministry itself has admitted in its own materials about this law.

5.-6. PERSONS IN THE HOUSEHOLD TO BE JOINTLY ASSESSED (13 entities object)

Nine national-level entities and four Regional Authorities have noticed the bill's provisions on the joint assessment of persons for the purpose of disbursing housing benefit, as well as the conditions under which family members could be excluded from benefits, e.g., because they are demonstrably not involved in paying the common costs of the household and live elsewhere. It is proposed that exclusion be possible after three months - as is now possible with respect to the housing supplement - but those who are ignorant of the current practice are frightened by the notion of powerless single parents spending a quarter of a year without benefits. This problem is of interest to the Regional Authorities mainly with respect to residential facilities with social services, where several other legal fictions are also meant also be applied. The fact that this idea is tied for either fifth or sixth place in our ranking of objections speaks to the need for further consideration of adjustments with respect to this issue.

7. THE ACTIVATION CONDITION FOR APPLICANTS (11 entities object)

Section 19 of the bill de facto states that just economically active people can receive state benefit support for their housing. This is not merely about individuals applying for the benefit. The condition of "trying to increase their income by their own activity" applies to all members of that individual's household, except those who are all but completely helpless, such as seniors over 68, Category III disabled persons (no Category I or II disabled persons are exempt), and the parents of minor children after their parental benefits have expired, as long as those minor children are not in a state of long-term unfavorable health condition assessed as Category II or higher (except for children under 10), and the same goes for people taking care of them, etc., (these different rules, according to the applicability of this bill, also do not exempt them). Why all these maneuvers with people who JUST WANT TO STAY HOUSED? We do not know. We only hope the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry will learn from the horror that this would cause for parents, carers, seniors, people with disabilities, i.e., all those whom Minister Maláčová has promised to protect, but whom, according to this provision, she clearly does not protect. "Whoever doesn't do their best to make money should not be housed," is the only slogan that corresponds to this bill.

We'll cover the rest of the objections in quick succession. The "hit parade" has a total of 24 categories of objections agreed upon by more than two entities. Among the commented difficulties inherent to this bill are the following:

ENTERING A DWELLING for inspection purposes (8 entities object)

BENEFITS WILL TAKE UP TO TWO MONTHS TO REACH THEIR RECIPIENTS (7 entities object)

RESTRICTIONS ON HOUSING COSTS IN RESIDENTIAL HOTELS OF UP TO 80% of such fees for a maximum of four persons living in such a shelter (5 entities object)

RESTRICTIONS ON HOUSING COSTS IN RESIDENTIAL SERVICE FACILITIES OF UP TO 80% of such fees for a maximum of four persons living in such a shelter (5 entities object)

ELIGIBILITY FOR HOUSING ALLOWANCE IN RESIDENTIAL HOTELS ONLY FOR THOSE ALSO ENTITLED TO THE SUBSISTENCE CONTRIBUTION (5 entities object)

DEFINITION OF VULNERABLE PERSONS (5 entities object)

The baseline value for the eligible amount of housing benefit is 10 % OF THE LOWEST VALUES IN THE LOCAL MAP OF RENTALS ​​(4 entities object)

A WRITTEN RENTAL CONTRACT AND NOTHING ELSE is the sole arrangement eligible for coverage, even if people have other legal titles in their hands or have nothing because that was possible before ​​(4 entities object)

FOREIGN NATIONALS come up short - the law is "only partially in line with EU law" (4 entities object)

SOCIAL WORK WITH APPLICANTS AND BENEFICIARIES IS REQUIRED BY LAW, BUT WILL NOT AID THEM AT ALL (3 entities object)

ASSET TESTING OF APPLICANTS - the Karlovy Vary and Moravian-Silesian Regional Authorities and the SMO recommend expanding it, e.g., by accessing the vehicle register (those 3 entities object)

Just two stakeholders objected to the following aspects:

The value of the interim FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE FROM NONPROFITS WILL BE SUBTRACTED from the benefit

THE ISSUE OF COOPERATIVES MUST BE RESOLVED, but mainly NOT according to the comments of the Justice Ministry, which listens to the Union of Czech and Moravian Housing Cooperatives and to František Ryba, whose interests have infested such housing in northern Bohemia - cooperatives must be addressed according to the ombudswoman's proposal.

THE END OF HOUSING BENEFITS FOR APPLICANTS LIVING IN COTTAGES AND NON-RESIDENTIAL SPACES - both the ombudswoman and the Ústecký Region are against this.

Ensure the bill is in compliance with the GDPR.

OVER-PAYMENTS ON SERVICES will only be considered when paid, it is not enough for them to be just accounted.

There are EIGHT entities that REJECT THE BILL ENTIRELY, recommend that it be withdrawn and postponed, point to its incompatibility with EU law, or state that it cannot be accepted because social housing legislation is still lacking. They are: Department of Compatibility at the Office of the Government, Commissioner for Human Rights at the Office of the Government, the Office of the Public Defender of Rights (ombudswoman), the National Audit Office, Prague City Hall, the Central Bohemian Regional Authority, the Liberec Regional Authority and the Association of Local Authorities.

bau, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Housing, Institut pro sociální inkluzi, Jana Maláčová, MPSV



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