7 Tips on Dealing With Bituach Leumi
by Channa Coggan
1. Sign up for “Sherut Ishi”
The single best step you can take to guard your interests is to sign up for Bituach Leumi’s “Sherut Ishi” (personal service). Registration is free at the local Bituach Leumi office. Once you’ve braved the long lines, received your code, and added a password you can enter your personal account. Even a quick exploration of the “sherut ishi” site will show you whether or not Bituach Leumi’s information about you is accurate.
“Accurate information” is the key term. Inaccurate information may lead to the deferment of benefits due to you, or to the unknown accumulation of debt, or both. A lot of seniors don’t find out how much their debt is until they apply for retirement benefits.
Your employment history is stored in the section entitled “esoukim” under the “netuni bituach” menu. Bituach Leumi uses information on this list to calculate benefits such as maternity leave, accident or injury compensation, and/or retirement. Important note: The onus is on the insured (i.e. you) to prove employment for missing time periods. A new mother I know didn’t receive full maternity leave benefits because an employer she had worked for at the beginning of her pregnancy hadn’t notified Bituach Leumi of her employment.
While every Israeli citizen over the age of 18 is obligated to pay monthly Bituach Leumi insurance, irregardless of employment status, and that exceptions are given to IDF soldiers, National Service volunteers and students taking vocational courses, it is not generally known that the requirement kicks in without notification immediately upon one’s release/completion of studies. Since notification aren’t sent, debts start to build up, and Bituach Leumi profits nicely from accrued interest and linkage. The onus is, once again, on the insured young adult to arrange for automatic payments with Bituach Leumi. My daughter unknowingly dug herself into thousands of sheqels worth of debt in this manner.
2. Report any and all changes
Once again, the onus is on the insured (you) to report any and all changes. Failure to do so may bring unfortunate results. A woman I know left Israel for an extended period to take care of her aged father back in America. When she returned she discovered Bituach Leumi had charged her fees for her time abroad, plus interest and linkage.
3 Falling Through the Cracks
Bituach Leumi has no problem with everyday, run-of-the-mill claims. Benefits for maternity leaves, work injury compensations, and old-age pensions are processed efficiently and smoothly. Out-of- the-ordinary situations, however, are another story. My two sons are a great example. The boys lost their father at a young age: My elder son was 14; my younger son, only 13. Recovery was difficult and slow; each boy required an extra year to complete their high school studies. Most of my four- month-long struggle with Bituach Leumi centered around their refusal to recognize these “extra” years of high school. A secondary problem developed when they questioned the accreditation of my younger son’s out-of-the-ordinary high school (Ankori).
4. Clerks vs. Back Room
Here’s a generally unknown Bituach Leumi fact: The clerks who interface with the public and take your paperwork aren’t the ones who make the decisions. Decisions are made by bureaucrats in back rooms, who the public rarely, if ever, meets. The clerks on the frontlines are overworked and underpaid. Their working conditions are horrible. Only those with high suffering-thresholds or without another choice stay on to make it their career. It’s no wonder, then, that unusual cases and one’s rightful efforts to attain redress make them lose patience and/or say whatever pops into their minds.
Bituach Leumi now has a telephone service center (Moked). The Moked, however, is outsourced, so whatever is told you one of their operators must be fact-checked. Example: When first I learned of my alleged Bituach Leumi debt the Moked operator said it was because “Bituach Leumi pays survivor benefits to high-school pupils for three years, only.” This blanket statement, it turned out, was utterly false.
How does one access those back room bureaucrats? Through the hiring of a tax advisor and/or lawyer, who has access to a special service center called the “Moked Hametzaigim”. Unlike the public’s service center the “Moked Hametzaigim” is manned by Bituach Leumi employees. The response-time is much quicker, too.
5. Know Your Rights
Pocket brochures (in Hebrew) detailing your rights regarding the most common insurance claims including, but not limited to maternity leave, old-age benefits, and guaranteed income, can be found at the local Ma’ale Adumim Bituach Leumi office. More detailed information can be found on the Bituach Leumi website.
Hebrew website: www.btl.gov.il
English website: www.btl.gov.il/English%20homepage/Pages/default.aspx
The Publications Department of the Absorption Ministry wrote an English-language guidebook with the cooperation of the NII, and which is a bit more detailed than the information on the NII’s website. The booklet is geared for English speakers, and contains information about the types of general services and allowances available to the public. It can be obtained through the immigrant associations, or downloaded a pdf file at: http://www.klita.gov.il./NR/rdonlyres/05335631-C9CE-427D-BC91-138D41938159 /0/bleumi_en.pdf
If you are dissatisfied with the handling of your claim, then you have the right to protest to Bituach Leumi’s “P’niot LeTzibur” (internal comptroller). The digital form on Bituach Leumi’s internet site is not very user friendly, but it does the trick: I sent them a letter after 90 days of getting no response. Two weeks later I got a call from an official from Bituach Leumi’s She’arim Department who then processed my claim.
6. August is House-Cleaning month
Bituach Leumi’s internal auditing takes place in August. Make sure you check your Bituach Leumi account status every year towards the first of September, and investigate all surprises.
7. Hire a Tax Advisor
Had I not sought help from a tax advisor I would not have known how to proceed. He was the one who contacted the back-room bureaucrats. He was the one who discovered my sons’ rights to living expense benefits (“dmei mechiya”) irregardless of the number of years they had spent completing high school. He was the one who told me about Bituach Leumi’s internal comproller, and helped me write the letter. The fee? A small percentage of the proceeds; I was only too happy to pay.
For more information, contact me by email: