The amendments to the Welfare Payments Act 1989 Bill are scheduled to be tabled in Parliament this week.
Currently, Cook Islanders that are away from the Cook Islands for more than six months lose eligibility to the pension.
When they return, they must reside for a continuous 12 months in the Cook Islands before becoming eligible to re-apply.
“I consider this law to be overly harsh for existing pensioners that have been away, particularly those that are away for less than a year and for medical necessity,” says Minister for Internal Affairs Nandi Glassie.
“We are proposing amendments to relax the rules for re-applications by those pensioners who were previously receiving the pension when they return.
I know that the current law places a number of pensioners in hardship and they have had to rely on family members for financial support for a full year.”
The proposed amendments will allow immediate re-qualification for pensioners that were away for more than six months but less than one year.
Where a pensioner is away for more than 12 months but less than two years, a three-month re-qualification period will apply.
If, however, the pensioner has been living away from the Cook Islands for more than two years, the current 12 month period will still apply.
Additionally, pensioners that were referred by the Ministry of Health for medical treatment will be able to qualify immediately on re-application on their return to live in the Cook Islands regardless of how long they were absent from the Cook Islands due to medical treatment.
Other proposed changes include the tightening of the general qualification time for the pension to be counted from the age of 18 rather than at birth and enable those posted on diplomatic service to continue to be considered resident in the Cook Islands.
These changes are expected to be tabled at an upcoming Parliamentary session.