Some civil servants complained they were being hit with enormous mobile phone and broadband bills while trying to work from home.
However, the Government was fearful of the cost implications of sanctioning a €3.20 work from home allowance during the pandemic, according to emails.
Officials warned that as well as a high cost, there was a risk of retrospective payments to the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis or even before.
The Department of Public Expenditure had been contacted by the Revenue Commissioners asking if employees could be reimbursed for costs incurred from having a home office.
“The type of expenses may include WiFi, phonecalls, electricity, equipment costs (if equipment was purchased by them, accommodation etc,” an official from Revenue said.
In emails discussing a response, Public Expenditure officials said it needed to be clear there would be no standard allowance available for such costs. “Clearly, we won’t be paying these in the crisis,” said one civil servant.
In a later email, the department said civil service staff should be reminded they were not authorised to incur any expenses without prior approval from their line manager. However, they said it was open for people to make a claim against tax to Revenue at the end of the year for costs incurred in setting up a home office.
The Data Protection Commissioner also contacted the department saying they had been receiving queries, particularly from junior staff about extra costs and “limits on access” due to remote working.
They said broadband costs were rising for these employees, who did not have all you can eat style services and they were having difficulty “meeting additional costs as a result of increased usage”.
Mobile phone costs were increasing with many staff not having a work phone and bills were rising in particular due to lengthy conference calls.
The email continued:
Staff have contacted us in relation to reaching their [mobile] bundle limits, and being unable to continue using their phones until they pay a significant amount of the increased bill.
The Central Bank also looked for clarity on payment of an allowance and also flexibility where parents were unable to work due to childcare arrangements. They had seen issues with people working outside of normal office hours because they had full time caring responsibilities. An official from one department also sought help about having to purchase a laser printer for use in his home office.
Later emails reveal discussions were taking place over what would happen if employees had to buy specific equipment to allow them work from home. One senior official wrote: “We’re clear that public service employers will not be paying the €3.20 daily allowance to staff. However, I think the question of reimbursing staff who make investments in equipment, have to use the data plan on their personal smartphone to carry out work etc is still open.”
A colleague responded: “I think this is an issue we’ll have to move carefully on given work from home arrangements are going to be the norm for the foreseeable.”
Confusion still reined over how to manage situations where people ran up large mobile bills, using their phone as an internet hotspot because of poor connectivity.