Seán Sherlock TD, Labour Spokesperson on Social Protection. Photo: Sam Boal/

Time to ease red tape around grief

Covid-19 has fundamentally changed the operations of the State. Payments, supports, and measures once deemed unreasonable by some parties are now embraced as necessary, as the right thing to do.

Remote working, a concept previously assumed to take a number of years to implement, became a reality overnight, and workers around the country took the change in their stride to protect their families and communities.

I have been working on these issues with my party colleagues across Cork city and county, councillors John Maher, Cathal Rasmussen and James Kennedy, along with local area representatives Ciara Kennedy and Peter Horgan.

There is no doubting the hard work carried out by staff in the Department of Social Protection at a very difficult time, implementing new measures and systems remotely and resolving issues in rapid time. The low number of issues reported with the payment of support is testament to every worker in the department.

It is because of those workers that a ‘Tell Us Once’ service is needed. When a loved one passes away, their family and next of kin suddenly find they have to engage with a range of public services. This can be an extremely difficult time for people. That is why last week I called on the Government to consider streamlining this process and introduce a single point of contact for bereaved families.

When a loved one dies, there are many sections of the Department of Social Protection and the Department of Health that people have to go through to put in order the affairs of persons who have received payments.

In the Department of Social Protection alone, there can be a range of sections that must be individually notified of the death of an individual, depending on payments that may be received, as well as registering the death with the General Register Office. Having to engage in so many notifications of a death can cause unnecessary distress during what is a very trying time.

That’s why I am proposing the implementation of a bereavement portal, or a ‘one stop shop’ that would allow the next of kin to quickly notify all sections relevant to the deceased, taking other public services like the Department of Health, Revenue, or local authorities into account. This would be modelled on the UK system – the ‘Tell Us Once’ service which enables family members to report a death to government organisations in one go.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions is supportive of considering such a system, and is joining me in reviewing British system as a model example of what is possible.

In the Dáil recently, I asked the Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys to sit down with her officials with a view to creating a ‘one stop shop’ for bereaved persons to establish as seamless a process as possible. The UK has managed to do this, and it’s time we put a similar process in place here.

The Minister has agreed to consider the idea, and now plans a consultation on registration of deaths to make the process easier for grieving families.

We must acknowledge the sympathetic and empathetic manner in which social welfare officials deal with people in that situation. However, at a time when we can’t visit public offices in the way that we once could, a one-stop shop would be welcome.

In 2021, having a system where one form, or one email, is sent to inform all state departments of a death should not be beyond us. A simple exercise in common sense will protect the grief of countless families in this State.

I will be pressing the Government and the minister to look favourably on this system, in order to bring some comfort to families across Cork city and county.