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Department of Social Protection defends 'legal basis' for checks by social welfare inspectors at airports

The approach taken by inspectors has prompted concern and criticism in recent days.

Image: Sasko Lazarov/RollingNews.ie

THE DEPARTMENT OF Social Protection has defended checks by social welfare inspectors at airports, insisting that they have a “firm legal basis”. 

Earlier today, the Data Protection Commission said that it had “serious doubts” over whether social welfare inspectors acted lawfully in gathering information related to the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) and other welfare payments at airports. 

In a statement released this evening, the Department said that the legal basis of the controversial checks come from the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005. 

It said that it was in an “ongoing engagement” with the Data Protection Commission. 

“As there are a number of legal and technical matters involved, the Department will be addressing these matters directly with the Data Protection Commission,” the statement said. 

The statement said that the checks were legal under Section 250 (16) of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005

Today, deputy commissioner Graham Doyle said that the DPC “cannot see” how the practice of collecting information from those boarding a flight – such as their name, address and PPS number – simply because they are travelling to a certain destination conforms to the powers of inspectors under the relevant legislation.

The government has faced sustained criticism after it emerged that there were 104 cases since 7 July where the PUP was stopped after people in receipt of the payment were found to have travelled abroad for non-essential reasons.

Even some backbench TDs have joined the criticism being levelled at the government. 

Earlier this week, the the department said that social protection inspectors have been permitted to carry out checks at airports and ports since 2012, and that the vast majority of welfare payments that were ceased relate to people who left the country “permanently”.

The department also claimed that the “eligibility criteria have always been clear that a recipient must be living in the State in order to receive a Pandemic Unemployment Payment and cannot be absent from the State”.

However, Minister Heather Humphreys yesterday announced that people on the PUP or Jobseeker’s assistance can travel to countries on the Green List without losing their payments.

The department later identified 85 cases where people had their Pandemic Unemployment Payment stopped (PUP) but may be entitled to it. 

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With additional reporting from Sean Murray

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