Yuval Steinitz- Emil Salman
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz Photo by Emil Salman
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The Justice Ministry is stalling the Finance Ministry's bid to reduce expensive fees lawyers charge Holocaust survivors who apply for recognition as handicapped victims of Nazi persecution.

The Finance Ministry is advancing a regulation to slash the average lawyers' fees from handicapped victims of Nazi persecution by about half, setting it's maximum at NIS 6,500. But since treasury officials drafted the regulation a few months ago, the Justice Ministry, which is authorized to issue it, has not responded.

The treasury's move was prompted by the state's recognition in April of Holocaust survivors of Libyan origin as eligible to apply for compensation under the handicapped victims' order. Shortly after the recognition, the treasury's Survivors Rights Authority received some 5,000 compensation claims, 95 percent of them submitted by lawyers. The treasury estimates the overall compensation sum at about NIS 110 million.

The average fees lawyers charge Holocaust survivors is about NIS 12,000 per person. Regulations issued in 1961 enable lawyers to charge a maximum 8 percent fee from the overall compensation paid over a five-year period. In addition, they may charge 15 percent for retroactive payments the survivor may receive. The fees are usually charged with the survivor's receipt of his first compensation installment.

A handicapped survivor with a 25 percent disability will receive a monthly payment from April 2010 ranging from NIS 1,822 to NIS 4,500, depending on his health. This means a person who receives the minimal allocation will have to pay his lawyer NIS 10,930 for filing the application forms.

"This is a very painful matter affecting many survivors," said Meir Cahlon, president of the Israel-based World Organization of Libyan Jews. "These lawyers come to people's home, sometimes presenting themselves as coming from our organizations, saying they've come to help and making all kinds of promises. Older people don't always understand and sign forms the lawyers ask them to. Since April we've published ads offering free assistance in filling out forms. But many people still complain of falling for this," he said.

The finance and justice ministries discussed slashing the lawyer's fees to a maximum of NIS 6,500 per person, including court representation if necessary.

One of the important changes made by the Survivors Rights Authority in recent years was reducing the application forms for compensation from 13 to six. Authority head Ofra Ross said today the application is much easier and a survivor who has trouble filling it out can receive assistance free of charge from authority officials, survivors' organizations' volunteers or volunteers from the Ministry of Senior Citizens' Affairs.

"When the law was enacted in the '50s people were young and knew they would receive compensation allocations for many years to come, so it made sense [to pay high lawyers' fees], but today we are dealing with elderly people. I hope the Justice Ministry makes the right decision and limits the fees in the survivors' last days," Ross said.

Due to the Justice Ministry's lack of response, Finance Ministry officials yesterday asked MK Leah Ness, deputy minister for pensioners affairs, for her help to advance the matter.

The Justice Ministry said in a statement that its people were examining the issue with the "relevant professional officials."

When the examination is completed the ministry will decide on issuing the order, the statement said.