(Anti) Social Card

The Social Card Law was put into effect in March 2022, introducing a new state Register - the Social Card Information System. It was proclaimed to be a remedy to the accumulated problems in the social protection system and was expected to result in a more equitable distribution of social assistance and more effective performance of centres for social work.

Problem Explanation

Despite the official entry of this Law into force, the Social Card Register has not yet been fully implemented due to logistical and technical deficiencies of the whole social protection system. In other words, until September 2022, only a few local centres for social work applied the Law. The Social Card Register was used sporadically to collect and process information on beneficiaries in the realm of social, child, veterans, and disability protection. Currently, as per data from the Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veterans and Social Affairs, around 80% of centres for social work use this Register when (re)examining the fulfilment of the conditions for exercising rights in the field of social protection.

The Social Card Register consolidates citizens’ personal data from multiple official records, such as the Central Register of Citizens, registers of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, registers of the Tax Administration, the Republic Geodetic Authority, the Pension and Disability Insurance Fund and others. Through the Social Card, personnel at centres for social work can now access the said data more rapidly than before the establishment of this system. In addition, one of the essential features of the Social Card System is the generation of "notifications" in regard to modifications in the social-economic status of an individual and the analytical processing of the collected data. In addition to persons who are already registered in the social protection system, the Register also maintains data on their family members, and/or other household members and persons related to them.

The Law on Social Card is the cornerstone of this Register's operation, requiring the compilation of approximately 135 sets of personal information of beneficiaries and their family members. The magnitude of collected data and certain aspects of theLaw on Social Card have raised numerous questions concerning the respect of human rights, particularly with regard to the following issues:

Automated decision-making in the social protection system

The Social Card System generates notifications to guide social workers when processing particular cases. Such notifications are binding and must be followed, regardless of any data that may be in disagreement with the notifications.

Dehumanization of the social protection system

By diminishing the work of social workers to just acting upon received notifications, theLaw on Social Card transforms the social work itself. This elimination of the human factor when assessing the socio-economic status of an individual or family has increased the "system efficiency ", but in such a way to result in the exclusion of a large number of people from the social protection system, rather than ensuring more equitable distribution of social assistance. Although we are still not aware of a single example of the inclusion of a beneficiary in the social protection right that belongs to him, without him using that right - the so-called "error of social exclusion", apart from the Ministry's data on the number of citizens informed that they can exercise a right in the field of child protection, without previously knowing about it, from the beginning of the implementation of the Law until January 2023, the right to cash social assistance has ended for about 35,000 people (17% of the total number of users)"

Insufficient transparency regarding the way the Register collects and processes data

Despite the fact that the Register collects a large amount of sensitive data about individuals and related persons, the algorithm that determines the way the entire system operates has not been made available to the public, although such information of public importance was requested as early as June 2022. The business interests of the company that designed the Social Card software solution are the reasons for denying access to information, despite the fact that this solution is utilized to exercise rights from the public sphere, guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the Republic Serbia. Complicating the matter further is the fact that it is very difficult to legally challenge the decisions made by centres for social work when they revoke citizens' rights, since the entire procedure preceding the decision-making is based on an "invisible" algorithm whose operations are not revealed to the users.

Violation of the personal data protection right

An excessive amount of individual data gathered, the imbalance of the quantity and type of data processed, the extensive group of "related persons" and the complete lack of capability to protect the rights assured by the Law on Personal Data Protection, all contribute to disqualifying the Social Card. The act of collecting and the notion of obtaining data on nationality, weapon ownership, health state or disability of social assistance recipients do not improve social protection in any way, nor do they abide by the principles of the personal data protection system in Serbia.

Disproportional impact on different categories of citizens

The Social Card collects and processes data of all those who have been involved in the social welfare system, those who are currently benefitting from the system, as well as those who have applied for any of these rights. For the majority of data, the retention period is ten years after the termination of rights. However, the unique identification number is kept indefinitely. Moreover, data on people who are legally identified as related persons is also being processed. Given the fact that the Roma population overwhelmingly live in poverty and exercise rights guaranteed by the social protection system, the implementation of theLaw on Social Card has proven to be detrimental to certain social groups, particularly the impoverished citizens and Roma. This fact also raises the question of the discriminatory effect that theLaw on Social Card has on the cited categories of citizens.

Based on the response of the Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veterans and Social Affairs, onFebruary 1, 2022, there were 211,266 beneficiaries of the social protection system, while on August 1, 2023, that number was 176,580.

The number of beneficiaries excluded
from the social protection system


Beneficiarie's Experiences

All regulations within the legal framework contain a clause that defines the fundamental aim of the legislator when drafting the Law, as well as the anticipated effects that a certain regulation would have when its implementation begins.

The Law on Social Card unequivocally governs the area of social protection, that is, the forms of protection our society should provide to those in need, with the intent to battle their social isolation and grant them a life of dignity.

Considering the particular vulnerability of the citizens affected by the implementation of the Law, the legislator was obliged to align the prescribed principles of the Law on Social Card with their practical implementation, so there would be no discrepancies between the "written" and the "actual".

Article 3 of theLaw on Social Card defines its objective as "more effective realization of social protection rights and services, more equitable distribution of social assistance, improvement of the performance efficiency and proactivity of authorities in the field of social protection...".

Within the scope of its regular activities, A 11 Initiative provides legal aid in individual cases of violation of economic and social rights. Therefore, we have had the opportunity to directly see the consequences that the implementation of the Law on Social Card has had on specific beneficiaries.

We will present these cases, leaving it up to each individual to make their own judgment as to whether principles of efficiency, equity, improvement, and proactivity in the realization of rights and services in the realm of social protection have been accomplished.

people on the street

Kraljevo – Collecting secondary raw materials is a matter of prestige, not necessity.

Financial social assistance currently amounts to 11,122 dinars. The Law on Social Protection stipulates as a general condition for exercising the right to financial social assistance that an individual must not earn income exceeding the above amount.

Otherwise, any income generated during the period when a beneficiary receives the assistance will automatically reduce the amount of 11,122 dinars. This leaves you with a dilemma: either you will receive the financial social assistance amounting to 11,122 dinars per month, or forfeit the entitlement if income surpasses that figure, even if it is by a mere 100 dinars.

This so-called "choice" (which is in fact imposed by the system) often pushes people towards taking on jobs within the informal economy as an alternative, since it is superfluous to ask the question of whether one can survive on 11,122 dinars per month.

One such job is the collection of secondary raw materials - metal, plastic, cardboard, everything that we throw out and produce as waste, which can be collected, sold, and recycled. Recipients of financial social assistance in Kraljevo have been engaged in these jobs for years and with minor earnings and high risk to their health somehow managed to survive. And so it was until May 2022, when the Centre for Social Work in Kraljevo was one of the first centers to actively apply the Law on Social Card.

The Law on Social Card qualifies this activity as a source of income because buyers of raw materials report to the Tax Administration the basis and amount of these transactions. The records of the Tax Administration are the source of data used by the Social Card System, so the majority of beneficiaries entitled to financial social assistance lost this right during the regular revision conducted in May 2023.

The statistics and figures in this particular case were inexorable, so the fundamental principles of social work, - assessing the overall position of a specific beneficiary - was put on the back burner. Had the staff been actually committed to the social work that their institution stands for, they might have observed that the same recycling company was always the buyer, payments were generally "cash in hand" and the raw material collectors often didn't even get a copy of the receipts presented to the Tax Administration; that it is almost impossible to earn up to 200,000 dinars per month from the sale of secondary raw materials (as it is written in the decisions on termination of rights) and that the number of sellers and the amount of secondary raw materials sold are in great disproportion.

Jovan from Kraljevo

For example, according to the decision on the termination of the right to financial social assistance, Jovan from Kraljevo earned about 345,000 dinars in one quarter from the sale of secondary raw materials. For the sake of illustration, if we take into account the then purchase price of iron (which Jovan collects and sells), we can conclude that Jovan collected 11 and a half tons of iron in three months.

Jovan's example is just a generic overview of the situation that happened to dozens of people in the sense that the registered income is not at all in line with the average earning generated from performing this activity.

In some cases, during the purchase of secondary raw materials from a group of persons or residents of the same settlement, the payment is made only to a person provided with the ID document - some people lack personal documents, which is a problem that is still prevalent among some members of the Roma community, especially those who are the most vulnerable.

Despite the income from the sale of raw materials being shared among those who participated, the Social Card System still tracks the income as that of the person who provided the ID document and received the payment.

The automated register cannot analyse why a person would continue to live in a substandard settlement without adequate living conditions if he/she earns 175,000 dinars per month, it cannot answer the question of how it is possible that "generated" earnings can be proven only on the basis of a receipt that anyone could sign, and how the lack of personal documents can be the cause of a discrepancy between formal and factual income.

The answers to these questions can only and exclusively be found by humans, that is, social workers; therefore, Kraljevo is the first place to provide evidence of the devastating impact of the dehumanization of social work on those who need this type of social support the most.


Srpski Krstur – An example of automating the violation of the "Law on Seasonal Workers"

Income affecting the right to financial social assistance is prescribed by the Rulebook applied by the relevant centres for social work. Income is classified as income from employment, work performed outside an employment relationship, temporary and casual employment, real estate rental, business activities, including seasonal jobs.

The Law on Simplified Work Engagement on Seasonal Jobs in Certain Activities (Law on Seasonal Workers) unequivocally stipulates that income stemming from seasonal work shall not affect the entitlement to financial social assistance. The assumption was made when the Law on Seasonal Workers was adopted,that these jobs are performed sporadically, often poorly paid, and therefore cannot be considered as regular employment that an individual can engage in long-term and from which he/she can generate a steady income.

However, numerous centres for social work throughout Serbia simply ignored this provision and applied the Rulebook, which is inconsistent with the primary legislation. Therefore, a large number of beneficiaries' rights were unjustifiably revoked.

This problem took a new turn when the implementation of the Law on Social Card began. Namely, the Social Card classifies the income from seasonal work as income affecting entitlements to financial social assistance. Simply, if you were picking fruit, the Social Card system would report this to your social worker by sending a notification with a binding instruction to cancel your right to financial social assistance.

This could happen throughout Serbia and the social workers, due to the nature of the system established by the Law on Social Card, would not have the possibility to interpret such circumstances differently. With the introduction of the Law on Social Card, the aforementioned breach of the law became unison, indisputable, and structured. This revealed all the drawbacks of automated decision-making, which eliminates the potential for critical examination of the obtained information.

Petar, Marija, and Senka from Srpski Krstur

Petar, Marija, and Senka from Srpski Krstur, in the proximity of Kanjiža, in Vojvodina, were among the first ones to experience the consequences of such a practice. They were beneficiaries of financial social assistance and at the end of the summer, when they had the opportunity, they went to pick fruit.

Altogether, they worked 10 days for a daily rate of around 2,000 dinars. In December, they received the decision of the Centre for Social Work in Novi Kneževac reducing the amount of their financial social assistance by 80%, without being asked to provide any statement on the existence and kind of income leading to the reduction. On the advice of A 11 Initiative, Petar, Marija and Senka requested the Centre for Social Work to make sources of such information available to them, and they were given an extract from the Social Card System that qualified the above income as „income stemming from employment and work performed outside an employment relationship“.

In order to find out the origin of this income, they were referred to the Tax Administration and the National Employment Service, where they also failed to find out the reason. The final certificate from the Central Register of Compulsory Social Insurance (a document in which the origin of each income subject to mandatory contributions is recorded) showed that the origin of the income that led to the reduction of the amount of financial social assistance was their seasonal job.

Not only did this decision go against the law, but it also reversed the aim of social protection. Instead of providing an individual or family with the means to live independently, it entrenched a cycle of poverty. Fortunately for Petar, Marija and Senka, the second-instance authority accepted all the stated grounds of appeal and annulled the decisions that reduced the amount of their financial social assistance, although it did not take a position on the causes of non-compliance with the Law on Seasonal Workers, but only stated that the Law was violated.

We are pleased that after the appeal submitted by A 11 Initiative to the Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veterans and Social Affairs indicating the violation of the Law on Seasonal Workers, the minister amended the Rulebook on Forms Used in the Procedure for Exercising the Right to Financial Social Assistance de facto removing this type of income from those relevant for exercising the right to financial social assistance.

Although this act removed the possibility of further violations of the Law on Seasonal Workers, it represents only one of a number of negative implications of automated decision-making, which still persist.


Belgrade – Multiplying the problems caused by the implementation of the Law on Social Card

Since the largest number of beneficiaries of the right to financial social assistance is located in Belgrade, the beginning of the implementation of the Social Card System on the whole territory of the city has caused a wide range of problems. These shortcomings are incorporated into the very foundations of the Registry and are in contradiction not only with the principles of social justice but also with the umbrella Law on Social Protection.

Zagorka from Belgrade

Zagorka is a single mother of a preschool boy. In addition to receiving financial social assistance, she occasionally works as a hygienist or as a tourist guide. She worked as a tourist guide for 8 days in total in August and September last year earning 1,500 dinars a day. In order to be eligible to claim financial social assistance, the decision is based on the income generated over the 3 months prior to the decision-making; her monthly average income was about 4,000 dinars, while the monthly amount of financial social assistance for a two-member, single-parent family was about 17,000 dinars. One day, Zagorka was called by a social worker and informed that she would completely lose her right due to her income, that is, the amount will not be reduced but cancelled.

At the Centre for Social Work, she informed the social worker that she had worked for 8 days over the three months and provided the contract with a travel agency as evidence. Unfortunately, the social worker chose to ignore the evidence and showed an indifferent attitude; the social worker also informed Zagorka that she had extracted data from the Social Card System showing that the income was much higher: 45,707.24 dinars in August, 29,181.03 in September and 36,419.00 dinars in October.

Although the certificate from the Central Register of Mandatory Social Insurance - a document in which the origin of each income subject to mandatory contributions is recorded - proves the actual figures, Zagorka did not appeal because she had been told that, until that appeal was decided, (and it can take as long as 6 months) she did not have the right to submit a new application in order to obtain financial social assistance.

This practice is contrary to the law because the amount of income is calculated over the period of three months prior to the filing of the applications, and there are no obstacles to the filing of the appeal and submitting the new application, in parallel - a different period of time is estimated.

The opinion received by A 11 Initiative from the Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veterans and Social Affairs supports the statement. Zagorka has not exercised her right to have the decision reviewed. The beneficiaries cannot afford 6 months (in practice, the period for the decision on the appeal) without receiving financial social assistance, and therefore between material existence and justice, they choose the former.

Vera from Belgrade

Another way of calculating income by the Social Card System that violates the Law is illustrated by the case of Vera, who, in addition to exercising the right to financial social assistance, is also the beneficiary of a social apartment in Belgrade.

Given that the concept of social housing, despite its name and primary role, is unaffordable and unsustainable in Belgrade due to extremely high housing costs, it often happens that users of these apartments fall into large debts.

Due to the difficulty of paying all the utility costs on time, which can reach up to 20,000 dinars per month, these tenants are frequently in a predicament where they must choose between paying their bills and attending to their essential needs.

If we take into account that financial social assistance amounts to 11,122 dinars per person, and that in these households there are typically ill people who require consistent medical care, the situation becomes more complicated. In extreme cases, beneficiaries of social housing may face homelessness due to their inability to pay bills and rent in a timely manner, and therefore, eviction proceedings may be taken against them.

The above problems are affecting Vera and her family because her household accumulated significant debts due to the aforementioned reasons. The mediation process, in which Vera’s and several other families participated regarding other matters, resulted in covering all debts caused by unaffordable housing, so that they would not be at risk of becoming homeless.

Paid arrears were considered in this case as income by the Social Card System. Therefore, Vera was warned that she could lose her right to financial social assistance. Although the social workers asked for the details of this "income", from which it could be seen that there was no income involved, Vera was not permitted to state that this was not a factual situation and that she not only did not work or earn, but she was also not responsible for the situation.

The staff of the Centre for Social Work complied with provisions of the Law on Social Card – taking into account data from the Social Card Register exclusively – defining the above income as income from temporary and casual employment. To make things even worse, on the same occasion proceeds allocated to cover the funeral costs of Vera’s daughter who had passed away a couple of months earlier, were calculated as “income”.

Since the Centre for Social Work failed to provide any support at the time, which is one of the main roles of this body, she turned to A 11 Initiative for help. In both of these cases, amounts paid to Vera for completely different purposes were classified as income, therefore violating the law, and preventing her from exercising her right to financial social assistance leaving the entire family without any income.

There are also examples that clearly indicate that the Social Card Register is not set in accordance with the Law on Social Protection. The Law on Social Protection defines the land area that an individual owns as the criteriafor the use of social assistance. Therefore, an able-bodied individual may own up to 0.5 hectares, or up to 1 hectare if a person is incapable of work in order to exercise this right.

However, the Guidance for Aapplication of the Social Card provided to all social workers, includes absolute rights (property rights in particular) as well as inheritance and gifts in the category of irregular income, with the market value being used to assess this category.

For illustrative purposes, if you own 0.1 hectare of land (less than required by the legal census), its market value set by the Tax Administration will be considered as your income and you will therefore lose your right to financial social assistance. Therefore, in this respect, the Social Card fundamentally contradicts the Law on Social Protection, and its implementation leads to a direct violation of this regulation.

Elvira from Belgrade

Elvira lives in a Roma settlement in Belgrade and her loss of the right to financial social assistance represents an obvious example of the described anomaly in the system. Namely, Elvira is seriously ill and has been diagnosed with a disability and is unable to work. In addition to financial social assistance, she also receives allowance for assistance and care of another person. Considering that she cannot work, financial social benefits represent her only income and therefore precondition of her livelihood.

In November 2022, Elvira was notified of the termination of financial social assistance, and the reason was stated to be inheritance income in the amount of 1,066,656 dinars. After the engagement of A 11 Initiative, it was found out that Elvira inherited land covering an area of 333.33 m2, the market value of which was stated in the decision on termination of the right. Therefore, even though the Law on Social Protection prescribes that the threshold is 10,000 m2 she lost the right since the Social Card expressed the land ownership in market value and not in square footage, hence violating the Law.

The second-instance authority overturned this decision after the appeal, but again without entering into the interpretation of the essential cause (incorrectly set concept of income in the Social Card), but focused exclusively on the violation of procedural and material norms. The inflexibility and callousness of the Law on Social Protection is highlighted by the rule that someone with movable property worth more than six times the amount of social assistance (about 600 euros) is not eligible for the assistance, which is also reflected in the way of determining whether someone owns a car.

Let's say you had a car manufactured in 1980 and you drove it until 2013 when you last registered it. Following unsuccessful attempts to put it on the market, the car ended up in the scrapyard and you were paid for the scrap metal, but not provided with any document as proof. The Tax Administration affirms that you were the last to pay the tax on the transfer of absolute rights - thus, you are still regarded as the legal and formal proprietor of the car.

This type of legal and bureaucratic illogicality has so far been circumvented through field visits and direct communication with rights beneficiaries. Social workers, who used their discretionary right to a certain extent and "soft" provisions of the Law on Social Protection, understood real-life situations and agreed to the continued exercise of rights in the similar situations. The conditions for the exercise of this right were located in the general socio-economic situation of the person who receives financial social assistance.

The implementation of the Social Card Law has resulted in the end of the practice described. The social card prevents the above actions, and if information arrives from the Tax Administration that a person "owns" a car, the notification simply instructs the social worker to terminate the beneficiary's right.

Alen from Zemun Polje

Alen from Zemun Polje, who with his family lives in a social apartment in Kamendin, experienced this situation. After he was advised to deregister the car at the competent police station and take the certificate to the Centre for Social Work, they gave up on terminating his rights.Some of these people managed to stay in the social protection system thanks to the legal aid provided to them in a timely manner. The above examples represent only a general view drawn from individual cases and are certainly not the only ones that required the engagement of A 11 Initiative. If we take into account that since the beginning of the implementation of the Social Card Law, some 34,000 citizens have lost their right to financial social assistance, we certainly cannot consider this apprehension unfounded.

Legal Framework

As stated in the exposé for the new composition of the Government of the Republic of Serbia: “Aimed at better targeting of social benefits, the priority will be given to the work on social cards representing a unified insight into data on current and potential beneficiaries.”

The same document emphasized that the social card would enable citizens who are in the most difficult economic position to be more visible in the system, in order to exercise their rights to the necessary support in a timely and effective manner. Rather than attempting to address the existing issues within the social protection system, the Law on Social Card was adopted as a way of tackling all the problems that had piled up in this field.

The Social Card System is established as a single register containing data pertinent to individuals and persons associated with them, the socio-economic status of citizens, the type of rights and services within the realm of social protection they use or have utilized, as well as data on case officers responsible for deciding on individual rights.

The Law on Social Card outlines the purpose of data processing in the Social Card Register, which includes:

  1. Determining the social-economic status of individuals and persons related to them;
  2. Automation of procedures and processes related to actions in the field of social protection;
  3. Creation of social policies by determining the socio-economic status of individuals, persons related to them and the wider community;
  4. Prevention of poverty and elimination of the consequences of social exclusion;
  5. Conducting statistical and other research in the field of social protection.
Social Card Act (serbian only) Rulebook 1 (serbian only) Rulebook 2 (serbian only)

Law on Personal Data Protection

In terms of the Law on Personal Data Protection, the Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs is the data controller, while the technical support tasks in establishing, maintaining, and ensuring data safety and security shall be performed by the Office for Information Technology and e-Government.

Centres for social work, local self-government units performing entrusted tasks in the field of social protection, the ministry in charge of social issues, the provincial secretariat in charge of social issues as well as other state authorities and institutions are Social Card data users.

Documents obtained from the administrative and professional service of the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection have shown that the impact assessment of the adoption of this Law to the personal data protection failed to fulfil requirements set in the Law on Personal Data Protection.

The Social Card may contain a minimum of 135 distinct sets of personal data for each social protection system beneficiary. These data have been grouped into the following categories:

  1. General personal data outlined in Article 7 of the Law envisage data processing used for the identification of social protection system beneficiaries: name, surname, citizenship, place of residence, occupation, professional qualification level and type, financial standing, immovable property, payments of monetary benefits on other grounds, and others.
  2. Particular personal data –data regarding beneficiaries’ applications within the social protection system, decisions taken in response to their applications, the period of validity of the decision, monetary benefits, and additional data on health status, disabilities, self-sufficiency, guardianship, foster care, and more.
  3. Collective and individual data on related persons – data are collected and processed to ascertain if the requirements for exercising social protection rights are met. Data on domestic violence, the actions taken against the perpetrator, support payments, data on related persons, their income, real estate they may own, disability or social protection rights exercised by the related persons are also available.

The Social Card System is established on the basis of data taken from records in the field of social protection maintained by the relevant ministry and registers maintained by other state authorities. These include:

  1. Central Register of Citizens;
  2. registers of the mandatory pension and disability insurance fund;
  3. registers of the Ministry of Internal Affairs on vehicles, weapons, and readmission;
  4. registers of the National Employment Service on payments of monetary benefits and payments of temporary and special benefits;
  5. registers of the Tax Administration;
  6. registers of the Republic Geodetic Authority.

Taking into account the protection of personal information, it is essential to recognize that the Law on Social Card does not indicate particular data that are used for each stated purpose of processing, yet the data and the functions of processing are outlined as a whole. Consequently, it is highly debatable that the group of associated individuals is too extensively defined, to the point of including former common-law partners.

Moreover, Article 11, paragraph 3 of the Law states that people whose data is processed in the Social Card System are entitled to insight and the right emanating from the realised insight, through the e-Government Portal. Also, the data from the Social Card can be viewed through the mobile application "ConsentID".

inspecting the data processed in the Social Card

It should be stressed that persons whose data are processed by the Law on Social Card are beneficiaries or potential beneficiaries of the rights and services of the social protection system, and it can correctly be assumed to be less able to use the e-Government Portal due to poverty and the inability to access computers, the Internet, or smartphones.

Attempts to inspect the data processed in the Social Card, conducted by A 11 Initiative based on the authorization, demonstrated that without using the portal, it would take several months, and the inspection would take place in the premises of the Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veterans and Social Affairs in Belgrade.

Up to now, any beneficiary supported by A 11 Initiative has not been successful in inspecting data via the e-Government portal. The question arises as to how this inspection is carried out by citizens who are not from Belgrade, i.e. whether it is necessary for them to travel to Belgrade in order to inspect the data processed by the Social Card System.

Procedure for the Generation and Submission of Notifications

Article 17 of the Law on Social Card entitled “Procedure for the Generation and Submission of Notifications” finally explains the purpose of the Law on Social Card and the extensive exchange of information envisaged by the new Law. This article prescribes the procedure to be carried out by the centres for social work when determining incongruities in the data of beneficiaries or persons related to them.

A notification on data incongruity is generated containing instructions to the data user stating that it is necessary to:

  1. validate data by inspecting and retrieving data from official records, documentation, and public documents;
  2. make a decision upon the request of the party; or
  3. initiate proceedings ex officio if facts with significant effects on the application, alteration or annulment of social rights are established.

It is clear that the Law was not put in place to grant citizens in the most challenging economic and social position greater visibility within the system, but to cancel or suspend benefits for those who, for some reason, fail to comply with the conditions provided for in the Law on Social Protection, as shown by the way "notifications" were issued, which is merely a work order for social workers dealing with the Social Card System.

Evidence that this determination is true can be seen in the fact that to date, no individual in a disadvantaged socio-economic position has successfully used the Law on Social Card to reclaim a right that had been withdrawn or for which they did not meet the criteria.

Those individuals, whose cases we have seen and who lost their right to material benefits because their individual income was higher than the threshold for financial social assistance, never automatically returned to the social protection system. The automation offered by the Law on Social Card is only designed to reduce the number of beneficiaries. That is why we most often talk about this Law as the law that introduced the automation of the exclusion of beneficiaries from the social protection system.


Based on everything we know about the Social Card and the effects it has on the most vulnerable citizens - those who are beneficiaries and potential beneficiaries of the social protection system, this system serves to exclude them automatically.

This is usually done without including those concerned in the proceedings of the centres for social work and without giving their unique situations any consideration, despite the fact that such situations may differ from the information in the Social Card.

Therefore, in April 2022, A 11 Initiative submitted an Initiative for the constitutional review of the Social Card Law to the Constitutional Court. The Law on Social Card contradicts the provisions of the Convention of the Council of Europe for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data. The provision of this article of the Law stipulates that, based on the algorithm that automatically checks the fulfilment of the conditions for exercising the right to social assistance, social protection institutions are only notified that it is necessary to take certain actions regarding the rights of the person whose personal data are contained in the Social Card.

As mentioned, contrary to the guarantees referred to in Article 9 of the Convention of the Council of Europe, beneficiaries of the social protection system are prevented from having their views taken into account in relation to this automated processing of personal data. The Law on Social Card also contradicts Article 8 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms as well as Article 9 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which guarantees the right to social security. More details on this topic can be found in the Initiative for the constitutional review of the Law on Social Card.

In November 2022, several members of ESCR-Net, International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, among which Amnesty International, Centro de Estudios de Derecho, Justicia y Sociedad (Dejusticia), Digital Welfare State & Human Rights Project (DWS Project) based at the Centre for Human Rights & Global Justice at New York University School of Law, European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), Initiative for Social and Economic Rights (ISER), Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) and Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy (PHRGE) at Northeastern University, submitted the joint legal opinion to the Constitutional Court of Serbia regarding the Initiative for constitutional review of the Law on Social Card stressing the key human rights issues that arise from the application of this Law.

So far, the Constitutional Court of Serbia has not ruled on the presented Initiative. Meanwhile, the number of those who are beneficiaries of the social protection system in Serbia is declining every day.
Response from ministry 29 9 2022 (serbian only) Response from ministry 6 2 2023 (serbian only)

The Impact of the Social Card Register on the Situation of Internally Displaced Persons from Kosovo

The situation of internally displaced persons, particularly those from the Roma community, has shown some improvement following the Kosovo conflict and their displacement. The majority of them are now residing outside of collective centres; efforts have led to a decrease in the number of legally invisible Roma and national and local strategies have been adopted to support, directly or indirectly, the improvement of basic rights access and integration into the local setting.

However, the narrative of the successful integration of internally displaced persons (as if it is already accomplished) by solely reducing the number of persons at risk of statelessness and closing collective centers stifles our awareness of their circumstances and many underlying issues and struggles persist under the surface.

The most prominent characteristic of this group's situation is their overall social disadvantage - they struggle more than other citizens of the Republic of Serbia when it comes to obtaining education, housing, healthcare, and social protection due to a series of administrative difficulties. Accessing the social protection system became even more challenging with the introduction of the Social Card register.

The Social Card Law's lack of recognition towards internally displaced persons as a particularly vulnerable group reveals the potential impact of automating the procedure on these individuals. Despite the fact that the register deals with the collection and processing of as many as 135 sets of personal data, it failed to include information about the beneficiary's status as an internally displaced person. Failure to acknowledge internally displaced persons as a distinct group, in addition to the overwhelming power of notifications from the register, undermining the autonomy of the social workers and sometimes questionable degree of their reliability, ultimately limit the ability to determine the rights of these individuals by using criteria that address the necessity of social intervention in addressing social exclusion. 

The position of internally displaced persons in no segment is more favorable than the position of returnees under the readmission agreement. However, the fact that an individual falls under the category of returnees as per the readmission agreement is considered when gathering and analysing data for the Social Card register and is therefore taken into account when dealt with. Article 7 of the Social Card Law stipulates that the general information about an individual should also include information on whether the person is a returnee under the readmission agreement. In this way it is ensured that all officers accessing the Social Card register will also receive information about the particular category of person involved, ensuring officials handle the situation with increased sensitivity given the particularly difficult circumstances in which people who are returnees live. 

Enhancing the status of returnees was a key factor driving the World Bank's decision to offer advisory and financial assistance to the Republic of Serbia in developing and enacting the Social Card Law. In the response to the request for access to information of public importance sent by the Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veterans and Social Affairs to A 11 Initiative, it is stated that "The cooperation we are currently engaged in pertains to consulting aid within the framework of the project `Supporting the Effective Reintegration of Returnees in the Western Balkans' targeting the Republic of Serbia, North Macedonia and Albania. In connection with the Republic of Serbia's social protection system project, the Bank's support revolves around examining the experiences of returnees and vulnerable groups who are seeking social assistance programs and ways to improve beneficiary service through adapting the social assistance and information systems. It's important to note that the Social Card Law addresses the rights of returnees under the readmission agreement." While the agenda recognized the necessity of including other vulnerable groups, like internally displaced persons, this aspect was overlooked. While the system remains blind to the distinct hardships of internally displaced persons, their precarious situation continues to be at risk. Their displacement status is disregarded when it comes to receiving social benefits. A concrete example of this can be found in the method of factoring lost earnings into household income when making decisions on eligibility for financial social assistance. The calculation of missed earnings for internally displaced persons is identical to that of individuals whose social and economic standing is viewed through the same lens. This approach fails to acknowledge the difficulties that displaced persons encounter in securing employment, including the hindrances of verifying qualifications, past experience, and language barriers. The Social Card Law has proven ineffective in enhancing social welfare, as the registry fails to include crucial information on an individual's displacement status and its related consequences.

The social protection system plays a crucial role in supporting a vast number of internally displaced Roma who are facing severe financial difficulties. For many of them, benefits such as financial social assistance serve as their sole source of consistent income. Despite being significantly low in amount, these benefits provide a sense of security. Financial social assistance amounting to a mere 38.61% of the minimum consumer basket for a three-person household, compels its beneficiaries to seek employment in the informal sector in order to make ends meet. Often, these jobs are difficult and come with meager pay, such as construction work, seasonal employment, and the collection of secondary raw materials.

Recipients of financial social assistance face a barrier to their work engagement due to the regulations outlined in the Law on Social Protection, which disqualifies them from accessing the benefit if their income exceeds the amount of the financial social assistance. The stipulation in the law fails to acknowledge the social reality - it is not feasible for a person to survive solely on government aid of approximately 100 euros, making employment a necessity rather than an option. The Social Card register serves to highlight this issue by alerting the social worker based on the beneficiary's income records from the tax authority, resulting in the loss of their rights.

Given that a large number of internally displaced Roma are engaged in the collection of secondary raw materials, in a short period of time after the implementation of the Law, there has been a substantial reduction in the number of beneficiaries of financial social assistance. Although a significant portion of the suspended benefits may have been legitimate, the majority of them were unjust as individuals are forced to collect plastic bottles, metal, and cardboard in landfills and containers out of necessity rather than desire. The Social Card register is another tool for realization of this injustice.

As mentioned earlier, the Social Card register simply does not allow the review of notifications, which is why a large number of IDPs remain outside the social protection system.

The Tax Administration data and its relevance to income and social assistance eligibility has not been subjected to critical scrutiny since the introduction of the Social Card register. The way income is categorized in the Tax Administration's records differs from the relevant categorization for social protection. For example, market value of immovable property (e.g. land) serves as the inheritance tax base and is classified as income, while in social protection provisions prescribe a maximum area (0.5 hectares and 1 hectare for the disabled) that does not impede eligibility for financial social assistance. This disparity can lead to the beneficiary losing their right to financial social assistance if the inherited land is valued at more than 100 euros, despite its size being only 0.01 hectare, for example.

For income generated through the sale of secondary raw materials, the relevant amounts are those reported to the competent Tax Administration by the buyer. In the majority of instances, the seller is compensated in cash and provided with a receipt to sign, but often does not receive a copy or understand its contents due to the high presence of lay internally displaced persons. The amount of money exchanged, and the quantity of secondary materials sold may not correspond with the actual situation. It is difficult to accurately determine the entire transaction process, but thanks to obtained data and the Social Card register, they become unsuspected and are used as such. The beneficiary's statement regarding the non-receipt of the income stated in the register is disregarded during the review of rights, and the automation of the procedure hinders social workers from thoroughly investigating the issue.

One of the challenges that internally displaced persons often face is legal invisibility, which can lead to discrepancies between their actual income and what is officially reported. As buyers of secondary raw materials demand personal documents from sellers, a considerable number of individuals without these documents resort to selling through friends and neighbors who have the necessary paperwork. In this manner, notably higher incomes are calculated for those who are internally displaced and hold personal documents, even though these documents may be shared and not exclusively theirs. On the other hand, people without documents, which in Serbia are almost exclusively Roma, and especially internally displaced Roma, are currently at risk of being unable to support themselves through the sale of recyclable materials, as those receiving financial social assistance rightfully worry about losing their benefits if they engage in selling secondary raw materials belonging to others, as well as receiving money for individuals without proper documentation. This practice was observed for the first time during a field visit to Roma settlements in Kraljevo, when a large number of collectors of secondary raw materials were left without financial social assistance due to the collection and sale of scrap metal from the yard of a former social enterprise. Although they did not deny their involvement in collecting and selling secondary raw materials, the reported monthly amount of up to 100,000 dinars was a point of contention. Our findings revealed that the root cause of this amount is directly linked to their actions of taking the metal to the recycling centre and selling it on behalf of individuals who lack ID cards; the amounts were significantly higher because there was more than one person involved. A field visit to a Roma settlement in Čukarica municipality by A 11 Initiative revealed identical mechanisms.

This serves as a reminder of the intricate and interconnected nature of the predicaments faced by internally displaced individuals and warns that it is crucial to adopt a holistic approach in addressing these issues. Incomplete fulfillment of basic needs does not equate to genuine integration, and the Social Card register serves as a hindrance to even this level of satisfaction.