Thanks to an advocacy campaign that the Macedonians came up with while studying at the Kyiv Legal Empowerment Practical Program, from now on, bailiffs in North Macedonia check accounts before blocking them and store confiscated funds for 15 days. This was a real salvation for thousands of families living with social benefits.
In North Macedonia, if a person has debts, for example, for utilities, he is blocked by a bank account. Moreover, bailiffs can also block the social account, where pensions are accrued, material assistance for people with disabilities and low-income citizens.
This problem affects more than 10,000 families in North Macedonia, most of whom are the Roma community members. It happens that families who have been provided with social assistance and thus survived can be left without income and means of subsistence in five months. They are forced to collect secondary raw materials or, worse, to undertake activities engaging deviant behavior. The team from North Macedonia found a solution to this problem during the design thinking course of the Kyiv Legal Empowerment Practical Program – to launch an advocacy campaign to counter the blocking of social accounts. The Macedonians worked together with KyivLEPP mentor Iryna Chaika on the detailed plan of the campaign.
Initially, a team from North Macedonia made 25 videos about low-income families left without livelihoods due to the blocking of their social networks. These recordings were posted on social media, thus attracting the attention of the public. After a while, Zoran Bikovski, a member of KyivLEPP-2020, coordinator of the healthcare program at the NGO KHAM-Delcevo, was invited to the Ја Sakam Македонија morning show by Sitel – one of the most popular TV channels in the country.
The result of the campaign, organized by KyivLEPP 2020 graduates, was a meeting held in May by the Government of Northern Macedonia to discuss measures to combat the blocking of social accounts. Adviser to the Prime Minister on Roma issues, representatives of the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy (MLSP), the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Finance, the President of the Chamber of Bailiffs, the coordinator of the health program in the NGO KHAM-Delcevo Zoran Bikovski attended the meeting. The Head of the Chamber acknowledged that the situation was catastrophic, for these reasons they held several meetings with the MLSP. Each executive body was provided with a database of persons receiving state social assistance. From now on, bailiffs are required to check to see if there is a person in this database you want to block. Unfortunately, due to the inobservance of the bailiffs and a number of other reasons, such an event did not fully solve the problem. Therefore, the Chamber of Enforcement Bodies proposed to create special accounts for low-income families, as well as to develop a program solution for banks.
“Therefore, the progress is huge. There are no problems with the bailiffs since they decided to keep the confiscated funds for 15 days, and if within this period someone brings a confirmation to have been receiving social assistance, the bailiffs will return the money. It remains to agree with the banks. We have specific proposals for them, which we also mentioned. Our campaign is to last until the day of final protection of social assistance recipients,” Zoran promised.
The KyivLEPP-2020 initiative from North Macedonia to counter the blocking of social accounts of low-income citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic was recognized by the IRIS network as the best practical initiative in the Western Balkans. It should be reminded that last year, five teams participating in the KyivLEPP program developed projects that can improve access to justice in their countries.
The program is implemented by the Ukrainian School of Practical Knowledge on Access to Justice through the joint creation of colleagues from the Ukrainian Legal Aid Foundation, the Coordination Center for Legal Aid Provision, the Legal Development Network, the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine, the Law Club PRAVOKATOR. Kyiv and with the expert and financial support of the Human Rights and Justice Program of the International Renaissance Foundation.