BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Over 2,000 Brunei permanent residents with foreign citizenship will no longer be eligible for old-age pension and disability allowances come October 1, the permanent secretary of culture, youth and sports said on Saturday.

Hjh Nor Ashikin Hj Johari said the payment of old-age pensions and disability allowances to foreign nationals will automatically stop on October 1, regardless of whether they received their welfare benefits through banks or village heads.

The new eligibility requirements are part of the government’s revised old-age pension and disability allowance laws, which His Majesty the Sultan announced during his 75th birthday titah.

Under the amended Old Age and Disability Pensions Act, only Brunei citizens or stateless permanent residents (PRs) qualify for the welfare benefits, provided that they are residing in the country for a specific period stipulated in the Act.

Brunei-born stateless PRs must be in the country for no less than 183 days to be eligible for old-age pension, compared to 10 years under previous rules.

For stateless PRs born outside of Brunei, they must reside in the country for 20 years and be physically present in Brunei for at least 183 days a year to qualify for the $250 monthly old-age pension. The period of residency was previously set at 30 years.

During a briefing on the amended laws to grassroots leaders, Hjh Nor Ashikin said a list containing names of the 2,000 foreign nationals will be shared with village heads.
The government spent $117 million on 39,890 old-age pension recipients in the 2020/21 financial year.

A village head asks a question during a briefing on changes to pension and disability laws. Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/The Scoop

Care provider allowance replaces dependant allowance

The revised Act also replaced the dependant allowance with the care provider allowance, aimed at assisting carers to support special needs individuals.

In a statement, the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports (MCYS) said the amendment is intended to improve the well-being of people with disabilities because an allowance is seen as an incentive and to support families who care for differently-abled people.

A care provider is defined as a person who provides care and support to recipients of disability allowances, aged at least 16 years old and deemed fit to receive an allowance by the controller of pensions.

Hjh Nor Ashikin said care providers can be family members, those employed by the family, appointed by the court, or someone entrusted with or assumed responsibility of caring for the recipients.

They must also either reside with or regularly visit the recipients, she added.

One care provider is only allowed to care for a maximum of two recipients.

A family who has multiple family members with disabilities needs to nominate another care provider to ensure the recipients receive the best care, the permanent secretary said.

Care providers are also required to make a declaration that they accept responsibility for providing care as legal action would be taken if they were found to have neglected their duties.

Elimination of ‘unable to work’ as eligibility criterion

The Old Age and Disability Pensions Act also eliminated the condition of being “unable to work” as an eligibility criterion for disability allowances.

A medical practitioner will instead assess applicants on the functional impact of their disability.

Hjh Nor Ashikin said the amendment aims to empower persons with disabilities in Brunei to actively seek employment.

“The terms of ‘unable to work’ as a condition to receive disability allowances previously was viewed as not empowering their right to be employed,” MCYS said.

“Revising the criteria on assessment of disabilities will also result in [expansion] of disability categories that may apply for allowances under the Act,” it added.

The ministry said such allowances were previously limited to those who were certified as “blind, mentally disordered, suffering from Hansen’s Disease and fully disabled”.

Food handlers prepare takeaway orders during the opening of the SMARTER BJAK Café, a restaurant staffed by people with autism. Photo: Courtesy of SMARTER

Double welfare benefits

Hjh Nor Ashikin said amendments to the Act allow individuals to receive the monthly old-age pension in addition to disability allowances.

“Persons with different abilities will also be entitled to continue receiving disability allowances in addition to old-age pensions upon reaching the age of 60,” she said.

Previous laws prohibited the granting of more than one allowance to an individual.

Only recipients of blind pensions and their dependants were allowed to receive the old-age pension as a supplement after turning 60.