The Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA) is facing a possible investigation and potential €1m fines over the mandatory requirement to hold a public services card in order to access the new National Childcare Scheme.
The Irish Examiner has learned that the Data Protection Commissioner has written to the department seeking “certain information” regarding the PSC requirement.
That requirement is perceived as being at odds with the DPC’s recent finding that mandating citizens to hold a PSC in order to access State services other than welfare is illegal.
The Department of Children has become something of an outlier since the publication of the DPC’s report into the PSC on September 17, as the majority of other departments have since dropped their PSC requirement, despite Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty’s stated intention to legally challenge the commissioner’s rulings.
Last week, DPC Helen Dixon, told the Dáil Public Accounts Committee that, in ploughing ahead with its PSC requirement, the DCYA was “totally at odds” with the findings of her report.
Graham Doyle, head of communications for the DPC, told the Irish Examiner:
“I can confirm that we sent correspondence to the DCYA requesting certain information from the Department in relation to the new National Childcare Scheme.”
Mr Doyle said information in the public domain and on the DCYA website regarding the scheme “cuts across the findings” of the DPC’s report into the PSC. He added that DCYA was asked to provide details of the legal basis by which it was processing PSC data under the scheme and requiring people to hold a card on a mandatory basis.
“We have sought an urgent reply from the department and we will decide what further steps to take once that reply has been received.”
Those next steps could involve a further investigation by the DPC into the entire structure of the new childcare scheme. Given any such investigation would presumably be conducted under the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which went live in May 2018, the department could face a fine of €1m for each instance of it having potentially breached the regulation.
Earlier this week, the Irish Examiner revealed that DCYA had initially envisaged a second online portal for people without a PSC to apply for the scheme, which would have removed any GDPR concerns.
However, the department was firmly overruled by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform — the body with responsibility for the PSC’s expansion to services other than welfare — which informed it in January 2018 that “MyGovID alone” should be the only means for accessing the new childcare scheme.
MyGovID is the online form of the PSC, a verified version of which is currently required to access the new scheme. About 390,000, or less than 10%, of Ireland’s 4 million PSC holders have thus far verified their card.
The new National Childcare Scheme is slated to go live on October 29.
The scheme has been consistently delayed over the past three years due to a number of problems with the implementation of the necessary IT infrastructure needed to handle the online applications system.