While Government Ministers have repeatedly insisted that the public services card will not be a national identity card, new legislation proposes removing restrictions on its use so that individuals may use it more widely as ID.
The new Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill 2017 proposes removing certain prohibitions in relation to the use of the card, which includes the PPS number, and will also allow them to have their date of birth included on it if they wish.
Currently, a body that is not explicitly specified in the main Social Welfare Act is prohibited from accepting the public services card as proof of identity even where the cardholder voluntarily tenders it for this purpose.
An Amendment in the 2017 Bill will permit a customer to use the public services card (PSC) "at his/her own discretion without causing the person or entity accepting the PSC to be guilty of an offence", Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty told the Dáil during the second stage debate in July.
People will be allowed to use the card to provide evidence of their date of birth, other than in circumstances where they are carrying out a transaction – which means private bodies and others will be able to accept it as ID.
The Department of Social Protection’s current advice is that the PPS number (PPSN) should only be used in transactions with Government departments and agencies or persons or bodies that they have authorised to act on their behalf.
According to the department, it can currently be used for all social welfare services, for the free travel pass, as student ID, for public health schemes such as the medical card and drug payment schemes, for child immunisation, Revenue schemes, housing grants, driver theory testing and driver licences and for the Civil Registration Service.
Only agencies listed in the department's register of users, or an authorised agent, may ask for the PPSN. Employers may also use it for the purposes of advising Revenue and the Department of Social Protection of tax deductions and PRSI contributions.
Under the Immigration Act, 2003, the PPS number can be used by An Garda Síochána in respect of non-EU nationals.
Banks or building societies may also ask for the number where an account holder has a loan on which they are claiming tax relief on interest paid.
Regulations implementing an EU savings directive require financial institutions to establish the identity of prospective customers.
They may retain a manual record or a photocopy of a document containing the PPS number, but it must not be recorded on their computer systems or used for any other purpose.
The 2017 Bill also proposes a controversial “naming and shaming” policy, whereby the names of people found guilty of defrauding the department would be published online for a period.
‘Dragged into court’
Fianna Fáil TD Willie O'Dea said during the Dáil debate he was not sure what would be achieved by the policy.
“If the possibility of being dragged into court, having one’s name plastered all over the newspapers to the knowledge of all one’s neighbours etc, and accepting whatever other attendant penalties the court wanted to impose, is not a sufficient deterrent, I really do not think the extra possibility that, three months afterwards, one’s name would be published on some sort of list as a social welfare fraudster is going to make a difference,” Mr O’Dea said.