The Public Services Card (PSC) will be the only way by which parents can access the new National Childcare Scheme when it goes live in October, despite a ruling from the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) that the card is unlawful when applied to State services other than welfare.
The new childcare scheme has been in the works for more than three years, but had been consistently delayed due to the technological infrastructure not being in place for the processing of applications.
The scheme, which has been designed to deliver additional relief for families struggling with the costs of childcare, will see the onus for applications switch from childcare providers to parents.
However, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs has confirmed that, as things stand, online applications for the scheme will only be processed for people in possession of a verified MyGovID, the web equivalent of the physical PSC.
Data protection experts have previously called into question the validity of such requests on the part of State departments in the aftermath of the DPC’s ruling regarding the PSC late last month.
DPC Helen Dixon stated at that time that her 20-month investigation into the card had found that the expansion of its remit to other State services from its welfare origins is illegal under data protection legislation.
The commissioner further mandated that the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, the State body with principal responsibility for administering the card, must delete the historic personal information (such as utility bills or other proofs of residence) it holds on all holders of a PSC and gave it 42 days to come up with an implementation plan for doing so.
A spokesperson for the Department of Children said the new childcare scheme had “always” been designed to offer both online and manual application options.
However, the manual, postal application process will not come on line until late January next year, meaning that for the first three months of the scheme’s life the PSC will be the only means by which people can access the plan’s subsidies.
Verifying a PSC in theory can be done via the MyGovID website. However, many people who attempt to do so are instructed to visit their local social welfare office in order to complete that verification.
Social Protection officials are not allowed to verify a card by phone.
The Department of Children referred questions regarding the DPC’s decision to the Department of Social Protection, which it said is “considering it and will respond in due course”.
“Officials in the Department of Children and Youth Affairs are liaising with them in this regard,” said the spokesperson.
Privacy solicitor Simon McGarr previously criticised State bodies for seeking Social Protection’s guidance with regard to how to apply the DPC ruling.
“It is most important that all agencies who are using the PSC realise that they are individually implicated by this ruling and are at risk of claims,” he said.