Case Studies » Pensions » State Pension (Non-Contributory) - Case 1
Following the death of a pensioner, a Deciding Officer made a revised decision reducing his entitlement to pension over a twelve-year period, on grounds that he had undisclosed means. As a consequence, an overpayment of some €32,000 was assessed against his estate.
The personal representatives of the late pensioner, the appellants in the case, were represented by a barrister and by a solicitor. The Deciding Officer, and the Social Welfare Inspector who had investigated the case, attended at the request of the Appeals Officer.
The appellants’ legal representatives submitted that one of the bank accounts at issue was in fact a joint account in the names of the late pensioner and another person (a neighbour). They provided a written statement from the bank supporting this contention. The statement indicated that the account had been transferred into the sole name of his neighbour, following the pensioner’s death.
The appellants described the frugal lifestyle of the pensioner, their late uncle. They reported that he and his neighbour became increasingly withdrawn and that this, coupled with a frugal mentality, had led to both of them living in squalid conditions. It was submitted that the fact that the neighbour in question had since been made a ward of court supported this account.
The appellants’ legal representatives submitted that there was no dispute as to non-disclosure of capital. It was contended, however, that the Deciding Officer should have given consideration to the frugal lifestyle, the lack of transactions in the accounts, the isolation and the mental state of the late pensioner.
The Deciding Officer outlined the issues she had considered. These included the fact that the late pensioner had continued to cash his pension and to carry out transactions on his various accounts. She referred also to the fact that he had remained living alone. She contended that these points suggested that he had been in reasonable health, both mentally and physically.
The Social Welfare Inspector contended that there was evidence to indicate that the bank accounts were active, to the extent that an account had been opened in Northern Ireland. Evidence was provided as to the amount of capital at issue.
Consideration of the Appeals Officer:
The Appeals Officer noted that the information on file conflicted with the evidence submitted at the oral hearing on a number of points. He accepted that it is not possible to explain actions taken many years earlier by people now deceased. He concluded that the evidence indicated that there was only one bank account open at the time of the initial investigation in 1984. He noted, however, that the Department had not shown the opening balance on that account. He noted that the appellants did not take issue with the Deciding Officer’s assertion that the late pensioner failed to disclose his means when his entitlement was reviewed in 1994. The value of the holding had been increased at the time his means were reviewed as the stock had increased. The Appeals Officer considered that the marginal increase in stock suggested that the late pensioner’s financial position had improved in the ten years since the award of pension. Having examined the accounts, he considered that the transactions shown did not reflect particularly active accounts. He was satisfied that there were no other undisclosed means. He noted the assertion that the late pensioner’s lifestyle indicated a decline beyond what might be expected for a man of his age.
The Appeals Officer concluded that the late pensioner did not avail of the opportunity to fully disclose his means when his entitlement was reviewed in 1994. He noted that, at the time, the Social Welfare Inspector made no reference to the capacity of the late pensioner but increased the net yearly value of the holding. He considered that this suggested that the late pensioner’s capacity was normal. He concluded that it had been shown only that there was a failure to disclose means from a date in 1994. The Appeals Officer revised the means assessment accordingly, confining it to those accounts held in the sole name of the late pensioner. This had the effect of reducing the overpayment assessed against his estate to some €10,000.