Social welfare recipients are set to receive additional payments totalling half a billion euro over the next fortnight in Christmas bonus and Pandemic Unemployment Payment arrears, according to the Department of Social Protection.

The department's statistics indicate that 351,424 people will receive a normal PUP payment this week at a cost of €103.65m.

That reflects a very minor fall in claimants of just 654, despite the reopening of many businesses today.

However, of those, 286,068 people will today receive extra arrears payments totalling just under €130m.

Apart from today's arrears, next week 1.6 million social welfare recipients will receive the Christmas bonus, of whom 311,270 are eligible PUP claimants.

Figures show 110,448 of those eligible for arrears are no longer receiving PUP and are advised to check their bank account or call into their post office to check for the payment.

Explaining the arrears, the department says that although most claims were paid within a week, in some cases there was an initial time lag due to the large number of claims.

During March, it received and processed PUP claims equating to a three-year jobseeker claim load, with 507,000 claims within just three weeks of the launch of the scheme.

A total of 820,000 have applied for the payment, with some moving in and out of the PUP scheme due to job opportunities, or employers availing of the wage subsidy schemes.

More than 1.4m applications were examined to determine whether arrears were due.

"The focus was on putting claims into payment as quickly as possible and it was not possible to generate arrears payments at the time," the department said.

Arrears may also have arisen where claims could not be processed due to incomplete applications by the customer.

While the vast majority of arrears are being paid out today, fewer than 10,000 are still being examined, but it is expected any arrears due will be paid out later this month.

The Department of Social Protection figures also reveal that in the past seven days, around 6,800 people closed their PUP claim, with 4,500 doing so to return to work and many more expected to do in the coming week.

The PUP jobless figures do not include the 203,172 people reported on the Live Register at the end of October.

Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys said this week's PUP were showing a "steadying off" of new claims, with some 4,500 having closed their claim in the past week as they return to work.

She acknowledged the overall number of claimants had fallen slightly, but added: "This is expected to be followed by a much more significant drop next week as a result of some sectors of the economy reopening."

She reassured workers afraid of coming off the PUP scheme in case their employer shut down again in January that the PUP scheme would remain open until March.

The minister also acknowledged some people's fears that if they return to work this week they would miss out on the entitlement to next week's Christmas bonus.

However, she added: "Because PUP is paid on a weekly basis everybody who goes back to work this week and, has been on PUP for at least 17 weeks over the period since March, are entitled to a Christmas bonus."

She noted the half a billion euro being injected into the economy through this week's arrears payments and next week's Christmas bonus would be of great benefit to the local economy and she urged people to shop local.

However, Ms Humphreys cautioned that while the signs were positive, it was not the time for people to drop their guard.

She said people owed it to frontline workers who would spend Christmas in hospitals caring for people with Covid-19 to make a special effort to act responsibly over the coming weeks.

The sector with the highest number of PUP claimants remains Accommodation and Food Service Activities (102,321), followed by Wholesale and Retail Trade (56,893), and Other Sectors eg hairdressers and beauty salons (31,361).