The Department of Education is set to phase out paper-based payslips for teachers by the third quarter of 2022 after being heavily criticised for spending millions on an archaic system.
The Public Accounts Committee has heard that the department plans to “improve” its current payroll service with the provision of access to an electronic version of payslips for employees.
At present the department is spending in the region of €1.7m each year on sending physical payslips to its roughly 120,000 staff every fortnight. More than €10m has been spent on these payslips over the past six years, a fact the department has previously acknowledged as being something that needs to change “as a matter of urgency”.
A letter from Department of Education secretary general Seán Ó Foghlú to the PAC states that it has recently upgraded the software on its four existing payroll systems, leaving the way clear for an electronic payslip system to be explored.
Mr Ó Foghlú said that a “viable technical solution has been identified” which is at present being “assessed from a number of perspectives” to ensure it can deliver at scale” to meet the needs of all 120,000 payees.
He said that ensuring the new system is secure from a personal data point of view is likewise a priority.
That assessment is due to complete by the end of this year, he said, and from there “the plan is to phase in the option to use this service for all payees by quarter three 2022”.
Considering the correspondence, vice-chairwoman of the committee, Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy, declared herself “intrigued” by it, and asked what the department meant by a “viable” solution.
“What is the solution that they’re seeking?” she said.
Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy suggested in response to this that the issue may be whether or not payees would “have access to previous payments”, something Sinn Fein’s Matt Carthy declared to be “standard” in terms of modern payroll systems.
Mr Carthy said that “the fundamental problem with the current system is that it is completely archaic”.
He honed in on Mr Ó Foghlú’s final sentence in his correspondence which said payees would have the “option” to use the service from later in 2022.
“How will that option work?” he said, adding: “Is it the case that a substantial number of payees will opt to still avail of paper payslips?”, with the committee agreeing to seek clarity on that point from the department.
Separately, the committee considered a letter from the Revenue Commissioners in response to a request for clarity as to why the Revenue cannot investigate the issue of bogus self-employment in Ireland, the request for which was one of the core recommendations of the PAC in its recent report on the accounts of the tax agency.
In the same letter, Revenue stated that PAYE “is not a tax”, but a “collection mechanism for tax”, something committee chairman Brian Stanley said amounts to a contradiction in terms.
The letter also states that Revenue’s ability to comment on a 1997 decision it made to cast all couriers as being self-employed is “severely limited” due to the “significant lapse of time”.