(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Many retired olim from English-speaking countries fail to take advantage of their rights and benefits as senior citizens, mainly due to a lack of understanding, Pensioners Affairs Ministry director-general Dr. Avi Bitzur told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
"I have been in my position for two years and met with many people, but nothing surprised me more than my meeting with retired Anglo-Saxons who were totally unaware of the rights they are entitled to," Bitzur said. "These are educated people from Canada, America, Britain and South Africa who are not fully utilizing their rights."
Some new immigrants, even those who did not contribute to the National Insurance Institute during their working lives, are entitled to state pensions, he said.
"It can amount to a lot of money, and it's well worth it for all new immigrants to fill out the paperwork and look into what they're owed," Bitzur said.
Sheila Bauman, absorption counselor for the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel, said Bitzur's assessment was accurate.
"There do seem to be many questions from [English-speaking] pensioners about what they are entitled to, especially from the NII," Bauman said, highlighting that there was a wide range of qualification categories for receiving even a basic state pension.
A spokesman for the National Insurance Institute told the Post that people who make aliya after retirement age (64 for a woman, 67 for a man) can qualify for a state pension (NIS 1,880 a month) if the income they receive from their native country's pension is below a certain amount.
"The truth is that there are different criteria qualifying people for pensions and other state benefits, depending on how old a person is and at what age he or she arrives in the country," said Tzvi Richter, director of social services at aliya organization Nefesh B'Nefesh.
"We bring many senior citizens [on aliya], and it is a growing population," he continued. "And we are always looking for the best way to inform new immigrants of their rights. We run seminars on the subject, as does the AACI, but the main problem is that there is a lot of overlap from the government."
Richter asserted that "helping people understand their rights is an important mission, and it needs to be a united effort from government offices."
There is material printed in English by the Immigrant Absorption Ministry about certain rights for pensioners, he added.
"The Ministry of Pensioners Affairs is actually in a perfect position to better coordinate these efforts," he said.
Olim also tend to under-use senior citizen discounts, including those on local real estate taxes (arnona), and to be unaware of their eligibility for certain health benefits, such as weekly hours from a helper.
According to Bitzur, while there may be plans to eventually translate more material about rights and benefits for pensioners into English, his goal in the near future is to hold a series of "emergency meetings to inform the elderly Anglo community of their rights."
"It's the only way to make sure that people are fully aware of what is owed to them," he said.