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News > Press Releases 2019 > The Czech Ombudsman criticises Payment of subsistence support in vouchers only

The Czech Ombudsman criticises Payment of subsistence support in vouchers only

06. 06. 2018

Effective from 1 December 2017, the statutory rules for payment of subsistence support benefits have changed. The labour office must mandatorily pay at least 35% of the benefits to persons who are in material need for longer than 6 months in the form of vouchers for purchase of goods at the specified value. The vouchers are only intended for people in material need and are clearly marked as such (i.e. differently from standard meal vouchers issued as an employee benefit). Even though this new measure had only been in effect for one month at the end of the year 2017, the Ombudsman received 34 complaints within one month where people objected to this new way of distributing welfare.

The complainants primarily argue that payment in vouchers restricts their freedom of choice as to where to shop. Not all shops accept the vouchers and the shops accepting them do not return change. This means that the customers paying by vouchers have to choose the goods according their price so the final amount exactly corresponds to the voucher’s nominal value. As a consequence, people are forced to make more expensive purchases than if they received the benefits in money. The vouchers also cannot serve to cover co-payments for reimbursable medicines or rent (if the housing allowance is insufficient). Many people consider paying with vouchers degrading and are ashamed to use them. Benefits are also paid in vouchers to elderly people with low pensions. To receive a part of the benefit in vouchers, the elderly citizens must travel to the labour office even though they used to receive the entire benefit via a postal order. The same method is used to send parts of the benefits to people in health and social services facilities. In their situation, payment in vouchers lacks any justification since people in these facilities are not able to misuse the benefits and cannot use the vouchers at all (in social services facilities, they need money to pay for meals and services).

The Ombudsman considers the indiscriminate payment of benefits in vouchers unjustified. However, the Defender was unable to voice her opinion during the legislative process because the measure was only introduced by means of an MPs’ motion submitted during the second reading at the plenary session of the Chamber of Deputies. Given the unjust impacts affecting specific persons in material need, the Ombudswoman will continue calling for an amendment to the legislation to make it less severe, e.g. by introducing exceptions for certain groups of people in material need.

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