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Commissioner for Fundamental Rights and Ombudsman for the Rights of National Minorities Take a Stand on the Procedure for the Assessment of Widowhood Pension

The excessively long procedure in the course of which the staff of the Pension Payment Directorate did not respect the deadline prescribed by the Code of General Administrative Procedure (“Ákr.”) violated the fundamental right to a fair procedure arising from the principle of the rule of law, the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights and his Deputy, the Ombudsman for the Rights of National Minorities concluded in their joint report. Dr. Ákos Kozma and Dr. Elisabeth Sándor-Szalay asked the Director of the Pension Payment Directorate of Hungarian State Treasury to once again call the attention of the employees of the authority to their obligation to handle cases in conformity with the guarantees of administrative authority procedures and to comply with the administrative deadlines prescribed by Section 50 of the Code of General Administrative Procedure (“Ákr.”).

On behalf of the complainant objecting to the procedure of the Pension Payment Directorate of Hungarian State Treasury, it was the petitioner’s agent who turned to the Office of the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights. In October 2017, the complainant submitted a claim for widowhood pension on account of his deceased partner, the right-holder. However, the Pécs District Office of the Baranya County Government Office dismissed the petition, and following the exhaustion of the legal remedies by the client, the second-instance authority upheld the decision at first instance. In August 2018, the complainant re-submitted his claim for widowhood pension, but the Pension Payment Directorate terminated the procedure launched on the basis of the second application. The complainant instituted court proceedings against the order, as a result of which the Administrative and Labour Court of Pécs repealed the order, and ordered the Pension Payment Directorate to conduct a new procedure.

Following the notification by the Pension Payment Directorate in May 2019, the complainant did not receive any substantial information about the progress of the ongoing procedure in his case. Therefore the lawyer providing legal representation for the complainant, and her proxy contacted the Pension Payment Directorate several times, but they did not receive a relevant answer, either. According to the information provided by the Pension Payment Directorate, a decision was finally made in April 2020, which established a temporary widowhood pension for the complainant. 

In their report issued on case No. AJB-1991/2020, Dr. Ákos Kozma and Dr. Elisabeth Sándor-Szalay exposed that the Pension Payment Directorate violated the principles of simplicity and cooperation when the complainant and the persons acting on his behalf did not receive such relevant information about the progress of the ongoing procedure in their case and the measures undertaken which would have effectively facilitated for them to get an overall picture of the procedure and understand the reasons for its prolongation. As it turned out from the data available, first of all, the Pension Payment Directorate need not have repeatedly requested data in 2020 from the Tolna County Government Office (identical to the ones already submitted in 2019). Secondly, it also became clear that the Directorate should have taken action earlier in an effort to contact the Baranya County Government Office and hear additional witnesses.

The inquiry established that the Pension Payment Directorate gravely violated the principle of cooperation between authorities, as well as the requirement of good faith with respect to the client and the organs concerned. Furthermore, in the complainant’s case, the staff of the Pension Payment Directorate did not respect and significantly exceeded the deadline prescribed by the “Ákr.”. Consequently, the prolonged procedure resulted in an impropriety related to the fundamental right to a fair procedure arising from the principle of the rule of law.
As the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights and his Deputy, the Ombudsman for the Rights of National Minorities concluded in their joint report, there was no direct or indirect discrimination with respect to the provisions of Act CXXV of 2003 on the Promotion of Equal Treatment and Equal Opportunities.

The Commissioner for Fundamental Rights and his Deputy, the Ombudsman for the Rights of National Minorities requested that the Director of the Pension Payment Directorate of Hungarian State Treasury urge the staff of the authority to handle cases in conformity with the guarantee principles of the administrative authority procedure and of the respect of procedural deadlines prescribed by Section 50 of the “Ákr.”. In consideration of the inquiry conducted and the action taken within the competence of the Director of the Pension Payment Directorate, the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights and his Deputy did not see any reason to take additional measures, other than calling for attention.

For the report, please click on the following link: AJB-1991/2020.