An alternative method for applying for the new National Childcare Scheme online, other than the public services card, was dramatically dropped on the advice of a State body with responsibility for the card’s expansion in January 2018.
The new National Childcare Scheme will go live on October 29. It will require parents to apply for subsidies personally, as opposed to via their childcare provider, as is currently the case.
From the scheme’s inception, as previously reported by the Irish Examiner, the only way to apply for those subsidies will be via MyGovID, the online face of the PSC, which requires the individual verification of each cardholder. A postal application option is slated to go live in late January 2020 —however, subsidies will not be backdated.
It can now be revealed that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER), the lead body behind the expansion of the card to services such as passport applications, ordered the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA) to drop a secondary online authentication method so that MyGovID would be the only application portal available.
To date, less than 10% of the 4m PSCs which have been issued have been verified for MyGovID, a process which generally requires an appointment at the applicant’s local Intreo office. This lack of coverage was acknowledged by DCYA late last month as being a major risk with regard to the implementation of the new childcare scheme.
An official from the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer, a subsidiary department to Public Expenditure, in documents seen by this paper, wrote to the Department of Children on January 11, 2018, to stress that “MyGovID alone” should be used as the authentication mechanism for the new childcare scheme.
“Government is in effect distributing taxpayers’ money to individuals that qualify for this scheme, and as such there is an onus on Government to ensure people are who they say they are when applying for the scheme,” the official said.
He stressed that the DCYA tender for the IT system needed to handle the new scheme must remove all references to the secondary authentication system, “as per the CSMB instruction”. This is a reference to the Civil Service Management Board, a grouping comprised of all the heads of various State departments. The PSC is at the centre of a storm of controversy after the Data Protection Commissioner, following a two-year investigation, ruled that its use to access State services other than welfare is illegal.
Solicitor and chair of Digital Rights Ireland, TJ McIntyre, described the news that DPER had insisted that MyGovID be the only means for accessing childcare as being “more evidence of a cynical attempt to abuse access to public services”.
The same documents reveal that both the PSC and MyGovID had been highlighted by DCYA as a “high risk” to the childcare project as early as September 2017, some four months before the MyGovID order came through.“This instance was particularly abusive because they did this when they knew it had been flagged as a high-risk issue,” Mr McIntyre said of that intervention.
Last week, in her appearance before the Public Accounts Committee, the Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon noted that the Department of Children is an outlier in terms of her report’s findings as other Departments have rowed back on requiring a PSC to access their services, despite the Government’s stated intention to challenge those findings in the courts.
Ms Dixon described the requirement to use MyGovID to access childcare as being “totally at odds” with the rulings contained in her report.
Ms Dixon described the MyGovID requirement in order to access childcare as being “totally at odds” with the rulings contained in her report.
Meanwhile, the new documents indicate that the Department of Children had yet to have sight of the DPC’s final report nearly a week after it was first issued to the Department of Social Protection last month, and was dependent upon the Commissioner’s own press release for information on the report.
The new National Childcare Scheme, which has been three years in the making, had been subject to a number of extended delays due to problems with implementing the necessary IT infrastructure needed to handle the online applications system.