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More pensioners feeling the heat

Cost of living putting seniors under pressure

BY KIMBERLEY HIBBERT Observer staff reporter hibbertk@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, August 11, 2014    

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QUITE often, TV commercials are shown telling people to plan for their retirement and open pension funds.

But many ignore them, thinking that their contribution to the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) is enough for them to survive in their latter years.

However, contrary to what some believe, retiring may not be the most comfortable thing as what you earn will be significantly less than the actual salary you received while employed.

One retired chartered accountant said that thinking about his pension would cause his health to deteriorate.

"Anytime I think about it my blood pressure will go up. Your pension is small, so if you don't have savings you're likely to face tough times as a retiree," he said.

An individual's pension, which is based on their taxable salary usually, excludes benefits they once received while working. Hence the small amount.

The retired accountant, who asked not to be named, said that although he will not reveal what his salary while employed was, what he received shocked him, seeing he had bills to pay and his savings were what he had to start pulling funds from.

"When I received my pension it was about 40 per cent of my total emoluments and car allowance, rent and other benefits don't go towards it," he said.

When asked about his earning from the NIS, he scoffed.

"NIS pension is nothing. What I get from NIS is $8,000 per fortnight, $16,000 per month and $192,000 per year. You can't live off NIS. It's your employer's pension that really makes the difference, which is not much either," he said.

Like the retired accountant, other's struggle to get by just the same.

Kerry-Ann Fuller said that her aunt who lives in Clarendon receives $1,750 under the PATH programme every other month but at times it makes no sense.

"Everything a supermarket expensive, so all that can buy a one bread and one biscuit," Fuller said.

The major issue, according to Fuller, is the fact that this amount is given to her every other month and without her children and relatives, she would be left to suffer.

"How she must survive off that. That can't do anything, if it wasn't for us how she would eat, how she would live," she said.

Another pensioner, Lennox Stephenson, now 75 years old, and who lives in St Ann, said that he has been re-tried since 2008 and what he receives can only be used to buy his medication for his various ailments.

"I receive $5,600 every two weeks and my medication in total costs $5,000 plus. I'm diabetic, I have high blood pressure and arthritis and sometimes I can barely move. Many times I even fall down and hit my head. I can barely get up and walk and I can't do much. It's my daughter-in-law who has to go and get the medication for me as I can't even find fare to go to Ocho Rios to get it," Stephenson said.

Moreover, he added that when he receives the medication he has to take half, as he cannot afford to refill the prescription.

"The last time I went to the doctor I was told that my heartbeat was low and I have glaucoma and cataract in my eye. When they went to fill the prescription, it couldn't be filled, so when I get the medication I can't take more than half," he said.

Luckily for Stephenson, his son and daughter-in-law help him with food and utilities but he said that it remains a struggle.

"Where the expenses are concerned they are willing but they don't have it," he said.

Stephenson's last permanent employment was with the Oceana Hotel, which closed in August 1993, and from then on he did construction work.

In Jamaica, pension plans and retirement schemes are usually tax exempt once they are approved under the Income Tax and Pensions acts.

According to the Tax Administration of Jamaica as a retiree, pensioner or golden ager there are certain benefits to which you are entitled based on your status.

Persons under 55 years old, who receive a pension from a Statutory Pension Scheme such as the NIS, or an Approved Superannuation Scheme, are entitled to the tax exemption amount of $80,000 against that pension income only, plus $507,312 -- income tax threshold, totalling $587,312. Persons 55 years and over, who receive a pension from a Statutory Pension Scheme or an Approved Superannuation Scheme are entitled to a tax exemption amount of $80,000 from that pension income and any other source of income, plus $507,312 -- income tax threshold, totalling $587,312. Pensioners who are 65 years and over, are entitled to an exemption of $80,000 for age relief and 80,000 pension relief, plus $507,321 -- income tax threshold, totalling $667,312.

Upon retirement, in order to receive a pension employees between the ages of 18-65 (women) and 18-70 (men) whether full or part-time must contribute 2.5 per cent of their gross salary, while their employer pay a matching 2.5 per cent to their pension fund, according to the NIS website.

The employee can take legal action if he or she is denied a pension benefit, because of non-payment of his or her contributions.

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