Three workers settle cases over cancellation of pandemic payments while abroad

Trio argued in High Court action that halting their PUP was erroneous and unlawful

Three people living and working in the State who sued over their Pandemic Unemployment Payments (PUP) being stopped for periods when they travelled abroad last year for various reasons have settled their High Court actions.  Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times.

Three people living and working in the State who sued over their Pandemic Unemployment Payments (PUP) being stopped for periods when they travelled abroad last year for various reasons have settled their High Court actions. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times.

 

Three people living and working in the State who sued over their Pandemic Unemployment Payments (PUP) being stopped for periods when they travelled abroad last year for various reasons have settled their High Court actions.

The separate cases against the Minister of Social Protection were struck out on terms that all three will get the PUP payments they were denied and their legal costs.

The three are an Irish waitress who travelled to Turkey for a holiday and stayed on for dental treatment after she broke a tooth while there; a cleaner who spent two weeks in her native Romania to finalise legal proceedings; and a kitchen porter who travelled to his native Mexico for four weeks for a holiday and medical treatment but was unable to get back to Ireland until late August due to flight cancellations.

They claimed the decisions to stop their €350 weekly payments on the basis they were not eligible by virtue of being either not resident in Ireland or having left the State were erroneous and unlawful.

They claimed they met all eligibility criteria for the PUP, including that an applicant should “live in the Republic of Ireland”. There is no condition that an applicant must remain in the country at all times, they argued.

Brendan Hennessy BL, instructed by solicitor Eileen McCabe, for the applicants, secured the strike out orders, on consent of the sides, from High Court registrar Lisa Scott during a callover of cases on Tuesday.

Compromise

Counsel said all three applicants had their PUP payments stopped when they left the country. After a compromise, he said the cases could be struck out on the basis they would get their full payments and their legal costs.

One applicant, Cristina Dumitru, a Romanian national with an address in Tallaght, Dublin, has lived in Ireland for four years. Her employer, a Dublin cleaning firm, wrote to her on March 18th, 2020 stating that many of its clients were closing their premises due to the pandemic and she could apply for the PUP.

She travelled to Romania on July 26th last to finalise legal proceedings and returned to Dublin on August 13th. A week before she travelled, she phoned her local Intreo office to inform them she intended to travel to attend to essential legal matters and would return in about two weeks.

She was told her payment would be stopped for the two weeks she was away and would not resume until after she completed two weeks quarantine on her return. After the four weeks, she reapplied and the payment was reinstated.

Michelle Brereton, a waitress with an address in Drumcondra, Dublin, was working in a catering company when the lockdown began. She received the PUP from April of last year but it was stopped for a time when she went to Turkey in July for a pre-booked holiday. While there, one of her teeth broke and she remained to have work done on it. She claimed there was no legal basis for her PUP being stopped for the five weeks she was abroad.

Specialist treatment

Luis Alberto Gomez Gonzalez, with an address on Drumcondra Road, Dublin, is a Mexican national living in Ireland for more than six years. He was working full-time as a kitchen porter in a Dublin hotel in February 2020 when he developed severe headaches. Having been advised he would have to wait several months for an appointment with a neurological specialist, his employer agreed he could take four weeks holidays to travel to Mexico and to seek medical treatment.

He went to Mexico on March 6th and his employer contacted him on March 23rd of last year saying that due to the pandemic, the hotel would be closed until May and he was being temporarily laid off. His employer attached the PUP form and Mr Gonzalez applied for the payment on March 26th.

Due to flight cancellations arising from the pandemic, he was unable to book a flight to Dublin until June 8th of last year, which was also cancelled. He eventually secured a flight to Dublin via France on August 26th. Following an interview with a social welfare inspector on August 28th, he was told he did not meet the eligibility criteria for the PUP because he was not resident in the Republic from March 6th to August 26th.