The Free Legal Advice Centre (Flac) has said that rules preventing people claiming pandemic unemployment benefits while on holidays are “not legal”.
In a statement on Tuesday evening, the NGO which offers free legal advice said “there is no clear legal basis to sanction Covid Pandemic Unemployment Payment claimants holidaying abroad.”
It comes after it emerged the Government has been suspending payments to people on the payment who have travelled outside the country.
On Tuesday, the chief executive of Flac Eilis Barry said she had written to Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys with her concerns. "In recent days, Flac have been contacted by a number of individuals and NGOs concerning the reported sanctioning of people in receipt of the Pandemic Unemploument Payment who took holidays abroad."
She said that the supports had been cut based on a departmental circular which “purports to allow the suspension of certain social welfare payments in circumstances where a claimant leaves the state”.
Ms Barry said the in-house Flac legal team, led by managing solicitor Sinead Lucey has been examining legislation and "our assessment of the Department's policy, based on the Circular, is that while legitslaiton may allow for this suspension in relation to jobseekers benefit, it does not go so far as to allow the Department sweeping powers to suspend or close other payments that people may receive - including Covid PUP."
Flac is arguing that the primary legislation in relation to jobseekers’ allowance allows claimantss to remain in payment if they are normally resident in the State but does not empower a Minister to make further regulations in relation to eligibility for the payment when claimants leave the State.
"Any decision on behalf of the Department to suspend those payments where claimants, who are residents of Ireland, take holidays abroad would be open to challenge on this basis," Ms Lucey said. She also questioned whether it was possible to deny social welfare recipients who had travelled abroad the payment while they were self-isolating on return from their travels.
Flac is now requesting that the policy be immediately suspended to “ensure that claimants are not sanctioned financially in respect of holidays outside the State”.
Further, any claimant who has been penalised by this rule, must have their claim reinstated and backdated as a matter of urgency,” she said.