The Ombudsman on the accessibility of the homes of the disabled
The amount of state assistance for making the homes of disabled persons accessible has been unchanged for twelve years now. By virtue of a government decree, a disabled person may receive such assistance only once. The disbursing credit institution may charge a fee for appraising eligibility while receiving repayment for its costs from the state. The Commissioner for Fundamental Rights has turned to the Minister for National Economy because, in his opinion, the current situation constitutes an infringement on the right to human dignity, the requirement of equal treatment, and does not comply with the state's obligation, also stipulated in an international treaty, to provide special protection to persons living with disabilities.
In his submission sent to Ombudsman László Székely, a disabled person complained that he could apply for assistance for making his home accessible only once in his lifetime. The information received from the Minister for National Economy and the National Federation of Disabled Persons' Associations confirmed that such assistance may be granted only on one occasion. Making a home accessible shall not serve the purpose of increasing the market value of a residential property.
The State shall conclude a contract with the credit institutions on the disbursement of the assistance, also allowing for the possibility to provide a loan to the applicant. The assistance and its costs shall be reimbursed by the Treasury to the disbursing credit institution on the basis of monthly settlements. Consequently, the application for accessibility assistance shall be submitted to a credit institution which shall appraise the applicant's eligibility. The National Federation of Disabled Persons' Associations shall let the credit institution know its position; however, the latter shall not be compelled to take that opinion into account. Should the applicant not want to take out, in addition to the assistance, a loan for making his/her home accessible, the credit institution may charge him/her an appraisal fee not higher than three percent.
The Commissioner for Fundamental Rights quoted the Act on the Rights and Equal Opportunities of Persons with Disabilities, according to which "the State shall provide for the enforcement of the rights of persons with disabilities and the operation of an institutional framework compensating their handicaps in accordance with the current possibilities of the national economy". Granting accessibility assistance is a state action aimed at promoting equal opportunities; determining its method, extent and means is within the discretionary power and subject to the economic capabilities of the State.
The Commissioner also referred to a decision of the Constitutional Court. According to the Court, the State shall grant housing assistance as part of its social policy; however, such assistance shall not be means-tested: those eligible shall receive it automatically. Measures promoting the equality of opportunities shall comply, both in form and in substance, with the basic requirements of constitutionality and the rule of law; therefore, they may not infringe on the principle of equal human dignity for all and the basic requirement of the rule of law.
Based on the above, the Commissioner does not deem it justified, lawful and compatible with the nature of accessibility assistance and the principle of the rule of law, that disabled applicants have to pay a fee for the appraisal of their eligibility for accessibility assistance. László Székely also finds it improper that credit institutions determine the amount of the appraisal fee depending on whether and in what amount the applicant is going to take out a loan.
In his report, the Commissioner has also pointed out that, in most cases, disabled persons have to make their property accessible themselves, since only a negligible fraction of residential buildings is barrier-free. And the fact, that accessibility assistance may be granted only once, places an enormous burden on disabled persons, pushing them to the limit, if they, for whatever reason, move to another apartment.
Commissioner for Fundamental Rights László Székely has forwarded his findings to the Minister for National Economy proposing the enactment of a legal regulation so that disabled persons should not be charged with an appraisal fee, no other service provided by the credit institution should be attached, either directly or indirectly, to disbursing the assistance, and disabled persons could apply for accessibility assistance more then once.