The spouse of the Petitioner Lin Tingtai participated in the National Pension Insurance on October 1, 2008 as the insured person, and later died on June 23, 2010. Petitioner applied to the Insurer, the Labor Insurance Bureau (renamed as the Labor Insurance Bureau of the Ministry of Labor on February 17, 2014), for the funeral payment at the Magong Branch (hereinafter, the Labor Insurance Bureau) pursuant to Article 39 of the National Pension Act. However, he did not apply for survivor’s pension until January 30, 2012. The Labor Insurance Bureau approved the application by its Letter Bao-Guo-Shi- D00000037469 of March 6, 2012 (hereinafter, the Approval Decision), issuing NTD (same below) 3,500 monthly beginning from January 2012 (the month in which the Petitioner applied). Petitioner felt dissatisfied with the Approved Decision, claiming that the Labor Insurance Bureau defaulted on informing him of the application for the survivor’s pension. As a result of the delay, the Petitioner asserted that the survivor’s pension should be traced back to July 2010 as the application meets all the requirements, and consequently the Labor Insurance Bureau should pay back survivor’s pension of NTD 3,000 monthly from July 2010 to December 2011, 18 months and NTD 54,000 in total. The Petitioner first filed an administrative complaint and then an administrative appeal. He further filed for the administrative litigation after failing his challenge in the administrative appeal procedure. The Taiwan Penghu District Court dismissed his case in the administrative decision 101-Jian-2 (2012), he went on filing an appeal. The Kaohsiung High Administrative Court ruled in 102-Jian-Shan-14 (2013), holding that the appeal did not state specifically how the previous judgment was inconsistent with the law and dismissed the case as well. Therefore, this Petition shall be based on the administrative decision of the Taiwan Penghu District Court as the final judgment. The survivor’s pension under the National Pension Act is paid monthly “starting from the month of meeting the qualifications.” Comparatively speaking, Article 65-1, Paragraph 3 of the Labor Insurance Act stipulating that the labor insurance survivor’s pension can be paid retroactively five years before the date of submitting the application. The Petitioner argued that there was no special reason to adopt different treatments for both programs that are of the same nature, that is, social insurance. The Petitioner therefore claimed that Article 18-1 of the National Pension Act, amended on June 29, 2011 (revised on December 30, 2015 as Paragraph 1 of the same Article; hereinafter, the Provision at issue) and applicable in his case, violated the principle of equality protected by Article 7 as well as the property right protected by Article 15 of the Constitution while he petitioned for an interpretation of the Constitution to this Court. This Court reviewed the petition and held that it met the legal requirements of Article 5, Paragraph 1, Subparagraph 2 of the Constitutional Interpretation Procedure Act, and thus we accepted this petition for adjudication. Our reasoning is as follows:
Article 155, First Sentence of the Constitution stipulates that “[t]he State, in order to promote social welfare, shall establish a social insurance system.” Based on this constitutional delegation, the legislative branch has greater discretion to institute the social insurance system (see Interpretation No. 568 of this Court). Therefore, when designing the eligibility and monetary amount of social insurance payment, legislators should balance the limits of financial resources of the state, the increase and decrease of population, and the impact the structural changes may have on social insurance. However, people’s right to claim social insurance benefits in accordance with applicable laws has property value and should be protected by Article 15 of the Constitution. If its content involves the minimum survival needs of people, it shall be protected as the existence right of Article 15 of the Constitution. The restriction on the right to claim social insurance benefits, protected both by property rights and the right to existence of the Constitution, should pass stricter scrutiny.
The National Pension Insurance is a social welfare measure established by the state to have people realize their rights to live with human dignity, and is consistent with Article 155 of the Constitution and Article 10 of the Additional Articles of the Constitution, providing the fundamental national policy of implementing the social insurance system (The Legislative Yuan Gazette, 96(58): 132, 135). The National Pension Act is enacted in accordance with the constitutional intent, which aims to “ensure the basic economic safety for citizens not being able to be adequately covered by other social insurances when they become old, maternity and/or mentally/ physically disability as well as the security of the lives of their surviving family.” (see Article 1 of the National Pension Act) Article 40, Paragraph 1 provides that “[w]hen the insured persons die, or the insured persons are entitled to apply for old age pension payment under Article 29 but die before claiming benefit, or the recipients of mentally/physically disability pension payments or old age pension payments die, their surviving family, such as spouses, sons & daughters, parents, grandparents, grandchildren, brothers or sisters are entitled to apply for surviving family pension payments.” The survivor’s pension is the main insurance benefits when the insured is dead and its purpose is to seek a secure life of the surviving family. As a result, the surviving family of the insured is the beneficiary of the survivor’s pension and has the legal right to claim it. The social insurance claim has property value and is protected by the constitutional right of property. Furthermore, eligible surviving family who may be a minor, or a person who has no ability to earn a living, or has monthly income that does not exceed that of the insured (see Article 40, Paragraph 2 of the National Pension Act). It is often difficult for them to maintain the minimum survival needs after the death of the insured. Therefore, the payment of the survivor’s pension also involves the survivors’ right to existence under Article 15 of the Constitution. In summary, the legislative restriction on the claim for survivor’s pension, protected both by property rights and the right to existence of the Constitution, shall meet the principle of proportionality of Article 23 of the Constitution and is subject to stricter scrutiny. In other words, the purpose of this restriction must be to pursue an important public good, and there must be a substantial relation between the means and the achievement of the purpose.
The Provision at issue clearly states that “[t]he insurance benefits under this Act, except applications for old age pension payments will be issued monthly starting from the month of meeting the qualifications to the month when the insured person dies, other pension payments will be issued monthly starting from the month of the application approved to the month of pension termination or death of insured person.” Consequently, the survivor’s pension will be issued on a monthly basis beginning from the month when the application is filed and the requirements are met. If the application is not submitted in time, even if back payments, from the month when requirements are met to the previous month before the filing of application, have not yet run out of the five-year statute of limitation provided in Article 28 of the National Pension Act, surviving family will lose their rights to claim pension payments merely because of the application of the Provision at issue. In this regard, the claim for survivor’s pension is limited. Later, Article 18-1, Paragraph 2 of the National Pension Law, which was amended on December 30, 2015, stipulates that “[f]rom March 1, 2016 onwards, when the death contingency happens, and the beneficiaries of survivor’s pension don’t submit application on the month they qualify for the benefits, the insurer should compensate the benefits retroactively to those who are entitled to trace back to five years before they submitted the application. However, for the part which has been claimed by other beneficiary is not included.” As a result, if the death of the insured occurs after March 1, 2016, the surviving family can apply for back payments to the Insurer if they have not run out of statute of limitations. The restriction of the Provision at issue is thus lifted. Nonetheless, in cases where death occurred before February 29, 2016, if the beneficiary did not file the application from the month when the requirements were met, the claim for back payments will still be limited.
The reasons why survivor’s pension is paid from the month when the application is filed and the requirements are met are because “[r]equirements were complicated and the workforce of the Insurer at the time had difficulty tracing back payments” and “[i]n consideration of the affordability of the government and the reasonable allocation of social insurance resources, the restriction on eligibility and the starting time of payment was set”. (see Ministry of Health and Welfare Letter Wei-Bu-Bao-107110415 of April 26, 2018) However, the difficulties of tracing back payments resulted from the complication of requirements is an administration matter to be dealt with and overcome. This administrative matter and the reduction of the administrative cost to trace back payments are not an important public interest. As for the consideration of the government’s affordability and the reasonable allocation of social insurance resources, even if the pursuit has an important public interest, the restriction can only reduce the amount of payments that cannot be filed in time. Compared with the legal benefits of sacrificing the stability of survivors’ lives, it is hard to say that there is a substantial relation between means and the purpose.
In summary, in cases where death occurred before February 29, 2016, the Provision at issue, stipulating the restriction on the payment beginning from the month of the application and meeting of the requirements, is inconsistent with the principle of proportionality of Article 23 as well as property rights and the right to existence of Article 15 of the Constitution. It shall become invalid as of the promulgation date of this interpretation. Survivors may apply for back payments to the Insurer pursuant to Article 18-1, Paragraph 2 of the National Pension Act, which meet the five-year statute of limitations provided in Article 28 of the same act.
＊Translated by Yen-Chi LIU