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'I've had to tell more people in the last few months than in my entire life' - Man denied Public Services Card because he's adopted

“This shambolic process is now making me feel like a second class citizen – I’m being treated unequally because I’m adopted.”

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Updated 1.20pm

AN IRISH MAN has been denied a Public Services Card (PSC) because he’s adopted and his birth certificate isn’t considered sufficient proof of identity.

TheJournal.ie has learned that the PSC expansion process is being used by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (DEASP) to confirm and update its own birth/adoption database with data from the General Register Office, responsibility for which was recently transferred to DEASP from the Department of Health.

In early July, the man attended a scheduled appointment at an Intreo centre to register for the controversial card.

While there, he was informed by a DEASP official that he couldn’t be found on the State’s birth register, despite presenting with his short-form birth certificate.

He asked to speak in a private meeting room given the personal nature of the information he was about to impart – and informed the officer that he is adopted.

“They told me that as I don’t have my long-form birth certificate (which is denied to adopted persons) I need an adoption certificate and that I would have to apply for one,” he told TheJournal.ie.

4 (2) A Public Services Card

“The whole thing was completely unprofessional, I wrote into them after and asked what would have happened if I hadn’t known I was adopted. There are certainly people in Ireland who don’t know.”

The man informed the DEASP officials that he was unwilling to apply for an adoption certificate due to the personal and sensitive nature of the process (his own children are unaware that he was an adopted child).

Under existing legislation, an adopted adult does not have automatic access to their original, long-form birth certificate, the reason for this being that it contains information about the birth mother who has a right to confidentiality.

Responding to queries from TheJournal.ie about how this case would have been handled if the applicant did not know they were adopted, the DEASP said that its staff would not be aware of somebody’s adoption status.

A spokesperson explained that if somebody’s birth registration details cannot be located, they are asked to contact the General Register Office. It would be at this point that somebody’s adopted status would be revealed.

‘I don’t want to be battling over this’

“They asked me to apply for a card in the first place, I took time off work to do it because I thought I was doing my civic duty,” he said. “And if we have to get it I want to get it now, not in six months. I don’t want to be battling over pension payments and the like when I’m 80.

I don’t want to get an adoption cert, it’s as simple as that. They have my birth cert, that’s sufficient for everything else, why not this? I’m married, I have a passport and a driving licence. Why do I need this cert?
And why have I had to tell more people in the last few months that I’m adopted than I had to do in my entire life up to this point? I’m a private person, I pay my bills, this is a personal decision that they shouldn’t be allowed force on someone.

Over the following nine weeks, the man pressed his case (and lodged an official complaint regarding how he was treated) with DEASP.

In a thread of email correspondence seen by TheJournal.ie, the man requests, given the personal and sensitive nature of the issue, to be given access to internal correspondence concerning his case and the direct contact details of those dealing with it, so as “to avoid having to further tell the world and its wife about my situation”.

He is informed in response that he will have to apply for such data under Freedom of Information – a process that takes a month minimum.

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When the man queried this statement, the DEASP official dealing with his complaint doubled down and insisted that the information he requested could only be granted via Freedom of Information, and likewise that his Public Services Card application can only be completed by him obtaining an adoption certificate:

“Once again it is regretted that your experience while applying for a Public Services Card appears to have caused stress and upset,” a reply dated late July reads.

We cannot process your PSC application without your adoption certificate. Once you have your adoption certificate please contact me… to arrange the completion of your Public Services Card application.

The ensuing thread of communication suggests that, within the local Intreo office in question, there is a deal of confusion as to what officer should take responsibility for the issue, and as to whether or not the problem could even be rectified at local office level.

The need for an adoption certificate is outlined on the requirements section on the Public Services Card section of the State’s Citizens Information website. The reason as to why an adoption cert is necessary is not made clear however – for all other citizens a passport or driving licence is considered sufficient, let alone a citizen’s short-form birth certificate.

DEASP explains that the adoption certificate is required to verify identity “to a high level of assurance” but that somebody’s adoption status is “not a piece of data held on the PSC or related Public Service Identity dataset”.

Three weeks later in mid-August the man received a letter from the same DEASP official stating that his complaint had been closed due to it being dealt with “in the allotted timeframe”, which he dismissed in his own reply as “an absolute misrepresentation of the clear facts”.

He notes that “if I didn’t know I was adopted this process is forcing me very insensitively to recognise this”.

“How would my case be handled if I didn’t know I was adopted?”

“May I also note from your own letter inviting me to apply for this card that under forms of ID items deemed ‘not acceptable’ the short version of the birth cert is not listed as one of these items. This I have provided to your office and this LEGAL document has been accepted for any other applications I have ever had to make and it is not clear why this LEGAL document isn’t acceptable for this process.”

‘Second class citizen’

This process is now making me feel like a second-class citizen as I have provided everything anyone else is required to provide, but because I’m adopted, I’m been treated unequally in this shambolic process.

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The man has since escalated his complaint to the State Ombudsman. That case remains outstanding.

DEASP’s initial response to the man’s complaint, delivered 16 days after his initial appointment, stated that the need for an adoption certificate has resulted from the General Register Office (GRO) of births, adoptions, and deaths being transferred to DEASP from the Department of Health.

“It is through the Public Services Card process that the Department is confirming and updating the birth/adoption information held on our IT systems with the record from GRO,” that response reads.

The response adds that PSC officials have access to birth records at their stations, but not adoption records, hence the need for an adoption certificate.

A short-form birth certificate does not prove the holder is adopted so the adoption certificate is required.

The legal basis for this particular process is not outlined, which is something of a persistent criticism of all aspects of the PSC’s current expansion. A query to the Data Protection Commissioner on the matter was referred back to Social Protection.

“Information is shared between DEASP and the GRO on the basis that the GRO is a specified body under Schedule 5 of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 (as amended).”

GRO also operates under the aegis of this department. GRO transferred to DEASP from the Department of Health on 1 January 2008.

A spokesperson added that the information required to verify the Public Service Identity Dataset includes date of birth, place of birth and mother’s birth surname – information generally taken from the birth cert, birth registration details or adoption cert. If a person doesn’t have access to their long-form birth cert, they will need to contact the GRO or acquire an adoption cert to be able to complete the PSC process.

“The reason I am not going to let this go is I would not like to think of someone else having to endure this process or that their life could be turned upside down if they didn’t know they were adopted,” the man now says of his ongoing case.

I’ve done everything in my power to get it over the line, but every time I contacted them I felt like I was being stonewalled.

“Department staff endeavour to always deal with all customers in a professional and courteous manner,” a DEASP spokesperson told TheJournal.ie when asked for comment on the man’s case.

PSC

“The Department is disappointed to hear of any customers who are unhappy with our service and aims to provide a… registration process that is clear, efficient and
straightforward for customers. We also wish to provide our customers with a complaints procedure that is accessible, efficient, effective and fair.”

When asked as to why there is such a lack of flexibility with regard to adopted people and the PSC registration process, the spokesperson insists that “adopted people are treated in the same way as other individuals in terms of verification of identity”.

“Date of birth, place of birth and mother’s birth surname are generally verified from the birth certificate or, in the case of an adopted person, from an adoption certificate.”

However, non-adopted people can get through the registration process for a PSC using just a driving licence or passport.

As regards how people are being targeted for invitations to obtain a PSC (as is currently the case across the country), the department says that the process is limited to those “who have had claims under social welfare schemes”, and also to those “who have had a driving licence issued recently”.

This article was updated with further responses from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. 

Read: ‘Have you tried actually applying for something with the Public Services Card? It’s a painful experience’

Read: Revenue threatens to dock public servant’s pay over a property they’d never heard of

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