PUP case con­tro­versy as driver ‘ob­served’ us­ing taxi

Irish Examiner - - News - Cianan Bren­nan

A taxi driver who had been in re­ceipt of the pan­demic un­em­ploy­ment pay­ment (PUP) and closed his claim vol­un­tar­ily was in­formed a month later that his pay­ment had been stopped as so­cial wel­fare in­spec­tors had “ob­served” him op­er­at­ing his taxi.

The man in ques­tion, who is based in Dublin, had first claimed the PUP one week af­ter it was in­tro­duced on March 16, at a lower rate of €203 per week, in line with stan­dard job­seeker’s ben­e­fit.

He ceased his claim three weeks later, on April 13, af­ter com­ing un­der the im­pres­sion that he was no longer el­i­gi­ble for the pay­ment be­cause his self-em­ployed busi­ness had not ceased trad­ing com­pletely.

On May 7, he re­ceived a let­ter from the Depart­ment of Em­ploy­ment Af­fairs and So­cial Pro­tec­tion stat­ing that, per its records, he was “cur­rently in re­ceipt of the Covid-19 pan­demic un­em­ploy­ment pay­ment”.

“On April 5 you were ob­served by so­cial wel­fare in­spec­tors op­er­at­ing as a taxi for hire in Dublin city cen­tre or county,” stated the let­ter, adding “it would now ap­pear you cur­rently have an in­come from em­ploy­ment and are not en­ti­tled to be re­ceiv­ing a Covid-19 pan­demic un­em­ploy­ment pay­ment and this pay­ment has now been dis­con­tin­ued”.

How­ever, it would ap­pear that such cri­te­ria, should the man have still been in re­ceipt of the pay­ment, would not have ap­plied to him re­gard­less given he, much like the ma­jor­ity of taxi driv­ers in Ire­land, is self-em­ployed.

Self-em­ployed peo­ple who pay them­selves as PAYE work­ers are en­ti­tled to claim the al­ter­nate tem­po­rary wage sub­sidy scheme, op­er­ated as an em­ployer sup­port by the Rev­enue Com­mis­sion­ers.

The re­main­der in self-em­ploy­ment are sup­posed to ap­ply for the PUP. How­ever the cri­te­ria for same have al­tered on a num­ber of oc­ca­sions.

At present, the cri­te­ria for el­i­gi­bil­ity for self-em­ployed

are that their trad­ing in­come has ceased due to Covid-19, or it has “col­lapsed to the ex­tent that you are avail­able to take up other full-time em­ploy­ment if it was of­fered”.

The Depart­ment of Em­ploy­ment Af­fairs and So­cial Pro­tec­tion was asked what the pro­to­cols are for check­ing whether claimants are re­ceiv­ing in­come from other sources given in­spec­tors are known to be mon­i­tor­ing Ire­land’s ports of en­try to­gether with the case of the taxi driver in ques­tion.

“The depart­ment de­ploys a va­ri­ety of mech­a­nisms and tech­niques to de­tect and iden­tify in­stances of sus­pected fraud and non-com­pli­ance,” said a spokesper­son, adding that those checks hap­pen both be­fore and af­ter the ben­e­fit is granted.

“In prac­tice, a self-em­ployed per­son can en­gage in once-off or spo­radic emer­gency work and still re­tain el­i­gi­bil­ity for the Covid-19 pan­demic un­em­ploy­ment pay­ment,” said the spokesper­son.

Law stu­dent Ro­man Short­per­sons all said the de­tails of the taxi driver’s claim show that the Depart­ment of Em­ploy­ment Af­fairs and So­cial Pro­tec­tion “are mak­ing up the rules as they go along”.

“The key point is that a week af­ter the man had ap­plied they had peo­ple out hunt­ing for fraud­u­lent claims,” he said.

Mr Shor­tall him­self re­cently com­plained to the the depart­ment af­ter be­ing asked for his per­sonal de­tails at Dublin Air­port by rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the depart­ment.

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