Family says it had child benefit cancelled after going on holidays

Musician says pandemic unemployment payment stopped after he gave passport details to gardaí

 Passengers at Dublin Airport. Photograph:  Colin Keega

Passengers at Dublin Airport. Photograph: Colin Keega

 

A family who said they had had their child benefit payments stopped aftergoing on holidays were among those to tell their stories as details emerged of those impacted by a change in policy by the Government.

Roman Shorthall said he and his wife were flying to Romania on June 13th with their two children when there was a checkpoint at their boarding gate at Dublin Airport. Two Gardai and two social welfare inspectors were stopping each passenger in the queue, he told Liveline on RTE Radio 1.

He said he showed a garda his passport. On their return from Romania, their child benefit was stopped because they had been away on holiday, he said.

Mr Shortall said he was “treated as something of a criminal in front of his kids while I was going about my lawful business boarding a flight”.

Mr Shortall said gardai and social welfare officers cannot do blanket checks on people and they have to have good reason to pursue people on an individual basis. The family’s child benefit has since been restored.

Musician

Meanwhile a musician claims he had his €350 Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment stopped after he gave his passport details to gardai at Dublin Airport.

Ciaran Cooney, a guitarist and singer with the Irish Celtic show, said he was waiting at the airport gate to board a flight to Glasgow on May 7th when two plain clothes gardai asked to see his passport.

They claimed to be doing immigration checks which he said was puzzling as he was leaving and not entering the country. Mr Cooney said there were only about eight people on the flight and all were checked.

When he returned nine days later, he discovered that his Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment had been stopped because he had left the country.

Mr Cooney said he was without any income for six weeks and only had the payment restored after his local TDs Brian Stanley and Carol Nolan wrote a letter on his behalf to the then minister for social protection Regina Doherty.

He claims that he was promised his arrears, but none were forthcoming and he is puzzled as to how the Department of Social Protection knew the flight he was on. He had not given gardai his PPS number.

“The gardai did not give me a reason why they were checking my details. They should have told me the reasons why they did it,” he added.

“I have been tax compliant all my life although 70 per cent of my income comes from working abroad. Only for that I would not have got my money back.”

Mr Cooney said he had to move back in with his parents. “Only for them I don’t know what I would do. If I knew my money was going to be stopped and it would have caused the heartache it caused I wouldn’t have gone.”

Ferry

Another woman claimed she has had her PUP payment withdrawn though she did not leave the State.

The woman, who did not wish to give her name, was booked on a Cork to Roscoff ferry on July 18th for a family holiday with her husband and children.

She opted not to travel because she is due to return to work at an opticians in August and would still be quarantining by that time as the family were not due back until July 31st.

She was contacted by a welfare officer on July 23rd to be told that she no longer met the eligibility for the scheme. “The reason for this determination is that - you have left the State on 18/7/20,” the welfare officer stated.

She wrote back to say she had never left the State yet her Covid-19 payments did not go into her bank account this week.

“I thought logically that I will get my €350 as normal on Tuesday. Today I have no money in my bank account. I’m pretty disgusted. I didn’t get paid,” she said.

The woman said there had been no response to date from the Department as to why she had not received her payment.

A French woman said she had her Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment (PUP) stopped after she boarded a ferry from Rosslare to Cherbourg.

The woman, who works as a restaurant manager, said she was questioned by welfare officers as she waited to board the ferry on June 25th. They took her PPS number and she got an email two days later stating that her €350 weekly Covid-19 payment had been stopped because she was travelling out of the country. The woman said she was on her way to the continent with her two children (12 and 15) to stay with her elderly mother.

She declined to be named, but her partner said she had been laid off from the restaurant in the middle of March when the Government ordered all restaurants and bars to shut as a result of Covid-19. Prior to that she had been a restaurant owner for more than a decade.

Her partner pointed out that the department’s announcement was for cases from July 7th and at airports whereas the woman’s payments were stopped in June and she was getting on a ferry not a plane.

He said his partner had paid her taxes and VAT during all her years living in Ireland and was not on holidays, but visiting an elderly relative.

He described her as the most “honest woman I’ve ever met, She has never received any welfare payment before. The letter she got implied that she was trying to screw the system.

“She thought it was a good idea to go to France early and come back early if she needed to go into quarantine and go back to work.”

Taoiseach

Taoiseach Micheál Martin told the Dail on Tuesday that more than 2,000 pandemic unemployment payment claims have been closed as a result of checks carried out at Dublin Airport. He said that since July 7th 104 Pup and 44 jobseeker payments had been stopped. The Department of Social Protection has confirmed that PUP payments are “not paid to people who go on holidays abroad or when they are going through their 14-day quarantine period”.

Historically people were allowed two weeks in any calendar year for a holiday, without losing their welfare entitlement. However, the Minister for Social Protection, Heather Humphreys, introduced a new rule two weeks ago stating that the holiday must be “in accordance with the Covid-19 General Travel Advisory in operation by the Department of Foreign Affairs”.

In cases whereby people need to travel overseas for essential reasons, the Department of Social Protection will continue to pay the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) to these recipients uch as ue to bereavement or to care for a sick family relative, according to the Department

A Department of Social Protection spokeswoman said they did not discuss individual cases.