A Government target to issue at least three million public services cards by the end of 2017 has been reached, according to the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.
An agreement between the department and the card supplier, Biometric Card Services, stipulated that if the three million target was not reached by the end of last year, the full cost of the cards not produced would still be payable.
The department confirmed this week the total number of public services cards issued by the end of 2017 was 3.034 million.
The cost of the PSC project has reached € 54.6 million to date, including nearly € 29 million to pay up to 216 staff working on it. The total cost for production of the cards was nearly € 20.9 million up to November.
The department said it was currently finalising a request for tender to put in place a new contract for the “production, personalisation and distribution” of public service cards and expected to issue that “within the coming weeks”.
“In the interim, the contract with Biometric Card Services has been modified to allow production to continue, pending the placement of the new contract,” a spokeswoman said.
The cards, issued to people claiming State benefits, including free travel and welfare payments, have drawn concerns from privacy campaigners because of the underlying database of personal information shared across Government departments and agencies.
While the department says the card does not contain “biometric” information, photographs of those who are registered for a card are checked against a database of other photographs as an anti-fraud measure.
People refusing to register for the cards through the so-called ‘SAFE 2’ process, during which a photograph and signature are captured, have in some cases found their State benefits have been cut off.
The Irish Times reported last August that a woman in her 70s had her pension cut off for 18 months after she refused the card. It was subsequently restored to her on appeal and she was paid arrears of € 15,000.
The contract for the production of the cards was renegotiated in 2015 after it became apparent that the initial target to produce three million by the end of 2016 would not be reached.
A 2016 contract provided for an advance payment by the department in January 2017 of 50 per cent of the cost of the outstanding balance of 3 million cards at that time.
In the event that in excess of 3 million cards were produced by December 31st 2017, a discount of 5 per cent was to be applied, resulting in a cost per card of €4.3804, or € 5.6154 for cards with the free travel feature.
A 2015 report by the Comptroller & Auditor General found that no single business case existed for the card project.
But the department told the financial watchdog that at the time of its inception in the early 2000s, the card project was “a brand new, innovative approach to smart-card usage and identity management which had not been used anywhere else in Government”.
“Accordingly, it was not possible to build a single detailed business case of the sort envisaged in advance.”
The department said that while a business case had not been developed, the project had been "coherently planned and implemented" in conjunction with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and "with the support of relevant decision makers and stakeholders".
The department’s figures state that € 2.58 million was saved up to October 2016 since the introduction of the PSC, based on the suspension of welfare payments in cases where an individual invited to go through the ‘SAFE 2’ registration process did not do so.