Fine Gael TD for Galway West & Mayo South

Public Services Card – progress to date

Deputy Seán Kyne asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will report on the progress of introducing the Public Services Card; the numbers of persons who have been issued with the card; the locations at which the cards are being processed and issued; if she envisages any expanded role for the card; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

Deputy Seán Kyne: Tá mé ag iarraidh a fháil amach ón Aire cén dul chun cinn atá déanta ó thaobh na cártaí seirbhísí poiblí, an méid daoine atá á n-úsáid agus na háiteanna ina bhfuil siad ar fáil.  Iarraim ar an Aire ráiteas a dhéanamh.

Minister Joan Burton: I propose to take Questions Nos. 9, 17 and 30 together.

Considerable progress has been made in the roll-out of the new public service card, PSC.  Approximately 580,000 cards have now been produced.  The purpose of the PSC is to enable people to gain access to public services more efficiently and with a minimum of duplication of effort, while preserving their privacy to the maximum extent possible.  In this regard, the Department has developed, in conjunction with a number of other Departments, a rules based standard for establishing and authenticating an individual’s identity for the purposes of access to public services.  The PSC is designed to replace other cards in the public sector such as the free travel pass.  Many pensioners have the PSC card with the FT designation indicating free travel.  It proves very popular with pensioners to whom it is being rolled out.  It will make it easy for providers of public services to verify the identity of customers.

The PSC is issued following a registration process.  The legislation provides that an individual’s photograph and signature and the verification of identity data already held by the Department are captured by the card.  Existing legislation provides for the collection and storage of photographs or images in this context.  The Department has recently deployed facial image matching software to help to detect and deter duplicate SAFE applications.  For example, if someone goes in and has a photograph taken, it is matched with the stock of 580,000 photographs on the system.  Facial recognition techniques are used to a high level.  If someone applies for a PSC in Galway and is already on the departmental system, it will show that the person has a card in Athlone.  We receive reports on a weekly basis.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House
Provision has not been made for further biometrics and there are no plans to alter the position.

Deputies may wish to note that the introduction of the card can, in addition to providing a more efficient service for customers, also help to deter and prevent irregularities.  For example, the new card has led to the identification of 18 cases of facial matches.  Some prosecutions are pending as a result and it is estimated that, at a minimum, the level of fraud detected and stopped to date amounts to in excess of €1 million.

Face-to-face registration is taking place countrywide in 55 offices of the Department for individual applicants for a personal public service, PPS, number and people applying for or in receipt of social protection payments or benefits, including jobseeker payments, free travel entitlements, child benefit payments, State pensions and one parent family payments.  A table of the relevant locations has been provided for the Deputies.

Selected low-risk customers have also been invited to avail of a “postal” registration process which involves utilisation, with consent, of information already provided for other Government agencies, for example, a photograph supplied in connection with an application for a passport.  In addition, selected pensioners over 66 years who collect their payments at a post office will be invited, commencing early next month, to register by post, including providing a passport standard photograph.

The PSC project has been earmarked as a key initiative in the new public service reform plan; the aim is to “expand the use of the PSC to cover a greater range of services”.  PSC registration is being expanded to encompass all departmental scheme customers and over time the adult population of Ireland.  In this regard, the Department is in discussions with a wide range of other public bodies to extend the client registration service and the use of the PSC.  Recently the PSC was included in regulations as an acceptable form of ID for upcoming local and European elections.

Deputy Seán Kyne: This is a wonderful initiative and the verification and facial recognition techniques will go a long way towards preventing fraud.  The Minister mentioned the free travel pass.  Does she envisage rolling out the card in such a way as to verify journeys that take place rather than the blanket funding given to transport providers in order that the State can save money?

Minister Joan Burton: I assume many transport providers have technology to verify journeys taken, either on a spot check or a complete basis.  People taking the train must go to the ticket office and I presume these verification methods will continue.

In reply to  Deputy David Stanton’s question about other activities, we are looking at that issue.  There are discussions taking place with the Road Safety Authority on the issue of people being registered as part of their driver licence application and with the Passport Office in the case of passports.  We have also had approaches from the Garda Síochána in the case of age cards.  Some developments are further down the road.  If we were to liken the card to a football pitch, only one quarter is used; we have a lot of space and capacity on the card which could be used in conjunction with other Departments and public services.

We currently have an assistant secretary who is identifying those kinds of opportunities and the potential for co-operation.  However, it is important that we ensure at all times the privacy and security of individuals.