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Supreme Administrative Court: change of law needed to secure early retirees eligibility for carer’s benefit

The Supreme Administrative Court has ruled that Maria Kowalska* would not receive a nursing benefit granted to a carer of a person with a disability because she receives an early retirement pension (which is nearly half the amount of the nursing benefit). The SAC held that without a change in law it was impossible to pay even a portion of the nursing benefit.

At the request of the HFHR, Ms Kowalska was represented in the proceedings pro bono by lawyers of CMS Cameron McKenna Nabarro Olswang Pośniak i Sawicki sp.k.

Early retirement annuls benefits

Let us remind our readers that the ruling was issued in the case of Maria Kowalska, a long-time carer of her (currently adult) son who is a person with a disability. Despite her caring duties, the woman was able to take up casual and home-based jobs, which allowed her to obtain early retirement pension based on special provisions of law. The allowance amounts to PLN 854, whereas the nursing benefit, which she can no longer receive, is PLN 1477.

The currently applicable provisions of the Family Benefits Act exclude the possibility of awarding a nursing benefit to carers of persons with disabilities who have the right to a pension or disability benefit, irrespective of their amount. For these reasons, a mayor denied Ms Kowalska’s application for the grant of a nursing benefit. The decision was later upheld by the Local Government Board of Appeals and by a Provincial Administrative Court. Ultimately, the case was decided by the Supreme Administrative Court.

Proceedings before administrative courts

During the proceedings, Maria Kowalska’s counsel Ms Katarzyna Kucharczyk and Mr Bartłomiej Kowalczyk argued that had provisions of law been applied in line with constitutional standards, Ms Kowalska would have received a nursing benefit with the value at least equal to the difference between the benefit’s full amount and the amount of the pension the woman received.

In their complaint in cassation to the Supreme Administrative Court, the lawyers argued that the court should give the Family Benefits Act a pro-constitutional interpretation that should take into account, in particular, the principle of equality and public authorities’ obligation to support families in a difficult financial and social situation. Another argument for Ms Kowalska’s case was that the denial of her entitlement to a nursing benefit put her in a less favourable situation than that of vocationally inactive carers of children with disabilities. The woman’s counsel argued that all carers of persons with disabilities should receive a similar level of support from authorities. The Commissioner for Human Rights has joined the proceedings before the SAC.

The Supreme Administrative Court did not accept the above arguments. The Court held that the provision prohibiting the award of a nursing benefit to pensioners is unambiguous and does not need to be given the pro-constitutional interpretation. The SAC argued that the principle of equality, in fact, would be violated if Maria Kowalska received the early retirement pension and the nursing benefit. Furthermore, the Court ruled that there was no legal basis for the payment of a part of the nursing benefit. The SAC ruled that since the woman had some income, her constitutional rights were not violated.

“After a review of the written justification of the judgment, we will consult with our client and consider further legal actions such as the filing of an application to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. At the same time, we will continue campaigning for a change of law that would ensure that all carers of persons with disabilities receive equal treatment in respect of public aid”, HFHR lawyer Jarosław Jagura says.

* – The name has been changed.

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