Farm Ireland

Saturday 24 February 2018

Department suspends ERS pensions for spouses

Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

Payment of the Early Retirement Scheme (ERS) pension to the spouse, partner or dependents of deceased farmers has been suspended following intervention by the EU Commission.

In a move which could cost some farm families in excess of €100,000, the Department of Agriculture has been forced to stop processing applications for the pension from family members of deceased scheme participants.

The Department confirmed it has suspended processing new applications by relatives of deceased ERS pension recipients after a recent audit of the scheme by the European Court of Auditors.

The Department said that it was seeking to secure the continued payment of existing pensions to relatives of deceased scheme members.

"Since the first scheme of early retirement from farming was introduced in 1994, it has been the Department's practice to pay the pension to dependants of participants who died before the period of their pension had elapsed," a Department statement read.

"However, following recent audits of the scheme by the European Court of Auditors and the European Commission, the commission has informed the Department that this practice is not compatible with the current regulations governing the implementation of the scheme and that it must be discontinued," it added.

"Accordingly, the Department has suspended the processing of new cases, of which there are 21.

"The Department is continuing to pay existing cases and will be engaging in discussion with the European Commission with a view to securing their future position."

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The maximum ERS pension is worth €15,000/year for a period of 10 years, or up to the 66th birthday of the applicant.

David Walsh, a Co Limerick agricultural consultant, said the loss of the pension would cost some farm families more than €100,000 in cases where the farmer participant died within three years of joining the scheme.

Mr Walsh said he knew of one woman who was as active in running the farm as her husband. The couple decided to join the ERS but the woman's husband, who was the named participant, died soon after joining the scheme and she is now left without the pension.

"Since the ERS came into being, the situation always pertained that if a farmer who applied for the scheme passed away during the period of the pension, their spouse would be eligible for the pension. When couples went for the scheme that was a key deciding factor," Mr Walsh said.

"Most farmers gave up a better income to take the pensions, so the fact that it passed on to their next of kin was a safeguard for the applicant's dependants," he added.

Mr Walsh insisted that if the Department was at fault in the manner in which they had interpreted the EU regulation governing the ERS, then they had a responsibility to pay compensation to those families who were now being excluded from the scheme.

"If the Department mis- interpreted the EU regulation relating to the ERS then they should compensate the families who have been excluded from the scheme or whose pension is under threat," Mr Walsh insisted.

Irish Independent