PUP case controversy as driver ‘observed’ using taxi
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.