FLAC calls for clarity around access to the Covid Pandemic Unemployment Payment and access to back-payments for those whose applications were improperly refused or suspended

21 October 2020

FLAC has welcomed the decision of the Department of Social Protection on 16 October 2020 to award a five-month back-payment of the Covid Pandemic Unemployment Payment (the “Covid PUP”) to one of FLAC’s clients following representations to the Department on her behalf. FLAC’s client, who is resident in a direct provision centre, was temporarily laid-off in March on foot of restrictions introduced in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. She immediately applied for the payment but her applications were refused on the basis that she was in receipt of the Daily Expenses paid to residents of Direct Provision accommodation at a rate of €38.80 per week. She eventually began to receive the payment to which she was entitled in August 2020 following a subsequent application, but suffered considerable financial hardship during the intervening 5 month period.

 FLAC Managing Solicitor, Sinéad Lucey commented today:

“FLAC’s client did not receive her Covid PUP payment until August 2020, seven months after she initially applied for the payment in March. The Department has acknowledged that those in Direct Provision should have been able to access the Covid PUP from the outset. In announcing that employees resident in Direct Provision Centres would be able to access the Covid PUP in August 2020, the Minister for Social Protection stated that the ‘payment will be paid with effect from when they were temporarily laid-off’. This clearly did not happen in the case of FLAC’s client who specified in each of her applications for the Covid PUP that she had been laid off since March. It was only after instructing FLAC to make representations on her behalf that she received her back-payment.

FLAC is concerned that there may be other employees who are resident in Direct Provision centres who may not be aware that they are owed Covid PUP back-payments, or who may be having difficulty accessing their PUP back-payments. It is now incumbent on the Department to review each claim for the Covid PUP currently being paid to such employees to ensure that they have received back-payments in respect of any period since they were laid-off during which they were unable to access the PUP.”

Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, FLAC has raised numerous concerns in relation to access to social welfare payments. Most recently, in a written submission to the Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 Response and while appearing before that committee on 10 September 2020. That submission specifically highlighted FLAC’s concern at the statutory requirement to “genuinely seek work” while in receipt of the Covid PUP and the absence of any regulations defining what this criteria means for recipients of the payment who may be temporarily laid-off.

Further, FLAC Chief Executive, Eilis Barry wrote to the Minister for Social Protection on 11 September 2020 to voice her concerns at the Minister’s response to a parliamentary question in relation to social welfare checks conducted at airports. In that letter, Ms Barry called on the Minister to “make a statement accepting that airport checks were conducted in a manner contrary to the [Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005] and committing to fully restoring the payments of those who were subject to such checks” FLAC is concerned that those who had their payment automatically stopped on foot of being stopped at the airport, have never had the payment restored even though they only left the State for a short period and had no intention of giving up their residence in the State.

Ms Barry commented today:

“As the country re-enters lockdown, it is now more important than ever for the Minister for Social Protection to act on a number of outstanding issues in relation to the Covid PUP.  FLAC has repeatedly sought to engage with the Department on social welfare issues arising during the Covid-19 pandemic. While the introduction of the Covid PUP in the first instance and the recent restoration of the payment to the original level as well as other  measures are certainly to be welcomed, from the outset FLAC has advocated for such measures to be administered in a manner that  is transparent and fair to all.

To date, FLAC has not received a response from the Minister to any of its correspondence in relation to the concerns around the actions of the Department at airports and the stopping of payments without due process and FLAC again calls on the Minister to issue a comprehensive response and to provide clarity for all those who had their claims stopped by the Department as to the current status of the review that the Minister said would be undertaken.