Commissioner for Fundamental Rights Reviewed the Lawfulness of Proceedings Aimed at the Recovery of Unduly Claimed Benefits

The practice of authorities not to examine the usability of immovable property is capable of putting those persons at a disadvantage who are forced to apply for social benefits, of making their living conditions even more difficult, and eventually, of leading to the violation of their fundamental rights, the Ombudsman concluded in his report. With a view to preventing the future occurrence of the fundamental rights-related improprieties exposed, Dr. Ákos Kozma requested that the Head of the Somogy County Government Office call the attention of the heads of the district offices of first instance to the application of the lawful practice related to the examination of the usability of immovable property.

The complainant turned to the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights because his right to working-age persons’ benefit was withdrawn, and he was obliged to repay within 15 days the minimum income benefit unduly claimed in the amount of 1,026,663 HUF. In its proceedings aimed at reviewing the complainant’s right to benefits, the authority of first instance reached the conclusion that due to succession proceedings, the right-holder owned property, thus it terminated his right to working-age persons’ benefit with retrospective effect. At the same time, the proceedings of the authority of first instance covered only the examination of the ownership of the house inherited, and the restraint on alienation and encumbrance, while they failed to clarify the usability of the property. Upholding the decision of the authority of first instance, the authority of second instance did but compare the size of the assets inherited with the upper limit of the assets specified by the legislation in force.

In his report on Case No. AJB-983/2020, Dr. Ákos Kozma pointed out that it was with respect to usable assets that the legislator determined the upper limit of market value. Therefore, before assessing the size of the assets owned by the applicant based on the market value defined in the applicant’s declaration of assets attached to his/her request for benefits, the acting authority must verify whether the assets in question are usable at all. 

The Ombudsman established that during the review of the complainant’s right to benefits, neither the authority of first instance, nor the authority of second instance examined the circumstances of the usability of the house inherited by the complainant as is ordered by law. Due to the above, the authority’s decision did not comply with the constitutional requirements related to the fair administration of authority cases, which led to the violation of the complainant’s fundamental right.

Although the report clarified beyond a doubt that the fundamental rights of the complainant were further infringed in connection with the examination of usability during the proceedings at second instance, the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights did not make an initiative because during the time of the Ombudsman’s inquiry, the authority of second instance conducted proceedings aimed at additional evidence and by its decision on the basis thereof, it remedied the infringement caused. Furthermore, it also decided about the ex post payment of the social benefits withheld from the complainant. The authority of second instance also agreed that the complainant could not be expected to solve his daily subsistence issues by relocating his elderly mother and selling the property. As a result of the above, the authority of second instance judged on the basis of its proceedings aimed at additional evidence that the property did not qualify as usable assets.

The Commissioner for Fundamental Rights concluded that the practice exposed during the main proceeding – failure to examine the usability of the immovable property according to certain criteria – is indeed capable of putting those persons at a disadvantage who are forced to apply for social benefits, of making their living conditions even more difficult, and eventually, of leading to the violation of their fundamental rights. With a view to preventing the future occurrence of the fundamental rights-related improprieties exposed, the Commissioner requested that the Head of the Somogy County Government Office call the attention of the heads of the district offices of first instance to the application of the lawful practice related to the examination of the usability of immovable property.

For the report, please click on the following link: AJB-983/2020.