People who self-isolate could have their pandemic unemployment payment cut, the Free Legal Advice Centre has warned.
The organisation’s legal team had voiced concerns about the lack of a legal basis for the practice of “sanctioning” PUP claimants travelling abroad before social protection minister Heather Humphreys' recent u-turn on the issue.
It has emerged that the department saved up to €10m from its actions at ports and airports in identifying people who were leaving the country permanently.
A department spokesperson told the Irish Examiner: “Had the department not stopped the 2,500 PUP payments in recent months, it is estimated that it would have incurred additional PUP expenditure in the region of €10m.”
However, FLAC chief executive Eilis Barry has warned other issues remain.
“We at FLAC very much welcome Minister Humphreys' announcement that she will sign a regulation that will allow people receiving the pandemic unemployment payment and jobseeker's allowance to travel on this matter," she said.
“Although FLAC welcomes this announcement, we have some concerns around the proposed legislation. FLAC’s legal team has been reviewing the proposed bill, which is being rushed through the legislative process.”
She said there still needs to be “clarity” about “whether those who are self-isolating, for whatever reason, may have their payment cut”.
Ms Barry said this was important because there remains an indication that “those who are self-isolating may not be genuinely seeking employment". The department did not comment on that claim last night.
FLAC managing solicitor Sinead Lucey said there are also concerns over the introduction of the requirement for those on the Covid PUP to be genuinely seeking work.
“This is inconsistent with the idea that the payment was intended for people who had been temporarily laid off,” she said.
“It may also disproportionately affect those with no childcare during the pandemic, and small business owners.”
On Tuesday it emerged that around 2,500 people have had their payments stopped and that more than 90% of them were people who had left the country “permanently”.
While people from countries in Eastern Europe appear to have been targeted by social welfare inspectors at Dublin Airport, hundreds of people returning to Brazil have also had their payments stopped.
A spokesperson told the Irish Examiner: "The number of checks has increased in recent months following the introduction of PUP to reflect the fact that large numbers of people were leaving the country arising from the lockdown measures imposed from the Covid-19 pandemic.
"This was at a time when the strong public health advice was to not travel.
"Accordingly, the department’s approach has been to deploy investigation resources at ports and airports to address the potential risk involved in people leaving the country on a permanent basis who had failed to close their PUP claims.
"To identify people who were leaving permanently, social welfare inspectors have been interviewing individuals at ports and airports in recent months."