571. Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the reason agencies which refuse to accept the public services card as personal identification will accept a passport which cannot be obtained without the applicant producing a card (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. (Question 17632/18 asked on 24 Apr 2018)

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): SAFE Level 2 (SAFE2) registration allows a person to verify their identity once not just for access to services provided by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection but also for an increasing number of public services provided by other State agencies – for example the Passport office. Once a person is registered to SAFE2 they can be issued with a Public Services Card (PSC).

While it is a matter for each public service provider to determine the appropriate level of identity verification required for each of its services, it is Government policy that SAFE 2 registration is required for access to services that need substantial proof of a person’s identity.

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform recently published the eGovernment Strategy 2017 – 2020 which lists a number of public services for which SAFE 2 registration will be required. Others are likely to be listed in the future. The transition plans, including communications, will be developed by the Departments/agencies concerned working with the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer (OGCIO) in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

At present, a Public Services Card (PSC) cannot be requested by any public or private body or person not included as a specified body in Schedule 5 of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 (as amended). The PSC can only be used by public bodies specified in the legislation in the context of conducting a public transaction with the person concerned. At this time there are no immediate plans to expand the range of specified bodies. Any increase in the number of specified bodies would have to be provided for in legislation and consequently would have to undergo Oireachtas scrutiny prior to enactment.

However, one of the provisions set out in Section 5 of the Social Welfare, Pensions, and Civil Registration Bill 2017 would, if enacted, enable customers to volunteer their PSC where they wish to use it as a form of proof of identity and/or age. However, it is important to note that a non-specified body could not request or demand the production of a PSC.

The proposed legislation would not change the number of specified bodies that can request the PSC. It would simply give individuals the option to use their PSC if they wished, as proof of identity and/or age, in transactions with non-specified bodies.

As the law currently stands, even if a card holder volunteers their PSC, a non-Specified Body such as a private sector organisation would be committing an offence by accepting it. Customer feedback is that they should be allowed to volunteer the card to non-Specified Bodies if it suits them to do so, for the purposes of ID verification such as when signing up to a utility company contract or opening an account with a financial institution. Customers often report that private companies insist on a State-issued photographic ID such as a Passport or Driver’s License which they might not have and which are costly. In contrast, the PSC is free of charge. Furthermore, and for the sake of absolute clarity - this proposal in no way allows a private sector body to access the customer data on the card chip or on any government database - simply to view/accept the card as a form of identity and to stop it being an offence for them to accept it. This measure would be beneficial to holders of the PSC, most especially those who do not hold a driving licence or a passport.

Additionally, this alternative approach would give power to the individual to control access to and use of their PSC rather than the organisation that they are dealing with.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.