A languages teacher in rural Ireland broke her ankle but was denied welfare benefit by the Department of Social Protection because she refused to get a public services card (PSC).
The woman, who suffered the injury in September while walking in the countryside, had to undergo surgery. She was housebound after the accident and out of work without income for seven weeks.
After presenting at interview for supplementary welfare benefit — as her employer does not provide sickness benefit — with her driving licence, passport, and old-style social services card, the woman was informed she would have to get a PSC in order for her identity to be ascertained and the benefit to be processed, which she refused to do. She was also instructed to provide her birth certificate, a copy of which she did not have.
She cited the legal uncertainty over the card as her objection, together with the fact that repeat interviews at an Intreo centre some distance from her rural home, were logistically impractical given she was incapable of driving and could not afford taxis.
“If someone in my situation didn’t have someone to call or lend them money they would have been totally stuck,” the woman told the Irish Examiner. It was the first time the woman had occasion to rely on social services for a situation that was “beyond my control”. She also claimed her “human right to privacy” was being impugned.
“The State is forcing me to trade my private data in exchange for access to services to which I am legally entitled,” she told the department.
In response, a department official told the woman they “respected her opinion in relation to this issue”. The department subsequently issued her with a benefit refusal notice for not producing the requested documents, not permitting her photograph to be taken, and not providing her electronic signature.
Liam Herrick, executive director with the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, commended the woman for “standing up to the illegal invasion of her privacy”, but added she should not have had to do it.
“Many like her are simply not in a position to do what she did,” he said.
A department spokesperson said it “does not comment on individual cases”.
The recent investigation by the Data Protection Commissioner into the PSC found that its use for services other than welfare is illegal. The same investigation also found that Social Protection does have a legal basis for using the PSC to process its own services.
However, discretion in cases involving the PSC has been practised on numerous occasions, most notably in the case of a woman who was denied her pension over her refusal to get a card, only for the Government to relent after the case gained significant media attention.