THERE have been no guarantees made by the Social Protection Minister that the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) will continue past March, however Heather Humphreys made clear that the position will remain under review.
Responding to questions from Solidarity TD Mick Barry in the Convention Centre on Thursday, the Minister said: “The scheme will remain in place until the end of March, and just last week I announced that I had secured Government approval to keep the scheme open for new applicants until this date, rather than closing it at the end of the year.
“The Government will keep the position regarding the PUP under review and any future decisions will be informed by the trajectory of the pandemic and the evolving public health situation,” she added.
Deputy Barry then queried the government’s justification for taxing the PUP belonging to “victims of the Covid crisis” who lost their jobs.
He described the move as “another blow, a real blow to those workers and their families”.
Minister Humphreys responded: “The issue of tax is a matter for the Department of Finance and we all know if we earn over a certain amount of money that we are all liable to pay tax.
“That’s the rule across the board.
“But, I think it’s important to say that we have paid out a considerable amount of money to support people with the PUP,” she added.
“Next week we’re going to pay out a record €389m on the Christmas bonus and over 311,000 people on the PUP will receive that bonus. Normally you’d have to be 15 months on a social welfare payment.” She said that anyone who was on PUP for four months or more would receive the payment “in acknowledgement of the difficult year people have had”.
However, Deputy Barry queried what he described as a retrospective tax.
The Cork North Central TD said that the PUP came in as an “urgent needs payment” which he explained “are explicitly exempt from tax”.
Only on August 5 did the payment move to a statutory basis, he added, and said the decision to backdate the tax was “extraordinary”.
Minister Humphreys reiterated her earlier point that anyone who earns a certain amount is liable for tax, and added that the Department processed seven years’ worth of job seekers applications in eight months “The government has not been found wanting during what has been an extremely difficult time,” she added.