S-Card system to be revised

Photo: Czech Labour Ministry

Cards issued under a new electronic system streamlining welfare and social benefit payments will – in the end – not be compulsory. The prime minister made the announcement on Tuesday, making clear the system – which has come under criticism from both non-governmental organisations and political circles – will be revised.

Photo: Czech Labour Ministry
S-Cards were meant to make life easier for recipients of welfare and social benefits, streamlining payments on individual accounts. But from the get-go they’ve come under fire. The problems have been many: first, many disagreed with the cards being compulsory and strongly opposed the idea of a new system replacing payments to regular accounts, or even just cashing social benefit cheques at the post office. In many users' view, the introduction of the new system, while advantageous as a cost-saving measure for the government, was superfluous, replacing an existing system that worked well enough before. Organisations representing the disabled, meanwhile, charged that the S-Card left some individuals at a serious disadvantage, physically unable to collect money from cash dispensers.

Even more serious, after signing a contract with Czech bank Česká spořitelna and passing on personal information of recipients, officials may have transgressed the law. The watchdog group Iuridicum Remedium, together with the National Disability Council, says the ministry had no right under existing legislation to pass on private data, and have have already filed a lawsuit against the former Labour and Social Affairs Minister Jaromír Drábek and his former deputy, Vladimír Šiška, who oversaw the deal and the introduction of the S-card system.

Earlier I spoke to Jan Vobořil of Iuridicum Remedium:

Jaromír Drábek,  photo: official website of Jaromír Drábek
“In my opinion, the Labour Ministry exceeded its legal powers: it should not have transferred the administration of the information system to Česká spořitelna as a private bank. In my opinion the transfer of personal data of welfare users is illegal: under the law the ministry should administer the system alone or should charge the social security authority with it. This is the privatisation of state power.”

After Tuesday, it is unclear what the future of the S-Card will be. Prime Minister Petr Nečas, called the card, in its current inception “effectively dead”, making clear a major overhaul will be needed. For one, he stressed after renegotiating the original deal with Česká spořitelna, that the social benefit card will no longer be mandatory but will be used for identification purposes; beyond that additional changes are anyone’s guess and not all are confident the card has a future even after revision. Jan Vobořil again:

“I don’t know what it will mean in the future but I believe that there will be no benefits in using the S-Card compared to other bank accounts and because of this I believe this will be the end of this system.”

So far, employment offices have distributed about 132,000 s-Cards; they are supposed to distribute another 600,000 of them by the end of the year.