In the course of Estonia's nationwide work ability reform, where people with disabilities must undergo an evaluation, over one hundred people have been temporarily left without income due to delays in the process.
Previously, the Estonian Social Insurance Board (SKA) has paid individuals with disabilities that are incapacitated for work a work incapacity pension. In the course of the work ability reform, all such individuals must undergo a work ability evaluation at the Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund (EUIF), which involves submitting paperwork from their doctor to be reviewed by an evaluation committee tasked with deciding whether someone is considered partially fit for work or totally incapacitated for work. In the case of the former, the individual must thereafter register themselves with the EUIF and will begin to receive unemployment benefits.
As of this year, the SKA no longer pays out benefits; this has been transferred entirely to the EUIF. Nobody will automatically continue to receive benefits from the latter, however; individuals must first undergo the evaluation process. Thousands of people with disabilities must undergo this process — since the beginning of the year, 16,811 evaluations have been completed, 8,108 of whom were for working age individuals.
Two months without income
When an working age person simultaneously applies for an evaluation of their capacity for work and an evaluation of their disability, the EUIF must process the case within 30 business days and, following the EUIF's decision, the SKA must process case within 15 business days — making for a total of 45 business days. During this time, the individual no longer receives benefits from the SKA and does not yet receive benefits from the EUIF. It is worth noting, however, that the processing time is measured in business, not calendar days, and as the average month includes 20 business days, the EUIF and SKA have a total of two months and one week to process an individual case, during which the individual is not receiving any benefits.
"The average processing time, beginning with an individual submitting their application and ending with the SKA making their decision regarding their disability, is 33 business days for a working age individual," said Merlin Murumets, director of expert analysis and social benefits at the SKA. "This includes the time it takes for the EUIF to conduct its work capacity evaluation."
All cases do not necessarily end up being evaluated within the prescribed time limit, however, and thus individuals undergoing evaluation must get by without their already limited income for a month and a half.
"As of April 21, the processing time of the applications of 113 people has been longer than 45 business days," Murumets said. "Reasons for the delay in the decision have varied — whether a submitted application has required additional info, data in the health information system has not been sufficient for expert analysis or some other reason."
Thus over one hundred people must get by without any income whatsoever for more than two months. How much longer remains unclear based on the SKA's response.
People do not know in advance that their income will be interrupted for an extended period of time. It is likewise unpredictable just how long it will take to process a given application and thus how long they must get by without income.
Those under evaluation are currently waiting for income, however previous applicants who have since received their decision have gone through the same gauntlet. If the system remains unchanged, future rounds of individuals applying for work capacity evaluation will have to endure the same process.
The emergence of such a situation means that in lengthy preparations for the planned work ability reform, no consideration was given to how to ensure the financial situation of individuals in already poor circumstances. It would have been logical, for example, to preserve an individual's previous work incapacity pension throughout the processing period of their application.
Ministry: Nobody will be left without income
According to the Ministry of Social Affairs, the Work Ability Allowance Act was amended in 2015 already to ensure continuous income to individuals with reduced capacity to work by means of an advanced payment of work incapacity support.
The ministry noted that in preparing for the work ability reform, it was taken into consideration that such advanced payments are necessary precisely to avoid people having to endure a period of time without income as a result of differences in support and pension payments.
Editor: Aili Vahtla