Kocáb: Collecting welfare payments from rent defaulters in Chomutov is illegal
Czech Human Rights and Minorities Minister Michael Kocáb (for the Greens) reiterated today that it is illegal for collections agents to take money away from debtors in Chomutov immediately during the disbursement of social welfare payments. He called on Mayor Ivana Řápková (ODS) to honor the letter of the law since she is herself calling for the law to be upheld. Kocáb bases his assessment on an analysis by Czech ombudsman Otakar Motejl, who submitted a motion to the Czech Justice Ministry for the state to monitor the activity of court-appointed collections agents.
Kocáb recognizes it is difficult for the mayor to find a way out of the situation, but insisted she proceed in accordance with the law nonetheless.
"There is no doubt that welfare payments for emergency material assistance cannot be subjected to collections, nor is this changed by the fact that the collections procedure of the so-called 'sale of movable items' considers cash a movable item. If it is 100 % clear that the cash is from the welfare disbursement, it remains protected by the law," says the ombudsman's statement, which Kocáb distributed to journalists today.
The town rejects this critique. While several lawyers have labeled Chomutov's approach legal, others are trying to help the debtors. Lawyer David Valnouch obtained a power of attorney from one client and went to pick up the welfare disbursement on his behalf on Monday. In his view, collections agents cannot legally take money from a properly empowered attorney, as they are not permitted to conduct personal searches of third parties. However, no collections agents were present during the Monday disbursal.
Today Kocáb commented on Řápková's challenge to him that he come live in the localities concerned for a few days, stressing that the mayor never personally invited him but used the media to broadcast her challenge. Řápková wants to pay for Kocáb to live for one week in a block of flats occupied by "unadaptable" people.
"I am willing to go live in Chomutov, but I will have to bring half my staff with me, so it will be rather complicated. At the very least there should be internet in the flat so we could continue with our work," Kocáb exaggerated. Responding to a journalist who asked him about the challenge, Kocáb said, "Surely you yourself recognize that that is not the issue here."
On Monday Kocáb's spokesperson Lejla Abbasová visited Chomutov. She wanted to monitor the activity of the collections agent who had begun collecting money directly from debtors after they received their welfare disbursements in cash at the town hall on 17 February. However, the agent was not on duty Monday. According to Řápková, the firm is being pressured by the Czech Justice Ministry. "Moreover, we are providing debtors with time to address their debts, for example through agreeing a payment schedule. We will not back down on the collections, they will continue in March," she told ČTK earlier.