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'No clear legal basis' to remove PUP for those holidaying abroad, says legal advice group

The chief executive of Flac today wrote to Heather Humphreys to request the suspension of this policy.

Passengers in Dublin Airport yesterday.
Passengers in Dublin Airport yesterday.
Image: Sasko Lazarov

THERE IS NO legal basis for the government to remove or suspend the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) for those who holiday abroad, the Free Legal Advice Centres (Flac) organisation has said. 

Flac, a company which helps people understand their legal rights, has said there is “no clear legal basis” to this sanction which has come under scrutiny in recent days. 

The Department of Social Protection has said the PUP is not paid to people “who are leaving the country to reside elsewhere or who go on holidays abroad”. 

In cases where people travel abroad for essential reasons, the department said it would continue the payment.

The chief executive of Flac, Eilis Barry, today wrote to the Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys to request the suspension of this policy and to ensure welfare claimants are “not sanctioned financially in respect of holidays outside of the State”. 

Flac said that any claimant who has been penalised under this policy should have their claim reinstated and backdated “as a matter of urgency”. 

“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,” Eilis Barry said in a statement.  

The government advice at the moment is that “the safest thing to do is not to travel abroad”. 

Legal concerns

Flac said its legal team has examined the legislative provisions around this issue. 

Eilis Barry said: “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.” 

The legislation in relation to Jobseeker’s Allowance and the Supplementary Welfare Allowance allows people to continue receiving the payment once they normally reside in the country. 

However, Flac said this “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”.

Since 7 July, 104 cases of the PUP have been stopped after people in receipt of the payment were found to have travelled abroad for non-essential reasons.

A further 44 other social welfare payments were stopped for similar reasons. 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin told the Dáil that he would like the cases reviewed if there have been instances where people have had the PUP unfairly cut off.

He confirmed that the change in relation to those on welfare not being permitted to take two week holidays didn’t come before the government. 

“There is no agenda here to penalise any one sector,” he said, replying to Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald who said one cohort of society is being unfairly treated.

“The vast majority of these cases are people who were leaving the country, they were not holidaymakers and were leaving the country on a permanent basis.”

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Flac said this policy further “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”.

The group said this obligation does not exist in the context of the Supplementary Welfare Allowance and that it is “questionable” whether the obligation exists with the PUP. 

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