Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Saturday 10 December 2016

'The buck stops with the Department'

A farm crisis is developing after the EU decided that widows and widowers can no longer claim their deceased spouse's pension via the Early Retirement Scheme. Darragh McCullough spoke to one widow about her retirement plight

Published 21/09/2010 | 05:00

Farm pensioners took to the streets earlier this year when the Government tried to axe their pensions. Now surviving spouses of participants in the Early Retirement Scheme are also facing cuts
Farm pensioners took to the streets earlier this year when the Government tried to axe their pensions. Now surviving spouses of participants in the Early Retirement Scheme are also facing cuts

'My husband died tragically last January due to mis-management of a simple problem at our local hospital. It was an awful shock to be left widowed in my fifties.

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"We worked together on the farm here for 30 years. We milked 30 cows and I often helped out with the milking, herding or feeding calves, especially when he wanted to get away to a hurling match.

"In the last couple of years, he started to slow down so, with our son keen to farm part-time while he worked on the buildings, we decided to sell off the cows and avail of the Early Retirement Scheme.

"It took months to get through all the red tape and prove to the Department that the lease with our son was all bona fide.

"So, we had only been in receipt of it for the last year and a half.

"I notified the Department of my husband's death straight away and the payments ceased immediately. A few weeks later, a lady came out to do an inspection to ensure that I would qualify for the pension to be transferred to me.

shocked

"There were all kinds of forms to be filled out again and she wanted to see if we had sold any sites or anything since the pension had started. But by the end of the day, she assured me that everything looked in order and that it would only take a few weeks to get the payments going again.

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"One week later, she rang me to tell me her trip was wasted because the EU had suspended everything. I was so shocked and upset. I was also worried that the stress would cause a relapse of a serious illness I'd just got over a few years previously. Now my son has lost his job on the buildings and is trying to make a living from 25 suckler cows on an upland farm.

"I've got my widow's contributory pension of €201 a week, but I was banking on the other pension for the next eight years to pay off bills from the funeral and everything else."

Limerick-based agricultural consultant David Walsh believes that the Department of Agriculture could be liable for breach of contract if the current situation persists.

"People entered into a contract with the Department on the basis that the pension would continue to be paid out even if one spouse died," he said.

The Department issued a statement that the European Commission had ruled that the Department's "practice of paying the pension to dependants of participants who died before the period of their pension elapsed ... was not compatible with current regulations".

Mr Walsh estimates that some surviving spouses are out of pocket to the tune of more than €100,000. "If the Department has misinterpreted the regulations, that's their problem, but the buck stops with them," he said.

Irish Independent