The "vast majority" of people who had their €350 pandemic unemployment payment (PUP) stopped as a result of travelling abroad, were "leaving the country permanently," according to the Department of Social Protection.
“The PUP is not paid to people who are leaving the country to reside elsewhere or who go on holidays abroad.”
The PUP is the €350 a week enhanced social welfare benefit for anyone who lost their job due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Some 104 individuals had the payment stopped in the past two weeks following checks at airports and a further 44 had benefits such as jobseeker’s allowance cut off. But in a statement last night the department said the eligibility criteria have always been clear.
“A recipient must be living in the State in order to receive a Pandemic Unemployment Payment and cannot be absent from the State. Neither is the payment paid to individuals during a 14-day quarantine period,” it said.
These rules also apply to jobseeker’s payments and the department “temporarily suspended the normal two-week holiday period for jobseekers”.
In the wake of controversy over the withdrawal of the payment following airport checks, the department said that “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”.
This included travelling abroad due to bereavement or to care for a sick family relative.
But the statement points out that airport compliance checks “involve inspectors speaking directly with passengers” and “any information gathered is only used for the purpose for which it is gathered”.
"The vast majority of PUP cases stopped as a result of the compliance checks relate to individuals leaving the country permanently. If a person returns to Ireland it is open to them to re-apply for the PUP," the department statement added.
It said that “in normal circumstances, there is flexibility” where someone on jobseeker’s benefit “can leave the country for up to two weeks without this affecting their payment, provided they notify their local Social Protection Office in advance.
“However we are not living in normal circumstances. Given that the clear public health advice is not to travel abroad except for essential reasons, the department temporarily suspended this flexibility on July 10th.”
The scheme has been extended until April but the Government will cut the payment from September, close it to new applicants and taper the payments depending on what recipients earned pre-Covid-19. It is being paid to more than a quarter of a million people.
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties has questioned the legality of checks being carried out at airports to identify travellers in receipt of the PUP.
The organisation's executive director, Liam Herrick, claimed the checks on passengers to establish if they were in receipt of the PUP weekly payment of up to €350 were discriminatory without any real justification being offered by the Government for their use
Barrister William Quill has argued that because the advisory "has no legal basis.. It would be open to legal challenge [by] someone affected, someone who had their payments removed from them during that period because of having gone on holiday".
Mr Quill also argues that the Government did not do enough to inform people of the change when it was introduced on July 10th, that could also weaken their case for enforcing the rule, as people would have formed a legitimate expectation they could travel and the normal rules, ie that they could do so for two weeks without their payment being impacted.