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'Have you tried actually applying for something with the Public Services Card? It's a painful experience'

It’s hard to think of one way that the expansion of the card is making life easier for citizens.

Cianan Brennan

I’VE DONE A fair bit of reporting on the Public Services Card (PSC) in recent times.

But I hadn’t experienced first-hand the nightmare of bureaucracy and red tape that the card’s expansion is going to entail.

Until last week that is. So I’ll tell you a quick story.

I have a PSC of my own, a remnant of a brief period on the dole post-college.

At the time (four years ago) I thought very little of the card. It made the whole experience of claiming relatively quick and painless, although I never especially enjoyed the fact it felt like a kind of shame ID, with photo.

Time moved on, I started working again, and the card was dispatched to the back of a drawer and forgotten about and good riddance, I thought. Until last week.

I’m soon to be a dad for the first time. There’s plenty of things to be doing in preparation, one of the lesser ones is to apply for the State’s new-fangled paternity benefit. I’m lucky enough to have an employer who will cover the statutory two weeks allowed, but it makes sense to make sure they get the small allowance as rebate.

As part of the expansion of all welfare services to the PSC (confirmed by Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection [DEASP] Regina Doherty in late August), application for the benefit can only be done online, ostensibly to make things easier and more uniform and to speed up the process.

Computer says no

When you log onto the DEASP portal to apply for the benefit, however, you get directed to the State’s MyGovID site.

If you’re not familiar with this, it’s the overarching ID that the government wants us all to have for the various State services tied to the PSC, with the card acting as the real-world representation of same – as the first part of the card’s expansion all welfare services now require you to have a PSC, and as such the department is pushing the expansion aggressively.

So, you create an ID – the usual rigmarole, you provide your email and a password and you’re away. But then you try to apply for something.

You’re told that you need a verified MyGovID to proceed – that means having a PSC. ‘Whatever,’ you think, ‘I already have one.’ But then you need to verify your address. I no longer live in the same place I did in 2013. You tell the site this. Which brings you, after an error screen pops up during the first two attempts, to:

1 Source: DEASP

Click here to view a larger image

At this stage, quite apart from the fact I’ve been writing about the dubious nature of the PSC from a data protection (and legal) point of view for several months, I’m starting to get irritated.

I call DEASP up. Wait time… is… 40… minutes, the automated response tells me. So I wait. It turns out to be more like five minutes, although I’m sure many would give up when hearing the initial time estimate.

The (very kind) lady who deals with my query hears me have a mild-mannered rant about how such an appointment is not exactly convenient (how could it be with a very busy full-time job and a baby on the way?) with a sympathetic ear. She attempts to change my address for me (“I’m not sure I’m supposed to do this, but I’ll try”).

The system won’t let her.

“We’ll do it the old-fashioned way,” she says. This means sending me the (supposedly obsolete) paper forms to apply for the benefit. When I return them my address will update automatically (in theory, anyway).

So, to summarise, the online application process is not particularly simple, or adaptable. And that’s for someone who already has a card.

If you don’t have a card, you’re going to have to attend an INTREO office whether you like it or not to get one. This is something my wife will have to do, despite being in the advanced stages of pregnancy, to merely attain the right to apply for her own maternity benefit.

Passport issues

Let’s move on from benefits for a second – what if you’re applying for a first-time passport? Then you need to first get a PSC, before providing a photocopy of same, before you can even file an application.

What if you already have a passport, but want to apply for a driver theory test? Assuming you’re working, you’ll have to take time off from your job at your own expense to attend an INTREO centre to register your various biometric variables for the PSC.

2 Source: RSA

 Click here to view a larger image

Because, the “only form of ID” the Road Safety Authority now recognises is the card. Which, somehow, means the PSC supersedes an internationally-recognised passport as a form of personal identification.

So much for it not being an ID card anyway.

Leaving privacy and data protection issues aside, things governments (and not just Irish ones) don’t exactly have a stellar record on, how on earth is all this bureaucracy making life easier for the average citizen?

People who, for one reason or another, may have never dealt with DEASP in any shape or form in their lives to date? They’re going to know about it soon enough.

Because theory tests and passports are just the beginning, the State wants you to use the PSC for everything in the fullness of time, from hospital appointments to tax returns, prison visits to student grants.

It’s a nightmare of red tape – the advancement of the PSC feels very much like the consequence of many decisions made behind closed doors in State departments with no public oversight – as evidenced by our government TDs merrily stumbling into the privacy-shaped potholes its expansion has created. Mandatory, but not compulsory, anyone?

So even if we don’t care about Big Brother (and we probably should – the creation of a gigantic unwieldy database of citizenry by government bodies sounds like a recipe for data-hacker heaven, just ask Sweden), what specific tangible advantages does a rollout of the PSC create for the ordinary citizen?

At this moment in time, it’s hard to think of even one.

Read: Opinion: ‘We Catalans supported the Irish struggle from 1880 onwards’

Read: Thank you: A letter from my Ophelia-hit house to those who helped us

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