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'No clear legal basis' to sanction Covid payment claimants holidaying abroad - legal rights organisation

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Picture: PA

Picture: PA

PA

Picture: PA

There is no clear legal basis for rules which see pandemic unemployment payment sanctioned if they travel abroad, according to a legal rights organisation.

Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC) said that there is "no clear legal basis" to sanction Covid-19 payment recipients.

Under the new rule, the payment is "not payable for any period spent outside of Ireland". The payment is also cut off for recipients, who have to reapply on return to Ireland.

"You will also not be paid for the 14 days that you are required to self-isolate when you return from abroad," the Government's website states.

In a letter viewed by Independent.ie, Chief Executive of legal rights organisation FLAC, Eilis Barry, wrote to the Minister for Social Protection, Community, Rural Development and the Islands, Heather Humphries, to outline that there is no clear legal basis to sanction Covid Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) claimants holidaying abroad.

“In recent days, FLAC have been contacted by a number of individuals and NGOs concerning the reported sanctioning of people in receipt of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP), who took holidays abroad," Ms Barry said.

"Recipients of PUP ‘the Covid Payment’ had their supports cut after travelling abroad based on a Departmental Circular which purports to allow the suspension of certain social welfare payments in circumstances where a claimant leaves the state.

“Our legal team lead by FLAC’s Managing Solicitor, Sinead Lucey has examined the relevant legislative provisions, and our assessment of the Department’s policy, based on the Circular, is that while legislation may allow for this suspension in relation to Jobseekers Benefit, it does not go so far as to allow the Department sweeping powers to suspend or close other payments that people may receive - including Covid PUP."

According to FLAC, the primary legislation in relation to Jobseeker’s Allowance and Supplementary Welfare Allowance, allows claimants to remain in payment provided that they remain normally resident in the State but it does not empower a Minister to make further regulations in relation to eligibility for the payment in circumstances where claimants are absent from the State.

“Any decision on behalf of the Department to suspend those payments where claimants, who are residents of Ireland, take holidays abroad would be open to challenge on this basis," Sinead Lucey added.

FLAC said that the Department’s policy also implies that those who are advised to self-isolate following their return from travel abroad are not entitled to payments where there is an obligation to be available for work during the advisory self-isolation period.

"Firstly, no such obligation exists in the context of Supplementary Welfare Allowance and it is questionable whether such an obligation exists in relation to the Covid PUP," they said.

"Secondly, it is doubtful that all social welfare claimants who follow the advice to self-isolate for a period can be automatically deemed to be unavailable for work or to be not genuinely seeking work.

“FLAC are requesting that the Minister withdraw Circular 35/20, immediately suspend this policy and ensure that claimants are not sanctioned financially in respect of holidays outside of the State. Further, any claimant who has been penalised by this rule, must have their claim reinstated and backdated as a matter of urgency.”

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