Wednesday, 20 May 2020
Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection
1208. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if her attention has been drawn to or if the issue of a letter was authorised from the office of her Department in Buncrana, County Donegal on 20 March 2020 to claimants encouraging them to change their payment from their post office to a bank account; if a letter has issued to retract this advice; if an apology will issue to post offices which are making efforts to ensure services can continue during the Covid-19 crisis; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5694/20]
Following the Government decision to implement a scheme for people who lost their jobs from March 13 due to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic, Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection officials embarked on the extensive task of putting procedures in place to process and issue payments to the significant numbers of customers claiming COVID-19 unemployment and illness related payments. In order to assist customers, all aspects that would facilitate the processing of claims and provisions of payments were considered, both within existing payment scenarios and taking into account the introduction of new social distancing requirements.
In response to the crisis, on 20 March a letter was issued to a small number of customers in Inishowen, Co. Donegal from the Community Welfare Service there, informing them of an option to redirect their payments from their Post Office to their Bank account, because of the risk inherent in queuing to collect their payment. While this option was proposed solely with the welfare of the customers in mind, I wish to emphasise that this correspondence was not in line with Departmental policy. Steps were therefore taken to rectify the situation as soon as it was brought to the attention of the manager concerned, on 26th March.
The relevant Post Masters were contacted immediately and provided with a verbal apology for any inconvenience caused, details regarding the erroneous issue of the letter; and an assurance of its immediate withdrawal. I am advised that the Post Masters were satisfied both with the explanation and the commitment to retract the advice that was provided to the customers in question.
Customers who had received the letter were also contacted on the 26 March. They were informed that the letter was issued in error, that there was no requirement to change their payment locations; and that they could therefore disregard the correspondence . I am advised that all of the customers contacted wished to keep their payments at the Post Offices as before.
I trust this clarifies matters for the Deputy.