FLAC challenges legal basis for sanctioning Covid PUP claimants

FLAC challenges legal basis for sanctioning Covid PUP claimants

Eilis Barry

Legal rights organisation FLAC has challenged the legal basis for sanctioning Covid Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) claimants who travel abroad for holidays.

Eilis Barry, CEO of FLAC, wrote to Social Protection Minister Heather Humphries after a number of individuals and NGOs contacted the organisation to query reported sanctions.

A departmental circular purports to allow the suspension of certain social welfare payments in circumstances where a claimant leaves the State.

However, FLAC’s legal team has concluded that “while legislation may allow for this suspension in relation to Jobseekers Benefit, it does not go so far as to allow the Department sweeping powers to suspend or close other payments that people may receive – including Covid PUP”, Ms Barry said.

The primary legislation in relation to Jobseeker’s Allowance and Supplementary Welfare Allowance allows claimants to remain in payment provided that they remain normally resident in the State, but it does not empower a Minister to make further regulations in relation to eligibility for the payment in circumstances where claimants are absent from the State.

Sinead Lucey, managing solicitor of FLAC, said: “Any decision on behalf of the Department to suspend those payments where claimants, who are residents of Ireland, take holidays abroad would be open to challenge on this basis.”

The Department’s policy also implies that those who are advised to self-isolate following their return from travel abroad are not entitled to payments where there is an obligation to be available for work during the advisory self-isolation period.

However, FLAC has said that no such obligation exists in the context of Supplementary Welfare Allowance and it is “questionable” whether such an obligation exists in relation to the Covid PUP.

It adds that it is “doubtful” that all social welfare claimants who follow the advice to self-isolate for a period can be automatically deemed to be unavailable for work or to be not genuinely seeking work.

“FLAC are requesting that the Minister withdraw Circular 35/20, immediately suspend this policy and ensure that claimants are not sanctioned financially in respect of holidays outside of the State,” Ms Barry said.

“Further, any claimant who has been penalised by this rule must have their claim reinstated and backdated as a matter of urgency.”

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