I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. In common with other jobseeker payments, such as jobseeker's benefit and allowance, the fundamental condition for receipt of the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, is that the person is available to work but cannot do so because suitable work is not available to them. Persons claiming the PUP will have been in employment immediately before claiming the benefit. This is seen as initial evidence satisfying the genuinely seeking work requirement. Once people are in payment, we operate on the basis that the PUP is a payment to support them until they return to work in their pervious occupation or sector. We do not, at this time, require people to look for alternative employment.
For example, it is reasonable that workers who remain temporarily laid off in sectors that have not reopened or have only partially reopened, such as hospitality, arts and entertainment, due to Covid-19 restrictions are afforded the time and opportunity for their workplace to reopen. Having said that, it is also reasonable to expect workers in receipt of the PUP to take up the offer of returning to their work when their workplace reopens. Where workers do not, without reasonable cause, take up the opportunity to return to their work it is appropriate to ask whether they are genuinely unemployed and seeking work and, if not, to review their payment. It is for this reason the genuinely seeking work condition is incorporated into the statutory basis for the scheme. I can advise that no claims have been disallowed to date on the genuinely seeking work condition.
It is likely that even as the economy reopens, some sectors will not return to the levels of employment seen before the pandemic. We know that the longer a person is unemployed the harder it becomes for them to find new employment. Accordingly, it is important that the State provides all the supports and assistance it can to help people who may find that the job they held before the pandemic is not returning. To this end, in the new year the Department plans to commence engaging with PUP recipients to offer them access to a case worker and to provide them with information on the range of education, training, and employment supports that can help them to find new employment.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
As the Deputy is aware, we have already modified the conditions for accessing employment and education schemes to grant access to PUP recipients. Depending on the numbers who may remain on the PUP in the new year, the process of engagement will be implemented on a phased basis. All engagement with PUP recipients will be on a voluntary basis. I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.