Wednesday, 27 February 2019
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
Public Services Card
I thank the Cathaoirleach for selecting this item. I welcome the Minister of State to the House. This relates to the need for the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection to make a statement on whether the public services card should be an acceptable form of identification in opening a bank account. I have received representations from people living in rural areas as well as vulnerable elderly people seeking alternatives when opening a bank account owing to the closure of rural post offices with which the Minister of State will be very familiar given that he represents a rural community.
Particularly when rural post offices close, people are being asked to have alternative arrangements to have their pensions or whatever to be transferred through a bank. A particular elderly lady from Galway contacted me. She has no passport and will not have a need for one. She does not think it is right that she should have to spend €75 getting one as a form of identification to open a bank account, in effect to arrange for her pension to be transferred into a bank account where there are no facilities, no ATMs, nothing.
The Minister of State will be very aware of this from his constituency. The public services card, PSC, is a card issued by the Government which verifies a person's identity. I know it is not necessarily a national ID card. There was much debate at the time on that issue. Many people were opposed to it and some people were in favour of it. It is an issue of the status of the card and whether it can be used as an official identification rather than people being required to go and apply for a driving licence which an elderly person would not have. In this case the woman does not drive. She does not have a passport, does not see a need for the passport and feels there should be a verifiable alternative.
A considerable amount of money was spent on developing the public services card. Can this be used as an official ID for this purpose? I would like to hear the Minister of State's view. It is a real issue of particular concern for people in rural communities and vulnerable elderly people. As a result of the shutdown of the post offices this issue has really come into focus.
Under current legislation, a public services card cannot be requested by any public or private body or person that is not designated as a specified body in Schedule 5 of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005, as amended. Currently, the PSC can only be used by public bodies specified in this legislation when conducting a public transaction with the person concerned.
One of the provisions set out in section 5 of the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill 2017 would, if enacted, enable citizens to volunteer their PSC where they wish to use it as a form of proof of identity and-or age. However, it is important to note that a non-specified body could not request or demand the production of a PSC. It simply gives individuals the option to use their PSC if they wished, as proof of identity and-or age, in transactions with non-specified bodies. It is clear from customer feedback that PSC holders should be allowed to volunteer the card to non-specified bodies if it suits them to do so, for the purposes of ID verification. Customers often report that private companies insist on a State-issued photographic ID such as a passport or driver's licence which they might not have and which attracts a cost. In contrast, the PSC is free of charge.
This proposal provides, therefore, for the card be accepted as a form of identity verification by a private sector organisation or non-specified body, but only at the sole discretion of the cardholder.The Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill 2017 proposes a number of amendments to the Social Welfare Acts, the Pensions Act 1990 and the Civil Registration Act 2004 in addition to provisions relating to the use of public services cards. The proposed amendments to the Pensions Act contain a number of key measures relating to defined benefit pension schemes. It is intended that these measures will act to support existing provisions in the Act by providing for further protection for scheme members' benefits and enhancing employers' responsibility for their schemes. These provisions, in particular, are very technical and involve complex policy issues. In order to achieve a resilient solution, it has, therefore, been necessary to consult in detail with other Departments and obtain numerous legal opinions. When these matters have been resolved and the amendments are approved by Government, an early date for Committee Stage will be requested.
I know what the Minister of State is saying but he is not telling us very much. I accept the Government is considering amendments and that the matter is complex. In essence, the Minister of State is telling me that it is a voluntary arrangement with the cardholder. However, there is no comfort there for these rural people. They have no IDs and are being forced as an unintended consequence to apply for a passport. This means an 80 or a 90 year old lady must pay €75 for a passport as a form of ID. We do not have a national ID card system in Ireland and, as such, there is no alternative. I must write to this lady today to tell her there is no comfort and that she will have to spend €75. It is a disgrace.
This matter should be looked at. As a Deputy from a rural constituency, the Minister of State should take the matter on and champion it personally as it is a very important issue. We have no form of ID for thousands of people who are being told to go through the process of applying for a passport to prove their identities. I ask the Minister of State to consider pursuing the matter on foot of the genuine concern here. These are not the people who are kicking up and roaring and screaming every day of the week. They are elderly people in rural communities who have suffered the consequences of the closure of post offices.
What the Senator says is very reasonable and I have no difficulty with the points he makes. They are eminently sensible and I will certainly advance the matter with my colleague, the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, on whose behalf I am taking this matter. What I read to the House suggests a provision has been made, provided the person consents to it being used as an ID card. Certainly, I will get more clarity on that from the Minister and see how we can progress the matter. The Senator has made a valid and reasonable request.