Belfast Telegraph

‘Inappropriate’ to withdraw Public Services Card, ministers say

Ministers Regina Doherty and Paschal Donohoe made the comment following the publication of the Data Protection Commission’s report.

Regina Doherty said it would be ‘inappropriate’ to withdraw the Public Services Card (Lorraine O’Sullivan/PA)
Regina Doherty said it would be ‘inappropriate’ to withdraw the Public Services Card (Lorraine O’Sullivan/PA)

By Rebecca Black, PA

It would be inappropriate and potentially unlawful to withdraw the Public Services Card, two Government ministers have said.

Regina Doherty and Paschal Donohoe made the comment after the publication of the Data Protection Commission’s report on the Public Services Card (PSC).

The report outlines how it may be illegal for any Government department, except for the Department of Social Protection, to insist that members of the public obtain a PSC to access a public service.

We have strong legal advice that the existing social welfare legislation provides a robust legal basis for my department to issue PSCs for use by a number of bodies across the public sector Regina Doherty

The cards are used to access a number of benefits including pensions, treatment and other Government services.

The Government has repeatedly said since the launch of the programme in 2011 that asking for the PSC to access state services is not a breach of any data protection laws.

But Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon published her conclusions on the legality of the PSC and found that the retention of documentation on up to four million citizens was unlawful.

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Ms Doherty and Minister for Finance Mr Donohoe informed Government that they are satisfied that the processing of personal data related to the PSC does in fact have a strong legal basis, the retention of data is lawful and that the information provided to users does satisfy the requirements of transparency.

They said this opinion was arrived at following very careful consideration of the report and having taken the advice of the Attorney General’s Office.

On this basis, the ministers said, it would be “inappropriate, and potentially unlawful” to withdraw or modify the use of the PSC or the data processes that underpin it as has been requested by the DPC.

Ms Doherty said: “While we respect the office of the DPC, in this instance based on strong legal advice, we cannot agree with the findings contained within this report.

“We have strong legal advice that the existing social welfare legislation provides a robust legal basis for my department to issue PSCs for use by a number of bodies across the public sector.

“The PSC has been a worthwhile investment in better public services – allowing people to access public services in a streamlined manner without the need to submit the same documentation and information over and over again.

“Without the PSC process, people would be required to verify their identity on multiple occasions with multiple agencies – a situation which would make access to services more cumbersome for members of the public. When surveyed, those using the card have registered extremely high satisfaction rates.”

PA

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