The past, the present and the future of Community Care

Joe Garcia
The past, the present and the future of Community Care

There has been much confusion about Community Care, and PANORAMA has done the right thing: Interview the chairman of Gibraltar Community Care Ltd, the top lawyer James Levy, to try and put everything in context and help clear the misunderstandings and allay the fears that may exist.

Mr Levy said that these days "every item of news is beset by a mix of misunderstanding and misinformation, both inadvertent and intended, which result in further confusion and concern where often none is warranted."

It’s question time with Mr. Levy -


1.QUESTION: The public in general speak about 'Community Care' payments and no so much about 'Household Cost Allowance' and far less about 'Community Officers'. Can you put these three ingredients in context to help remove the confusion that has arisen?

ANSWER: As most everyone understands these days, every item of news is beset by a mix of misunderstanding and misinformation, both inadvertent and intended, which results in further confusion and concern where often none is warranted.

In the context of news relating to Gibraltar Community Care Limited (‘GCC’), the dissemination of what too many too readily assume as ‘facts’ on WhatsApp and other social media a week ago, were then followed by statements issued by the Opposition parties and GCC itself.

The communiques relate, as you rightly point out, to a variety of matters, the details of which are not necessarily always widely understood. Setting the political agenda to one side and noting from the off that GCC is a charity independent of the Government, it is important to note the following facts about GCC, its operations and the detail of the matters in issue. GCC (which is a charity) was set up over 30 years ago to provide financial support for resident pensioners. This support was/is provided in the form of, as you put it ‘Community Care payments’, a generic term in respect of any payments made by GCC. The payments, or in other words, the support provided by GCC are:

* The Household Cost Allowance (‘HCA’); and

*The Community Officer Allowance (‘COA’).

HCA is the allowance paid to females over 60 and to males aged over 65 who are resident in Gibraltar who have paid social security contributions during their working lives.

COA, on the other hand, is paid under the Community Officers Scheme, to males aged between 60 and 65 who are not entitled to the HCA and who do community work. GCC introduced this payment to provide some income until such time as the Community Officers became eligible for the old age pension at the age of 65, a pension based on the social insurance contributions they had paid.

To set this discussion in its historical context, as is required for a proper understanding of the matters in issue, the conditions of the original system as conceived a number of years ago required that applicants for the COA should be aged between 60 and 65, registered as unemployed (having exhausted their 13 week unemployment benefit), and have no pension or other income . Successful applicants could then be required to work up to 80 (eighty) hours a month.


2.QUESTION: You say that there has been no change to the Household Cost Allowance and that none is envisaged, and that existing beneficiaries of the Community Officer scheme will not change. So what is the fuss about?

ANSWER: The ‘fuss’ arises, and this is merely a matter of personal opinion, as a consequence of social media inflammation of what is, at the end of the day, a relatively straightforward development in relation to the COA.

The sum total of the change being discussed, and the limit of what the debate on the issue should be, is that GCC is recalibrating the parameters of the Community Officer scheme in a way that, in effect, reverts it to the original conditions that governed the COA.

As pointed out above, the old scheme for Community Officers required that in order for them to receive a payment from GCC, applicants had to have no employment and a limited income from other sources.

At a later stage, GCC then relaxed the conditions for Community Officers such that the only criteria then was that if they were in employment, they should not earn more than £15,000 if they were to get the full COA and, that, if they earned more than £15k but less than £21,800, they would be entitled to a reduced COA. The means test, as relaxed, excluded occupational pensions from the assessment, with the effect that very few applicants ever failed it. That, in turn, meant that many individuals with substantial income would rearrange that income to keep it below £15,000 in order to receive the full COA. The number of registered Community Officers therefore grew, with the consequence that the requirement for up to 80 hours a month of community duties became more like 8 hours a month as there were simply not enough duties to allocate for the numbers involved.

Upon reverting to the original COA conditions, the means test relating to income will, once again, necessarily become more rigid, to avoid persons who are in a privileged position from being paid a COA by GCC. The work requirement was translating into just 2 hours a week or, in other words, to over £50 an hour.

It is important to understand that while the decision to revert to the original system WILL mean that, GOING FORWARD, less applicants will be eligible for the COA, none of the Community Officers who are already enrolled on the programme will be affected because they are already part of the scheme. The COA will continue to be paid to them but, as a consequence of there being a gradual decrease in the number of Community Officers (owing to the stricter criteria and reduced enrolment going forward), there MAY be some increase in the number of hours the Community Officers are required to work.


3. QUESTION: When referring to Community Officers you say that changes are contemplated in future to prevent abuse that have been detected. Can you elaborate on that?

ANSWER: The unfairness (perhaps abuse was too strong a word) is, as I described above, the fact that applicants for the COA were able to arrange income or were in receipt of income which allowed them to claim a full COA when said applicants were in receipt of substantial income. Applicants were becoming Community Officers when in fact they did not, by any objective measure, require what is, at the end of the day, the charitable support of GCC, as was the intention of GCC when the COA was originally conceived.

Reverting to a means test that includes other incomes including occupational pensions, which remain tax free in Gibraltar of course, means that the support offered by GCC will once more be limited to those in our community who need it the most.

The changes introduced, which reflect the conditions attached to the eligibility 30 years ago, deal with the anomalies that have arisen over time and GCC will, of course, continue to keep these matters under review so that the benefit of GCC’s support will always be available for those who would otherwise find themselves in genuine hardship between the ages of 60 and 65, through lack of, or the small size of occupational pension.


4. QUESTION: There have been references to recipients of 'six figure pensions' also benefiting otherwise. What changes do you contemplate in this respect?

ANSWER: As stated above in my answers to both questions 2 and 3, the recalibration of the conditions and the inclusion of occupational pensions and other forms of income into the means test, will have the effect of excluding those with large pension income from the Community Officer scheme and, therefore, to entitlement to receive a COA.


5. QUESTION: You are sending letters out to recipients of benefits as well as providing the opportunity for recipients to query or question anything that bothers them. Presumably you think this will allay the fears that have arisen?

ANSWER: Yes, we are sending letters out to those people currently in receipt of the HCA as well as those registered Community Officers in receipt of COA. They are being told that the quarterly HCA payment is in no way affected and that, as a matter of the core objectives of GCC, these payments are the primary reason for the existence of GCC. It also informs existing Community Officers that the payment of COA for them will continue as usual.

It is to be welcomed that, absent any of the regrettable hype/misinformation, the management of GCC’s affairs in this way, and the anticipated reduction in the number of recipients of the COA can only add to the level of reserves that underpin the future of HCA payments.

We trust that the letter, which confirms that GCC is vibrant and has the assets to continue these payments, will allay the fears that may have arisen in respect of this matter.