As the Deputy is aware, the rate of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment is linked to a person's previous average weekly earnings. Last November, I secured Government approval to extend the 2020 earnings reference period for employees to September 2020. This change, which is effective from 2 October, meant that people who only commenced employment after February 2020 but were laid-off in October due to increased restrictions can have their payment rate fixed by reference to their earnings in the period March to September 2020.
As a result of extending the reference period to the end of September 2020, some 37,430 receiving PUP on 17 November received an increase in their rate of payment.
It is expected that a significant number of those who benefitted from the extended reference period will be due arrears, either to the 2 October or the date of commencement of their claim for the Pandemic Unemployment Payment, whichever is the later.
During the months of November and December, a number of very significant IT changes were in progress in relation to the Pandemic Unemployment Payment. These included the finalisation of the general arrears project involving 286,000 additional payments on 1 December, payment of the Christmas Bonus on 8 December to just over 283,000 recipients of the PUP, and advance payments over the Christmas period. My Department has also been focused on responding to the increased numbers of people applying for the Pandemic Unemployment Payment, with an increase of over 200,000 claims in payment since the start of this year. Against that background, and in order to ensure continuity of service delivery, it was not possible to introduce further changes to allow for processing of any re-rate arrears which may have arisen.
The necessary IT development work to ensure processing of any of these arrears is currently underway, and is a priority for my Department. It is expected that payment will issue in the coming weeks. It is not possible to provide an estimate of the average payment due until the necessary development work is concluded.
I hope that this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.