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Teething troubles in tapping into Japan pensions from abroad

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CONTRIBUTING WRITER

As reported in a previous Lifelines column, eligibility rules for old-age pensions were changed in August last year. You now need only to have been in the system for 10 years, rather than 25, in order to be eligible for payment after retirement (bit.ly/jtllpension).

Among those set to benefit from the change are foreign nationals who worked in Japan in the past but left without hitting the magic 25-year mark. This group may now be eligible for payback if they did not take the “lump-sum withdrawal payment option” when they left Japan, which was hitherto the only way to recoup some of your investment if you planned not to return. The lump-sum option, which remains in effect, is for anyone who paid in for at least six months, allowing them to claim up to 36 months of past pension contributions as a one-off payment. Once this option is taken, however, any payment over and beyond 36 months becomes void.

While the easing of eligibility rules is welcome news, reading about it is one thing and actually tapping into the system is another, as emails from two readers reveal:

J.K., a health care professional, writes: “I have a patient who has suffered a brain injury. He lived and worked in Japan for over 15 years. He is now back in Australia but would like assistance to access his Japanese pension.”

Meanwhile, G.C. in Britain had some questions regarding his pension and says he wrote to the Japan Pension Service office several times, but with no luck. In the end, he got in touch with his former company in Japan and they looked into the issues on his behalf. He writes:

“The takeaway from this on a Japan pension problem — first contact someone in your old company that has good English. They can then arrange for their personnel department to contact the company or the JPS for you. I think that communicating in English with the JPS and Japan pension providers is the real problem. I’m sure a Japan national would have the same problem with a U.K. pension.”

Lifelines called the JPS helpline in search of some answers and spoke to a genial staff member who did his best to provide them.

First, he noted that while there has been an increase in calls from non-Japanese overseas since the changes in August, “There haven’t been many actual cases of people newly claiming their pension payments yet.” The JPS welcomes calls but, as stated on the English flyer on their website about the changes, people should basically expect to be answered in Japanese.

“Overseas callers might occasionally ‘get lucky’ and strike a staff member who is confident in English, but we make no guarantees,” the representative said. “If language is a problem, the best thing is to have a Japanese-speaking friend with you when you call.” It seems there are currently no plans to add English-speaking staff to the roster.

In the case of J.K.’s patient, the JPS staff member suggested getting in touch with the nearest Japanese embassy or consulate to explain the situation and work out a course of action.

As for the less-than-stellar service G.C. reported at the hands of the JPS, the staffer expressed his regret: “I’m sorry nobody replied to his written communication, but I can’t really comment on who saw it and what happened. As I said, we recommend calling us as the best way to get in touch.”

He confirmed that the JPS would normally handle inquiries on both the public pension insurance system (kokumin nenkin), which covers everyone, and the employees’ pension insurance (kōsei nenkin) system, which covers salaried employees. However, as often seems to be the case — and as demonstrated by G.C.’s experience — there are various means to the same end.

Do any readers have stories or tips to share about dealing with the JPS upon returning to their home country? Has anyone who was previously ineligible successfully negotiated pension payments since the 10-year rule came into effect? Please share your experiences with Lifelines.

Deferment age limit is now 50

Now, another pension blast from the past — an update to some information shared in a column from three years ago (bit.ly/jtdeferpension).

Lifelines explained the process that would allow a young adult with Japanese nationality to stay current in the pension system while enrolled at an overseas university upon turning 20, simultaneously deferring payments while getting credit toward the minimum period to qualify for a pension (still 25 years at that time). The deferral system was set up for “low-income youth” between 20 and 30 years of age, and was called the jakunensha nōfu yūyo seido.

However, from July 2016 the system was expanded to include people up to age 50, and it is now simply called the nōfu yūyo seido. Those who meet the age requirements and are finding it hard to come up with cash for pension payments can apply at their local municipal office’s pension section for deferral, while still building up time in the system.

A potential benefit is that you can qualify for disability insurance (shōgai nenkin), should it be needed, even if you are not actually making pension payments. For more information in Japanese, see the JPS website: bit.ly/jpsinjpnese.

Note that college students enrolled at a Japanese institution should continue to apply for a deferral under the gakusei nōfu tokurei seido.

Kiwi Louise George Kittaka has been based in Japan since she was 20 years old. In the ensuing years she has survived PTA duty for three kids in the Japanese education system and singing live on national TV for the NHK “Nodo Jiman” show, among other things. Send all your questions and comments to lifelines@japantimes.co.jp.