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Needing a PSC for National Childcare Scheme is 'illegal and highly discriminatory'

The ICCL said a PSC requirement forces people “to hand over their data in exchange for services to which they are already entitled”.

Image: Leah Farrell

MAKING A PUBLIC Services Card a requirement to avail of the National Childcare Scheme has been criticised as “illegal” and “highly discriminatory” by the human rights organisation the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL).

The organisation said that making it a requirement to hold a PSC in order to apply for the National Childcare Scheme “[violates] the privacy rights of those living in poverty”.

The NSC is the first ever statutory entitlement to financial support for childcare, and involves a system of universal and income-related subsidies for children aged up to 15.

In order to apply for the National Childcare Scheme, you need to have a Public Services Card. There is an alternative paper application process, but that does not start until January and there is no back-payment.

The Public Services Card was originally introduced for accessing welfare payments, but the government had begun to roll out its requirement for other non-welfare services, including for driver licences and passport applications. In August this year, the Data Protection Commissioner ruled the use for any department other than welfare which required the PSC for services would be illegal.

Elizabeth Farries, privacy expert with ICCL, said:

Who are the people who cannot afford to lose one month in childcare payments? Those who are living on the breadline, of course.

“We’ve seen this for a number of years now, that the PSC targets those who can least afford to fight it.

Those in receipt of social welfare payments, pensioners, students who need maintenance grants, they’ve all been forced to hand over their personal data in exchange for services to which they are already entitled.

In July of this year, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty, Philip Alston, visited Ireland and criticised the discriminatory nature of digital welfare systems like the PSC.

He flagged the fact that there was no clear information available regarding what State agencies would be able to gain access to the information stored on the card, and that it potentially could be used to store highly sensitive health data down the line.

The poverty expert said that any database, including those which carry sensitive personal information, is always open to attack.

“In recent days,” Farries said, “it has emerged that a teacher was denied sickness benefit after she refused to get the PSC, citing the DPC report.

“The Department of Social Protection continue to ignore the State’s independent regulator, continue to roll out this illegal scheme, and continue to force it upon people who need welfare services the most, including those dependent on the National Child Care scheme.”

The Department of Social Protection has said it will challenge the DPC findings and all rulings in the DPC report, as soon as the DPC issues enforcement proceedings.

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