Flac say Department’s rules on Covid Pandemic Unemployment Claimants holidays are not legal.
28 July 2020
Today, Chief Executive of legal rights organisation FLAC, Eilis Barry, has written to the Minister for Social Protection, Community, Rural Development and the Islands, Heather Humphries, to outline that there is no clear legal basis to sanction Covid Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) claimants holidaying abroad.
“In recent days, FLAC have been contacted by a number of individuals and NGOs concerning the reported sanctioning of people in receipt of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP), who took holidays abroad.”, stated Ms. Barry
Recipients of PUP ‘the Covid Payment’ had their supports cut after travelling abroad based on a Departmental Circular which purports to allow the suspension of certain social welfare payments in circumstances where a claimant leaves the state.
“Our legal team lead by FLAC’s Managing Solicitor, Sinead Lucey has examined the relevant legislative provisions, and our assessment of the Department’s policy, based on the Circular, is that while legislation may allow for this suspension in relation to Jobseekers Benefit, it does not go so far as to allow the Department sweeping powers to suspend or close other payments that people may receive - including Covid PUP”, stated Ms. Barry
The primary legislation in relation to Jobseeker’s Allowance and Supplementary Welfare Allowance, allows claimants to remain in payment provided that they remain normally resident in the State but it does not empower a Minister to make further regulations in relation to eligibility for the payment in circumstances where claimants are absent from the State.
“Any decision on behalf of the Department to suspend those payments where claimants, who are residents of Ireland, take holidays abroad would be open to challenge on this basis.”, stated Sinead Lucey
The Department’s policy also implies that those who are advised to self-isolate following their return from travel abroad are not entitled to payments where there is an obligation to be available for work during the advisory self-isolation period. Firstly, no such obligation exists in the context of Supplementary Welfare Allowance and it is questionable whether such an obligation exists in relation to the Covid PUP. Secondly, it is doubtful that all social welfare claimants who follow the advice to self-isolate for a period can be automatically deemed to be unavailable for work or to be not genuinely seeking work.
“FLAC are requesting that the Minister withdraw Circular 35/20, immediately suspend this policy and ensure that claimants are not sanctioned financially in respect of holidays outside of the State. Further, any claimant who has been penalised by this rule, must have their claim reinstated and backdated as a matter of urgency.”
Notes to Editor
1. FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) is an Irish human rights organisation, which exists to promote equal access to justice. As an NGO, FLAC relies on a combination of statutory funding, contributions from the legal professions and donations from individuals and grant-making foundations to support its work.
2. FLAC offers basic legal information through its telephone information line (1890 350 250). Free legal advice is available from volunteer lawyers through a countrywide network of advice clinics (these clinics are currently conducted over the phone) – more at www.flac.ie/help/. FLAC provides legal representation in a small number of cases in the public interest. FLAC provides legal advice directly to members of both the Roma Community and The Irish Traveller Community via specialist legal clinics. FLAC engages in policy work in areas of law that most impact on disadvantaged groups and including consumer credit, personal debt, and fairness in social welfare law, public interest law and civil legal aid. It operates the public interest law project PILA.
3. The letter we have sent to Minister Humphreys is available on our website at https://www.flac.ie/publications/flac-letter-to-minister-humphreys/
4. The note of our legal team’s advices is available online at https://www.flac.ie/publications/flac-note-re-circular-35-20/