The Constitutional Court (CC) today declared the norms that determine the minimum income threshold and the period of its review unconstitutional.
The case was initiated on the application of 20 former members of the Saeima. They asked the Constitutional Court to assess the compatibility of Section 33(1) of the Law on Social Services and Social Assistance and Section 2.2(2) and (3) of the Law On Social Security with Articles 1 and 109 of the Constitution.
The contested norms were initially in force until June 30 this year and established a lower minimum income threshold of EUR 109 for the first or only person in the household and EUR 76 for the remaining persons in the household, as well as provided for the regularity of reviewing this threshold – at least every three years.
On March 8 this year, the Saeima adopted amendments to the initially contested norms, which entered into force on July 1. The contested norms, as currently in force, establish the method of determining the minimum income threshold and the lower limit – 20 percent of the median income, as well as the fact that this threshold is reviewed every year.
The Constitutional Court concluded that the contested norms had been reworded and should therefore be declared null and void. However, the Court considered it necessary to ascertain whether the legal situation created by the contested norms had changed in substance. The Constitutional Court held that the matter in question was of social importance and concerned an essential public interest and that, although the legislator had amended the contested norms initially, they still provided for the procedure for determining the minimum income threshold.
Consequently, the Constitutional Court ruled that the proceedings in the case should not be discontinued and the compatibility of both the initially contested norms and the new contested norms with Articles 1 and 109 of the Constitution should be assessed.
As regards the new contested norms, the Constitutional Court assessed whether the procedure for establishing the minimum income threshold, together with other measures of the social security system, creates an opportunity for every person in need to live a life consistent with human dignity, and examined whether the amount of the guaranteed minimum income benefit, together with other support measures, ensures satisfaction of the basic needs recognized by the Constitutional Court in its previous judgments – food, clothing, housing, medical assistance and basic education, as well as the opportunity to participate in social, political and cultural life.
The Constitutional Court concluded that although the legislator had established support measures to ensure certain basic needs at a minimum level, it could not be recognized that every person in need would have access to sufficient support to meet all his or her basic needs. Consequently, the procedure for determining the minimum income threshold provided for in the new contested norms, together with the measures of the social security system, does not ensure that every person in need has the opportunity to live a life compatible with human dignity. Therefore, the Constitutional Court ruled that the new contested norms were also incompatible with Articles 1 and 109 of the Constitution.
The Court drew attention to the fact that the social assistance system that would ensure transparent provision of support was still not established, so that local governments, policy makers and the legislator itself would have access to information on the amount and effectiveness of support provided to persons in need. Moreover, while the social assistance system is intended to help poor people to lift themselves out of poverty, it should not create conditions that undermine the desire of poor people to participate in the social security system to meet their basic needs and improve their living conditions.
In deciding on the date on which the contested norms would cease to have effect, the Constitutional Court concluded that declaring the initially contested norms null and void from the date of their adoption would lead to legal instability and would be contrary to the purpose of social assistance. The court concluded that the legislator should introduce a social assistance system that would ensure transparent, effective and targeted provision of support, and that changes should be coordinated with the state budget for the following financial year. Therefore, the Court held that it was necessary and permissible for the new contested norms to remain in force for a certain period of time. Consequently, the new contested norms were declared null and void by the Constitutional Court with effect from January 1, 2025.
The case was initiated on the basis of an application by 20 opposition members of the previous Saeima – Harmony members.Andrejs Klementjevs, Janis Urbanovics, Nikolajs Kabanovs, Arturs Rubiks, Regina Locmele, Edgars Kucins, Vladimirs Nikonovs, Zenta Tretjaka, Janis Krisāns, Janis Tutins, Inga Goldberga, Igors Pimenovs, Vitalijs Orlovs, Sergejs Dolgopolovs, Valerijs Agesins, Boris Cilevics, Karina Sprude, Ivans Ribakovs, Ivans Klementjevs and Lubova Svecova.
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