The personal public service number, PPSN, is the individual's unique reference number for dealings with Departments and public bodies. Prior to June 2000, allocation of PPSNs was a shared function between my Department and Revenue. Since then, my Department has sole responsibility for the registration process. A PPSN issues automatically to children born in Ireland. In all other cases application must be made at one of the Department's local offices. When applying for a PPSN, individuals are asked to complete an application form and supply documentation to establish their identity. They are usually informed of their PPSN by post within five days.
My Department has identified various types of abuse including the presentation of forged or altered identity documentation, usually passports or national identity cards, and identity hijacking. In response to this various actions have been implemented to prevent abuse at the time of registration or subsequently. Staff in my Department have been assigned to deal exclusively with identity fraud work. These staff have received training in the area of document fraud from a number of sources, including the relevant issuing authorities, via their embassies, and from the Garda National Immigration Bureau, GNIB. They provide training and support to staff in the offices registering individuals for PPSNs. In addition, my Department employed a document fraud expert on a contract basis for a period to assist with the training of Departmental staff.
Equipment was installed in each of my Departments' local and branch offices to assist in the identification of forged or altered documentation. Cases of forged or altered documentation being presented in support of a PPSN application are referred to the Gardaí for action through the courts. So far this year 18 cases have been dealt with through the courts and a further 66 forged or altered documents have been identified by staff in my offices.
To further improve the security around the PPSN my Department is preparing plans to limit the offices where people can register for these numbers to one office per county. This will also ensure that the staff in these offices become more expert in addressing identity fraud issues and it will limit the possibilities for people to supply fraudulent identities. With regard to the swapping or hijacking of identities, identity checks are carried out as part of employer inspections and further checks are also made to authenticate identity at the time of claim application and to ensure that eligibility for payment has been correctly established. As well as providing support to areas within the Department, staff in the client identity services section of my Department maintain communication on these issues with all the appropriate authorities in this area, including Revenue, the GNIB and the relevant embassies. Procedures in relation to abuses of the PPSN are under constant review and I am committed to maintaining the strictest controls possible around the registration for, and usage of, personal public service numbers.