OVER 10,000 consumers a week are being summonsed to meetings with the Department of Social Protection to get new identity cards or risk having their child benefit, free travel or other welfare payments cut off.
Customers are being given just 10 days' notice of meetings to register for the new Public Services Card (PSC), with meetings taking place during working hours - forcing many people to take time off work to attend.
The department warns customers that completing registration for the new card helps avoid problems accessing public services in future, "including potentially suspension of free travel entitlement, social welfare payments and/or child benefit".
The new card has been designed to reduce fraud and identity theft by including a photograph and a signature, ending the need to bring additional ID when collecting welfare payments at post offices.
Some 1.2m public service cards have now been issued, and the department said registration would continue for the foreseeable future for applicants for PPS numbers and social welfare, with people required to bring photos, a passport or driving licence, utility bill and long-form birth certificate for the 45-minute registration process.
"Face-to-face registration is currently yielding approx 10,500 registrations per week across 144 stations in 89 locations across the country," it said in response to queries from the Irish Independent.
Customers who could not attend their designated appointment could phone the department to arrange an alternative time, although currently these are not available at weekends or outside normal working hours.
"Non-compliance with registration for the PSC may impact on a person's entitlements to social welfare benefits (including child benefit) and/or free travel," it said.
The allocation of an office was usually based on a person's home address, but people could request to register at any DSP office where the function was available, which includes most local/Intreo and branch offices as well as a number of dedicated PSC registration centres in Dublin, Cork, Galway and Waterford.
Age Action Ireland said it supported moves to reduce fraud but had concerns about how the cards are being distributed which it had raised at a recent meeting with the department.
"These issues relate to individuals who are living in nursing homes and who have limited capacity and mobility. A key issue is the lack of a coherent and consistent approach to dealing with the issue," it said.
In one case a man (90) with Alzheimer's disease and no mobility living in a nursing home was told to attend and when a family member phoned the department to say this was not possible, they were told this was okay for now, but they might have to arrange another face-to-face interview.
In another case a woman (97) with dementia and no mobility had to pay a photographer to come to take the photo required for the card, but was later told a letter from the nursing home was enough. The department said a postal registration process is being offered to pensioners to minimise inconvenience.