Seantor Higgins seeks amendments to Social Welfare Bill regarding Public Services Card roll-out

During the Seanad debate on the Social Welfare Bill 2017, Senator Higgins raised several concerns with the Minister for Employment and Social Protection about the introduction of the Public Services Card and the heavy-handed manner in which the roll-out has been conducted. 

In addressing the Seanad, Senator Higgins said that the public services has card has become effectively  "mandatory" if not "compulsory" for anyone seeking to access vital services from the state.  There is a growing body of evidence that people are being denied access to essential services or supports if they do not obtain a public services card; and in the process give their data over to a single customer view dataset. 

Examples of this include a pensioner who was denied access to her pension but was later granted it, students being denied access to grants under SUSI which would allow them to attend college, and multiple people receiving letters telling them they risk losing child benefit or other essential payments without a PSC.

Senator Higgins told Minister Doherty that she was not satisfied that there is a legislative basis for the mandatory possession of this card in order to access essential services. She raised serious concerns about the use of the single customer view data set, its compatibility with the General Data Protection Regulation which will be introduced across the EU in May 2018, and about the general lack of robustness in how information is gathered, stored and shared.

The Senator introduced several amendments to the Social Welfare Bill which sought to increase transparency around the gathering and handling of individual's information and ensure that it was fully compatible with personal privacy rights and forthcoming data protection legislation. The Minister did not accept these amendments; however, the Committee for Employment and Social Protection will host hearings about the public services card in the New Year where Senator Higgins will again voice these concerns and seek commitments from the Minister and Department to ensuring that any continuation of the roll-out of the public service card is managed with full transparency and in full respect of an individual's right to privacy.

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