Extracts from today’s Irish Times (23rd. August 2017) which illustrates the mess Social Protection have made of these particular scenarios, the only conclusion is that there are so many more out there who have fallen victim to this type of pen pushing regime.
Woman in her 70s not paid pension after she refused to get public services card
The cutting off by the Department of Social Protection of a woman’s State pension because she refused to get a public services card is “outrageous,” advocacy group Age Action has said. The woman has not received her pension for 18 months because she refused to go through the registration process as requested by the Department of Social Protection and, as a consequence, is owed some €13,000.
Many public bodies have increasingly been using the card to validate people’s identities for the purposes of delivering services.
About 2.75 million have been issued to date but Ministers have insisted the card is not “compulsory”.
However, civil rights groups, including the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and Digital Rights Ireland, have described it as a “national identity card by the back door”.
Justin Moran of Age Action said it was “outrageous that someone could be deprived of their pension simply because they do not have a public services card”.
“The card is not supposed to be an identity card, it is not a legal requirement to carry one, and if someone is able to prove their identity using their passport or driving licence then I cannot understand how their entitlements can be taken away.”
Solicitor and data protection expert Rossa McMahon said the card had been introduced for social welfare recipients “with little debate” but it had become “a prerequisite for almost every interaction Irish residents will have with the State”.
He said the “overarching concern” was the “total lack of appropriate debate and scrutiny” of the project and he also expressed concern about its potential future uses.
The Workers’ Party said the action of the department was “reprehensible” and was “proof that the card is the genesis of a compulsory national identity card”.
“This vindictive withholding of a woman’s primary source of income is utterly disgraceful and is clear proof that the public services card’s first and foremost purpose is as a national ID card,” said Cork city councillor Ted Tynan said.
“This has grave implications for civil liberties and raises serious data protection issues as the card holder has no access whatsoever to the information stored on the electronic chip embedded in the card.”
Asked whether the card was now mandatory, the Department of Social Protection said welfare legislation required a person “to satisfy the Minister as to their identity and allows disqualification from receipt of a benefit in the event that it is not done”.
Satisfy the Minister
It was not possible for a person to satisfy the Minister as to his or her identity without being registered in a process which “results in them being issued with a public services card”.
“The decision to suspend or stop a payment is never made lightly. However, where a customer does not “satisfy the Minister in relation to identity as required” as per the legislative requirements outlined above, a payment can be stopped or suspended,” it said.
The department said it did not collect data on the number of individuals who had had payments suspended or stopped by reason of failing to complete the registration process.
‘They made it sound extremely urgent’
PAULA MORRIN, NURSE: ‘THEY MADE IT SOUND EXTREMELY URGENT’
Paula Morrin, a nurse from Dublin, said she began receiving letters more than a year ago asking her to attend an appointment to register for the public services card. She ignored them. She said she had never claimed a welfare benefit, had never been unemployed, and did not see why she needed the card.
“Nowhere in any of the letters did they mention it might affect a benefit.”
Ms Morrin said she continued to ignore the letters, then they started to arrive more frequently. “They made it sound extremely urgent. Next thing my phone rang from a number I didn’t know.”
A woman who phoned Ms Morrin on her mobile at work was calling to tell her she had “missed lots of appointments”.
She said the card was for any social welfare benefits she might claim and that people “will need this card for child benefit”. She eventually made an appointment and went to the local office in Tallaght where her photo was taken.
“They make it sound frantic – that you need it right now.” But when she went to the office to go through the registration the place was “empty”, she said.
SHARON BRIGGS: ‘I GOT SICK AND TIRED OF GETTING LETTERS’
Sharon Briggs from Bray, Co Wicklow, started getting letters from the Department of Social Protection in 2014 “inviting” her to an appointment to register for a public services card. “They said my jobseeker’s payment might be affected [if I did not get one],” she says. But she did not like the idea of the card and said she ignored the letters that kept arriving every few months. “I got sick and tired of getting them so I wrote a letter to them,” she adds.
In it, she expressed concern about the card and in particular the facial recognition software. She got no response but recently got a letter giving her an appointment for August 16th, which she did not attend.
Last Monday, Ms Briggs turned up at her local post office in Bray to collect her weekly payment and was told it was not there. She subsequently found it had been transferred to the main post office. “I had a feeling about it,” she said.
Ms Briggs said she and her friend asked if they could verify their identity by bringing passport photographs in to be “scanned” into the system but did not receive any satisfactory answers about how they might verify their identity other than through registering for the card.
What is a public services card?
The project to develop the public services card was first identified by the then government in 2004 as an “important component” for modernising the delivery of public services.
It aimed to create a standardised means of accessing public services and for people to verify their identity.
The card was rolled out to replace existing cards, such as the social welfare card and the free travel card.
A contract was signed with a supplier for the cards in December 2009 at a fixed price of €19.7 million plus VAT to produce three million cards by the end of 2013.
About 4,000 cards were issued in 2011 in a pilot project, and the numbers have gradually increased as people claiming various State benefits were registered to get one.
The Department of Social Protection put in place 160 registration stations at 100 locations, each of them with a capacity to handle 100 registrations per week.
The department has been issuing, on average, about 50,000 cards a month this year.
It has a target of three million in total by the end of 2017.
If it exceeds that quota, it will obtain a 5 per cent discount on the total cost of the cards – a cost per card of €4.38 for the standard card and €5.62 for the card with the free travel access.
If it does not hit three million, the department will pay the full cost of the cards.
The total cost of the project will be about €60 million up to the end of this year, after the contract was revised on two occasions to accommodate changes to the card and delays to the project.
In 2016 a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General found there was “no single business case” set out for the public services card project.
Seamus McCarthy said no comprehensive estimate of the total cost of the project had been prepared and there had been no initial assessment of the department’s capacity to deliver the project or a formal assessment of its risks. Earlier this year, the Government launched a public information campaign urging all people to register for the card in order to help them access public services more efficiently.
Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe said the card was not, and would not be, compulsory.
A key advantage, according to the departments driving the project – Social Protection, and Public Expenditure and Reform – is that the delivery of services is more efficient when a person’s identity does not have to be authenticated at every transaction.
They also believe the card has already begun to reduce rates of fraud, forgery and error.
State databases containing vast quantities of citizens’ information are of concern from a fundamental rights perspective, due to fears they may be hacked, sold or otherwise abused for unintended purposes.
Here, there have been concerns about leaks of data from the Department of Social Protection to private investigators.
Ireland, the UK and Denmark are the only remaining European Union countries without national ID cards. They are used uncontroversially in other member states.
There have been various efforts to introduce compulsory ID cards in Britain, but they have been vigorously opposed by civil liberties groups, including Liberty and an organisation called No2ID.