Like many business owners, fourth generation barber Sam Donnelly is delighted to have reopened after lockdown - but he never expected staffing to be a problem.

Today, the number of people receiving the Pandemic Unemployment Payment fell to 363,000 - a far cry from the peak of 602,000 a year ago.

This week's fall of almost 13,500 reflects the lifting of public health restrictions - with the biggest weekly drop in claims emerging in the sector that includes hairdressing and beauty salons.

Still, with a further 178,000 people recorded on the Live Register at the end of April, Sam thought recruitment would be easy - but Covid-19 has taken its toll.

One Brazilian staff member went home for Christmas and can't afford to come back - because it would cost almost €4,000 for mandatory hotel quarantine for him and his wife.

Two others headed to the UK once there was a firm reopening date there - as they saw no sign of any hope here.

Sam has tried to recruit replacements, but says that is virtually impossible.

He's on the board of the Irish Hair and Beauty Industry Confederation, and claims that during lockdown, some laid off hairdressers have built up small businesses in the informal economy and don't want to return to their employer.

"Some of them have built up a huge client list in the black market, and are now doing two to three days a week. With a few nixers, they're happy," he says.

Sam isn't the only one complaining of staffing problems.

The Restaurants Association of Ireland recently called for a clampdown on welfare payments for people refusing to return to an available job.

Chief Executive Adrian Cummins said 30% of hospitality staff were known to have moved to jobs in other sectors - while the remaining 70% were mainly receiving the Pandemic Unemployment Payment or Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme supports.

He acknowledged that some business would not be opening for months, citing music, events and night club activity.

However, he said they could not have a situation where employees were refusing to come back to an available job.

That call was echoed by small business group ISME.

Chief Executive Neil McDonnell said the difficulty arose where people might be getting €250 on PUP for doing nothing, compared to getting €300 for working - but acknowledged that while some employers were asking people to come back, it was not necessarily to full time work.

But how big a problem are staff shortages in reality?

A year ago, the Department of Social Protection established a channel for employers to report instances where staff refused to return to work, or where they suspected misclaiming.

A total of 3,000 complaints were received, with most dating from last year, and relating to periods when childcare was unavailable.

Last week, the Department of Social Protection reminded employers facing problems with hiring (or re-hiring) to contact it, so that it could "follow up".

Only 35 complaints have been received over the last fortnight since that reminder.

Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys dismisses claims of widespread misclaiming, saying the fall in PUP claims indicates that people are returning to work in large numbers.

"When you look at the number of individuals who have received PUP, you are talking about over 860,000 as against the 3,000 complaints that we received. I think that puts it in perspective and clearly says to me that the majority of people want to get back to work. For those who can't get back to work, we want to work with them and look behind and see what other issues are preventing them from doing so," she told RTÉ News.

She reiterates that the PUP scheme will remain open at its current rates of payment until 30 June - with the Government announcing its future plans beyond then in early June.

"In doing so, we will take into account the trajectory of the virus, progress on the vaccine roll-out, progress in terms of people returning to work and of course the continued impact of the pandemic on the economy over the period ahead," she says.

The Government forecasts that the numbers reliant on the PUP will reduce further as more sectors reopen.

However, if Sam Donnelly is correct, it may be some time before it completes the challenge of matching the jobless to the jobs.