Updated: 28/08/17 : 07:24:02
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Clarification on Public Services Card (PSC)

There has in the last few days been some confusion over the requirement of the new Public Services Card (PSC).

With statements such as 'its mandatory but not compulsory' emerging from some public representatives a definitive clarification has now been issued by the Department of Social Protection.

Clarification in Full

The Public Services Card (PSC) is precisely that, a card for accessing public services. It helps customers access a range of public services easily. The user’s identity is fully authenticated when it is issued so they do not have to give the same information to multiple organisations. It was first introduced in 2011 and was initially rolled out to people getting social welfare payments. It is now being rolled out to other public services.

The PSC is currently a requirement for the following;

    Access to Social Welfare Services (including Child Benefit and Treatment Benefits)
    First time adult passport applicants in the state
    Replacement of lost, stolen or damaged passports issued prior to January 2005, where the
    person is resident in the State.
    Citizenship applications
    Driver Theory Test Applicants
    Access to high value or personal online public services, e.g. Social Welfare and Revenue
    services, via MyGovId, the mechanism for accessing public services online. 

The Department of Social Protection makes it clear to customers in receipt of social welfare payments that they do need to register to SAFE 2 to access, or continue to access, a social welfare entitlement.

Customers in receipt of a social welfare entitlement are written to and invited to make an appointment to complete the SAFE 2 registration process -which results in them being issued with a Public Services Card. The process takes about 15 minutes to complete, once all required documents are presented.  The Department also issues reminder letters to customers, if required. 

The majority of our customers accept the importance of, and need for the robust SAFE 2 identity verification process when in receipt of a social welfare entitlement and c2.77m Public Services Cards have been issued to date.

The decision to suspend or stop a payment is never made lightly. However, where a customer does not “satisfy the Minister in relation to identity” as per the legislative requirements outlined below, a payment can be stopped or suspended.

Legislative Basis for disqualification from receipt of benefit where identity is not authenticated

In 2005, the Government approved a rules based standard for establishing and authenticating an individual’s identity for the purposes of access to public services.  This standard is known as the Standard Authentication Framework environment – or SAFE.  A Public Services Card (PSC) is issued to an individual who has successfully completed a registration process to a substantial level of assurance – this is known as SAFE 2.

In the case of the Department of Social Protection’s own services, the legislation governing the validation of identity for access to these is contained in the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005, as amended, viz.

-          Section 247C(1) of the Act provides that the Minister may require any person receiving
           a benefit to satisfy the Minister as to his or her identity;

-          Section 247C(2) of the Act specifies the consequences of failure to satisfy the Minister
           in relation to identity as required, specifically that a person shall be disqualified from
           receiving a benefit;

-          Section 247C(3) of the Act specifies the manner in which the Minister may be so satisfied;
           in effect, this Section describes the process for registering a person’s identity - this is
           the SAFE 2 Process.

In other words, this legislation requires a person to satisfy the Minister as to their identity and allows disqualification from receipt of a benefit in the event that it is not done.  It is not possible for a person to satisfy the Minister as to his or her identity without being SAFE 2 registered.

Legislative basis for usage of PSC by other public bodies

The legislation governing the production of the PSC and its usage by other public bodies is set out at Section 263 of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005.  Section 263 also sets out how it is an offence for bodies not specified in the legislation to seek or use the PSC. As an Garda Síochána is not a specified body in the legislation (except in respect of its own members), it would therefore be an offence for a Garda to ask someone to present a PSC

Is a Public Services Card a national Identity Card?

The Public Service Card is a card for accessing public services only.  It is a token which proves that a person has had their identity verified to a substantial level of assurance in accordance with the SAFE 2 standard.  It is governed in that context by legislative provisions in the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 (as amended), which limit its usage.

The Public Services Card does not have any of the typical characteristics of a national identity card in that

1)      You are not required by law to register for a Public Services Card. It is not compulsory or mandatory for individuals to hold or carry a Public Services Card. There is no law in Ireland requiring a person to carry any form of ID card (other than a driving licence when driving).

2)      You are not required by law to provide it to a member of the police force at their request.  An Garda Síochána is specifically precluded from requesting an individual to produce a PSC as proof of identity. This deliberate exclusion is a clear signal as to the purpose of the PSC.

3)      Bodies not specified in the legislation in either the public or private sector may not request the PSC or may not be required to use it in any transactions.

The Public Services Card is exactly that – a card is designed for the purpose of safely, securely and efficiently providing public services.

PSC and Data Protection

The design of the card was discussed with the Office of Data Protection Commissioner which, in its Annual Report of 2010, advised that

“The Public Services Card will include a photograph, signature and electronic chip, as well as featuring the PPSN of the individual on the back of the card. The incremental nature of the rollout of the Public Services Card is welcome as is the active engagement of the Department of Social Protection with all stakeholders including our Office to try to ensure that all relevant issues are addressed. It has already completely taken on board a number of points which we have made, which I very much welcome.

The personal information on the card is deliberately restricted to avoid misrepresentation or identity fraud in circumstances where the card has been lost or stolen.  Lost or stolen cards are replaced without charge.

PSC and Security

Given the value of a Public Services Card, its design includes a number of advanced physical and technical security features that meet the highest international standards of data security. Importantly, all data contained on the PSC chip is encrypted. Only paired card readers specifically programmed to accept Public Services Cards can read the encrypted personal data which is held on the card.

Free Travel Variant of the Public Services Card

Free Travel customers include those over 66 years of age, and customers in receipt of Disability Allowance, Blind pension, Invalidity payments, Carers payments and those participating in the “Make Work Pay” scheme who can retain their free travel entitlement for a period of five years after they return to work”. The Free Travel variant of the PSC holds a separate contactless chip which allows it to interact with the Integrated Ticketing System operated by the National Transport Authority.  No personal information on a customer is made available to any transport operator either inside or outside of the jurisdiction when the PSC is used to interact with the ticketing system.

Have the Public Been informed about this?

The Department has always been open about its plans to invite all customers in receipt of social welfare payments to register to SAFE 2. The Department has also produced explainer videos in both English and Irish relating to the PSC card and it use; these are available on the Departments website.

www.welfare.ie/psc

The legislation underpinning the Department’s application of the SAFE registration process and use of the PSC has been published and debated in the Oireachtas. Since the launch of the PSC in 2011, the Department has answered a considerable amount of questions both in the Dáil and in the Irish media.