Wednesday, 29 July 2020
Social Welfare (Covid-19) (Amendment) Bill 2020: Second Stage
I welcome the Minister to the Seanad and congratulate her on her new role. I have no doubt she will do an excellent job.
We all know that on 12 March the country started on the path of being locked down and life as we know it has changed significantly since. The Government of the time acted very quickly, and from what I understand, the Covid-19 payment was initially a type of public health measure to encourage people to stay at home and try to curb the spread of the virus. It was an extra encouragement for a person not to leave the house. However, it was not mandatory to stay in one's house and no particular restrictions were placed on the payment with regard to travel. I welcome the Minister's indication today that people in receipt of the payment are allowed to go to countries on the green list. I read in some newspapers today about people who had booked holidays but were not in airports so could not have come within the scope of inspectors operating there. They had payments stopped and are trying to figure out how their information was obtained by the Minister's Department. If the Minister has not heard of this happening, it would be interesting to hear her views on the story. If it is the case that the Department is receiving information from third parties, I am interested to know which parties are supplying the information, when such a process began and if it is ongoing. There are still many questions about the receipt of information in the Department and how exactly it receives information about people going on holidays or not taking such trips.
I welcome the Bill and in particular the regularisation of the pay-related social insurance, PRSI, contributions. It provides clarity to employees and employers on the paying of PRSI, even at a low rate as the Minister stated. It would have to be filed and people's employment records will show a continuous PRSI contribution. It is a welcome provision.
I am unclear on some of the elements of the Bill. When the payment was introduced, it was unclear whether it would be taxed. It has come to light that this will come under income tax provisions but many people have been surviving hand to mouth on this Covid-19 payment, so it will be very difficult for them to pay any income tax. Will the Minister's Department liaise with the Department of Finance or the Revenue Commissioners in order to come to an arrangement with people who are on the Covid-19 payment but who may have trouble paying their income tax in November? They might have to save their Covid-19 payment from now to pay that income tax and some people are concerned about this.
At the end of her contribution the Minister mentioned that redundancies will not be affected. Many people have been put on the Covid-19 payment but some people who spoke to me have said their companies are using the pandemic as a way of getting rid of some employees. I hate saying that. We should have clear guidance that redundancy provisions are not affected and people would still be entitled to redundancy payments if required. I would like some more clarity for individuals in that regard. We support the Bill and I thank the Minister for coming to the House.