Amendment No. 1 in the name of Deputy Richard Bruton arises out of committee proceedings.
Unclaimed Life Assurance Policies Bill 2002: Report Stage.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 11, line 31, after“Chapter 2” to insert the following:
"which shall apply even if the proceeds of such unclaimed policies have already been transferred to the Dormant Accounts Fund".
This amendment deals with the situation whereby the Minister – I believe it refers to the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs rather than the Minister for Finance – will be in a position to change the thresholds for which notification procedure is required in respect of unclaimed life assurance policies before they go to the dormant accounts fund. In an earlier debate on the Bill, the Minister made it clear that it was his intention, over time, to reduce the €500 threshold on policies which would be notified to their owners before transfer to the unclaimed fund. It emerged from the Minister's statement that if we reduce that threshold to, say, €250 at some future date, all moneys already transferred to the fund at that stage would not have the new notification rules applied.
In other words, the Minister is envisaging a situation where we will, in time, when we get used to this, drop the threshold and people who hold smaller assurance policies will get notification before their money goes off to the dormant accounts fund. People should not be disadvantaged because they happened, in the first tranche, to have their policy dealt with and the money sent off to the dormant accounts fund – they would never get a change to retrieve it. There would be information on the files of the life assurance companies about the identity of a certain policyholder but they would be under no obligation to notify that policyholder of the fact that this money was to be transferred to the dormant accounts fund. It is an undesirable position.
The purpose of my amendment is to provide that in the event the Minister does reduce – he indicated on Report Stage he intends doing so – the threshold to €250 or whatever other figure, the life assurance companies would be obliged to retain a record of the identity of owners of funds which they have already passed to the dormant accounts fund and notify them that their policies have been transferred to that fund giving them the opportunity at that point to recover the money from the fund. We should take that extra degree of care. Here is a Bill where we are making arrangements to expropriate funds to the State which rightfully belong to someone else. Therefore, there is an obligation on the State to go the extra distance and to require the companies to go the extra distance.
In anticipation of what the Minister might say, that the life assurance companies will have an interest in not seeing money flowing out to the dormant accounts fund, the life assurances companies will have some interest but they will not turn over every stone to ensure that where they have the identity of owners, if there is not a legal obligation, they will make the extra effort. We should make provision for this amendment and I hope the Minister will accept it.
The life assurance companies should be put under an obligation when one considers the zeal with which they sell policies, often to people on relatively low incomes, particularly where, historically, people contributed small sums. Life assurance companies market their products extensively and use substantial advertising pressure to get people to invest in the funds. There is an onus on them, once people have bought the funds, to retain full information and to make that information accessible, not only to the people who have taken out policies, but also to their families, etc., in the event of their death. While some companies are extremely helpful to people and their level of information in databases is good, other companies, which are dead keen to sell the stuff, are not so keen to facilitate policyholders or their families afterwards.
There would be a considerable administrative burden on the assurance companies if they had to re-examine each policy to see how much it was then worth, to see if notification was required, with the ensuing adjustments of the companies' registers of unclaimed policies. There are difficulties with unit-linked and/or profits policies, and the fact that such policies can decrease as well as increase in value, so that one particular date, for the purpose of this legislation, needs to be set to establish the value of such policies.
As we have been negotiating the proposals for this Bill for some time, the industry has been preparing for the onset of the new regime. Therefore, since publication of the Bill, the companies have already been attempting to identify policies valued at above €500 and, the IIF advises, probably been developing software to assist with this. To change the level of the threshold at this stage will cause the sector a not inconsiderable problem. For that reason, I do not intend to accept the Deputy's amendment.
We should not underestimate the volume of work which has to be done in this particular area by the assurance companies in order to be able to comply with this legislation and to be able to transfer whatever funds should be transferred next year. There are hundreds of thousands of policies, many of which are small in value. The purpose of this legislation is to initiate the operation with a reasonable threshold and I considered €500 was a reasonable threshold in this regard.
There are powers in the Dormant Accounts Act, and repeated in this Bill, which will allow the Minister to lower the thresholds for banks and assurance companies. If the Minister considered at a future date that he or she should lower the threshold, then the question of notification can be incorporated in those regulations. Therefore, at this stage I do not propose to accept the Deputy's amendment because I do not see a need to do so.
The Minister's reply is entirely unpersuasive. If we were intending to lower the threshold at a certain date in the future—
If we might do so, we should put the assurance companies on notice at this stage. Rather than saying it is a matter for some date in the future to decide how those lower thresholds will apply, we should make it clear to the assurance companies that wherever they can ascertain the identities of policyholders, they should retain that information because we would intend that that information would be used when the new lower threshold came into effect.
The Minister's case is not at all persuasive. We are taking money off people under this legislation who will not be informed of the fact that they have unclaimed policies. A threshold of €500 is being set. Below that level, people will not be informed that their money is being transferred to the dormant accounts fund. The Minister is envisaging a situation where we will drop that threshold and policyholders should be informed if their policy is valued at, say, between €250 and €500. He should, therefore, signal to the assurance companies that he will expect them to retain all usable information regarding the identity of policyholders so that, in the future, they will get an opportunity to retrieve their money if it is not practical to do it at this stage. We should give the signal, which is applied here, that when the regulations change we will expect the life assurance companies to make arrangements that they are in a position to use all reasonable information available to them to identify those policyholders. I am unhappy with the €500 threshold in itself, but this at least ensures that when the Minister reduces the threshold, as I hope he will, it will have effect for everyone, not only those who come on stream at that stage.
This year there will be four public notices informing people of this legislation and of course it is always open to the potential beneficiary, if in 20 years' time he or she comes across a policy, to make a successful claim.
Furthermore, I would point out that the assurance companies are aware that the regulation may change at some future date and the threshold may be lowered. In this particular process, they will computerise as much of their records as possible and have all these on computer disk. This is a mammoth task because, as I said, for one assurance company alone there are hundreds of thousands of small policies.
In case I gave the wrong impression that the Minister will consider lowering the threshold in the immediate future, whereas this will be a matter for the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, I would advise that he will not do it in the near future. I suggest it would be reasonable to wait and see how this legislation and the Dormant Accounts Act is working and give people a chance to comply with it.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 12, line 2, after "policies" to insert "provided the regulation does not adversely affect the interest of the policy holder".
This is an amendment to a section where the Minister is proposing to make regulations for the purpose of reducing the administrative and financial burdens of maintaining unclaimed policies. Therefore, this is a section where the Minister is envisaging simplifying procedures to relieve the insurance companies of some of the costs of administering the scheme.
My amendment proposes that we should allow that to happen provided the regulation does not adversely affect the interest of the policyholder. We should stitch in clearly that if the Minister is envisaging regulations that would reduce administrative burdens on the life assurance companies, it should only be where the Minister has taken into account the interests of the policyholder. We should make such provision and I am confident the Minister will accept the amendment. If the Minister envisages making regulations that would reduce administrative burdens on the life insurance companies, it should be only where the Minister has taken into account the interests of the policyholder. We should make such provision and I am confident the Minister will accept the amendment.
Section 7(3) sets out the purposes for which the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs may make regulations in relation to the various matters set out in section 7, such as the form of the notice procedure to customers or the information to be stored on an institution's register of unclaimed policies. This section, which closely mirrors what is set down in the Dormant Accounts Act, has been drafted to allow the Minister scope for adjustment of these provisions once the scheme is well within the public mindset and, in particular, once the backlog of long unclaimed policies has been cleared.
The dormant scheme is an initiative which has not been implemented elsewhere in the European Union where we might have been able to build on the experience of our European colleagues. The reason for section 7 is to ensure that once the scheme is operational and has become familiar to both the public and the institutions and, in particular, the backlog of long unclaimed policies has been cleared, adjustments can be made in the interests of all concerned, both the policyholder and the insurance undertaking. Once the scheme is operational, for example, it may come to light that more details should be kept on the register of unclaimed policies in order to assist all parties in making and processing a claim. The section closely mirrors what has already been enacted in the Dormant Accounts Act.
Section 7(3)(a) and (c) specifically provides that the Minister will make regulations for the purposes of consumer protection and to facilitate policyholders who are attempting to identify moneys to which they may be entitled. For that reason it should be clear that the ethos of the provision is primarily to assist the policyholder rather than the insurance undertakings. As the section is designed mainly to protect the policyholder, it does not need the provision proposed by Deputy Bruton.
We know a great deal about an ethos not delivering in practice. One need only look at the scandals in every walk of life to see that many institutions appeal to an ethos but ultimately do not deliver. We are making law, not generalised statements about ethos. We should provide, as proposed in my amendment, that if the Minister is introducing regulations to reduce the financial burden on the life assurance company, it should be done only if the regulation does not adversely affect the interests of the policyholder. There is no down side to accepting the amendment. If the Minister is correct about the ethos he intends to pursue when producing the regulations, it cannot conceivably damage it. It simply gives legal underpinning to a provision that otherwise would rely on the Minister's interpretation of "ethos". I am not persuaded by the Minister's argument. The amendment should be made.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 12, lines 5 to 7, to delete all words from and including ", except" in line 5 down to and including "policy," in line 7.
This section deals with the notice provisions. It provides that before the money in a policy with a life insurance company is sent to the dormant accounts fund, the policyholder should be notified. However, if a policyholder happens to have had more than one policy, he or she would only be notified in respect of one of the policies. Somebody, for example, might have a trivial amount in a policy of which he or she does not keep track or which is under a different address. If he or she has been notified of that policy at the wrong address and fails to respond, the insurance company is under no further obligation to give a notice in respect of subsequent policies in the name of that policyholder and can legitimately send them to the dormant accounts fund as unclaimed policies.
There is no justification for this. Each policy should be treated as a separate entity and the insurance company should make the same effort, in respect of each policy, to submit a written notice to the owner of the policy. This is good legislation to protect the interests of policyholders whose money would otherwise be expropriated by the State.
Section 12 provides that certain policyholders will be personally notified once, in the year that their policies are deemed unclaimed, of the existence of the policies, the fact that the moneys to be claimed under them are due to be transferred to the dormant fund and of the steps that can be taken to reactivate the policies. It should not be forgotten that before and possibly since these policies became inactive the insurance undertakings were attempting to make contact with the policyholders to no avail. Although the Bill only requires a single notification, it is in the industry's interest to pull out all the stops to contact these policyholders, given that they will lose the underlying funds if no contact is made yet will still have to administer the policy.
The Bill does not prevent an undertaking from making further attempts to contact policyholders whose moneys have been transferred. To compel the insurance undertakings to go beyond what is reasonable in this regard will inherently involve extra costs to the insurance industry which will inevitably be passed on to the customer. Section 9 provides that the public notifications regarding the scheme will take place every year, so the public will have sufficient notice of what might be happening to its money. This year alone there will be no less than four separate public notices placed by the institutions.
I do not believe the full burden of keeping track of a life policy should lie with an insurance undertaking. It is for the individual to take responsibility for his or her own financial matters. This legislation and the Dormant Accounts Act are intended to assist individuals in this regard, not to remove all responsibility from them. In any case, the policyholder will not lose out if his or her money is transferred to the fund as the right to reclaim it is statutorily guaranteed.
In addition, a number of statutory and contractual provisions already exist which oblige insurance undertakings to keep regular contact with their customers. These include the Life Insurance (Provision of Information) Regulations 2001 which provide that during the term of the policy the undertaking must inform the policyholder of, for example, any changes in the policy conditions. Under the Insurance Act 2000, which applies to all policies other than industrial grants policies issued after February 2001 and which have a surrender value, the insurance undertaking must provide the policyholder with an annual written statement in relation to the policy. Under the terms of this Act, the policyholder must complete a declaration form that he or she has been given this information. Under the Insurance Act 1936, when an insurance company or undertaking is merged, the new entity must inform existing policyholders of the details of the merger. Under contract, as some policies require index linked contributions, undertakings must notify policyholders annually of what the contributions will be.
As I said on Committee Stage, since the dormant scheme came on line last March, less than 12 months ago, its success at reuniting people with their money has been significant. This is evidenced by the number and value of the reactivated policies that have taken place since last March and shown by figures my Department has received from industry representatives. A total of approximately €400 million lay dormant at the end of March last year. This relates to the credit institutions, not the insurance institutions. By the end of last December, approximately €150 million of that figure had been reactivated. We can deem the scheme a resounding success in meeting its primary goal, to reunite people with their money. This is being done via the notification procedures in the 2001 Act which are identical in nature to what is proposed in this Bill. For that reason I do not propose to accept the amendment.
The Minister is simply reading the brief from the Department in response to the amendments. He is not seriously thinking about the issue. If these life insurance companies are obliged to notify people annually about relatively trivial issues relating to their policies, why does he balk at the idea of notifying them when they will lose that money altogether by transferring it to the unclaimed fund?
That would not happen.
This is what we are providing for. We are providing legislation solely for situations where policies are not claimed. The Minister for Finance is saying that although insurance companies are notifying these policyholders on an annual basis about all sorts of things, he will not allow them to individually notify policyholders about when they are going to have this money transferred into a dormant account. That is what the Minister is saying and it makes no sense.
They will notify individuals.
They will not.
If one had four policies with the same insurance company that were taken out in different years, when a policy is deemed dormant, the insurance company will notify the individual about that particular policy.
What about the other three policies? In many cases the reason they will go unclaimed is because of a change of address or a change in circumstances of the individual concerned. Only one address will be notified, yet the individual may have moved on to somewhere else or will not receive the notice because some other eventuality has occurred. This amendment does not, as the Minister is suggesting, put an unreasonable burden—
What does the Deputy suggest I do about that?
I suggest that the Minister accept this amendment.
Is he suggesting that insurance companies go traipsing around the by-roads of Meath looking for an individual who may have taken out a policy 30 years ago?
That is not what the amendment says. This amendment provides that if there is more than one policy in the name of the same person, then the insurance company is obliged to make a separate notification in respect of each policy it proposes to transfer.
That is what happens. Each policy—
The Bill provides for precisely the opposite – if an insurance company discovers one insurance policy in January, notifies the person and nothing happens, and then, in December, discovers a much larger policy in the name of the same person, it has no obligation to notify the individual. That does not make sense to me. No unreasonable burden is being imposed by accepting this amendment, and we may as well get the legislation right. As the Minister is suggesting, the industry must feel it to be in its interests to continue to hold these funds unclaimed.
Amendment No. 4 is consequential on amendment No. 9, and amendment No. 5 is an alternative to amendment No. 4. Amendments Nos. 4, 5 and 9 may be taken together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 12, to delete lines 35 to 37.
The purpose of this amendment is to remove the lower limit that the Minister has already discussed to some extent. I do not see any reason the insurance companies should not be obliged to contact people with insurance polices of a value below the limit already discussed. There are often people in possession of multiple policies, insurance companies may have changed hands and policies may have been amalgamated.
The Minister asked a few minutes ago whether insurance companies should be expected to search the by-roads of Meath, or wherever, in search of policyholders. The reality is that this affects many elderly people who have accumulated and paid for insurance policies over a very long period of time. They were used to the insurance man calling to their homes and keeping the information about their policies. It is unfair to impose this limit. People who hold lesser amounts should be informed by the insurance companies and have an opportunity to reclaim their policies.
There is a need to make some change in this respect, and one or other of the amendments should be accepted. The Minister suggested during the Committee Stage debate that the acceptance of such amendments would lead to a 500% increase in administration costs. However, he did not provide any clear indication of what the costs of administration were or of the advantages the insurance companies had enjoyed over many years of having the use of funds from these unclaimed policies. I would not shed many tears for insurance companies that are going to have some additional burdens. The Bill only provides for the requirement to issue a written notice. It is a letter held on a word processor that must be despatched to any name and address on their files.
This amendment does not impose significant obligations. It merely imposes the minimum obligation anyone would expect – that if an insurance company has been collecting money from people for many years, as Deputy Burton points out, it would make the minimum effort of writing to them to inform them since the policy has been unclaimed, the money will now go to the dormant accounts. We should not be dictated to exclusively by unsubstantiated concerns on the part of insurance companies. I have not seen any of the documentation that the Minister adverted to on Committee Stage indicating that this would bring the house of cards down. If the insurance companies make all reasonable efforts to identify the owner of a policy, and the Minister says they are already doing so, then we are merely asking them to issue a written notice to those owners.
If they cannot identify the owner then there is nothing they can do about it, and the Bill is not asking them to do something they are unable to do. We are not asking them to go searching the highways and by-ways of the country, merely to check their own records, which they should have retained. We ought to accept either the lower threshold or the entire removal of the threshold, as Deputy Burton has suggested.
I support the amendment to remove the threshold in its entirety, although I acknowledge that lowering the threshold would also be beneficial. We need more information regarding the windfall nature of the benefits the insurance companies have already derived from accounts of this nature. I do not accept the Minister's argument about the administrative costs and difficulties of contacting people who hold such low value accounts.
The Bill should go further in ensuring that insurance companies make every effort to contact such account holders. The Bill provides that such contact can be made through written letters to last known addresses. With the advances in information technology in recent years, we should put an even greater onus on an industry that itself depends so much on information technology to use every available means of communication to ensure that information is passed on to the account holders concerned. I hope the Minister will consider removing the threshold, which is an artificial barrier, which would ultimately release more funds into the dormant accounts fund for better distribution.
I wish to make a general point on this legislation and the Dormant Accounts Act 2001. At the moment, the balance of advantage lies with the insurer or the bank because the money is in some person's account and the bank has use of it in its reserves to generate profits. It is in the interests of the insurance company, therefore, to make sure to contact Mr. A at his last known address because if it does not, and unless Mr. A says he is alive and wants to do more business with it or take the money out now, the money will leave the bank account of the insurance company and be transferred to the State and into the dormant accounts fund. It will then be dispersed for the purposes laid out in the Act.
In both the Dormant Accounts Act 2001 and this Bill, it is in the insurance companies' own financial interests to try to make contact with customers holding accounts above the threshold of €500. If they do not make contact and there are no customer-initiated transactions, the money will go to the Exchequer and they will no longer have use of it. People like Deputy Jim O'Keeffe and me felt for a number of years that this was not correct and that something should be done about it. As Minister for Finance I am lucky enough to be in a position to do something about it. All kinds of advice about the difficulties of doing this were visited upon previous holders of this office. I recognise there are difficulties but we have done this for banking institutions in the Dormant Accounts Act 2001 and now we are doing it for life assurance policies. It may be possible to do this in other areas in years to come.
It is in the interests of life assurance companies to find an account holder at the last known address. Judging by the tenor of some of the amendments this is not widely understood. Banks are currently making an all-out effort to contact customers because 31 March is the cut-off date. Less than one year ago €400 million was held in accounts that had been dormant for 15 years and two months ago that had decreased to €250 million because the banks are reactivating accounts. To my personal knowledge, branches have gone to extraordinary lengths to contact their customers in recent weeks because they know if they do not make contact the money will go to the Exchequer. I imagine the same rules will apply with insurance companies.
Regarding the amendments, balance must be reached between the aim of reuniting people with their moneys and not placing an undue administrative burden on the financial institutions, especially as any costs involved will be passed on to the consumer. The full burden of keeping track of the policy should not lie solely with the company; the individual must also take some responsibility.
Most low value policies have not yet been computerised and this has involved a lengthy manual trawl of paper records as insurance companies have to notify these customers. Considering the value of such policies this does not seem to be worthwhile at this time. This is particularly true in the case of old industrial branch policies sold by door-to-door salespersons – I was married when a policy taken out by my mother many years previously matured and it came to the princely sum of £92 10/-. Bearing in mind the case of such policies there are often very few contact details available. The policies were often sold door-to-door by salespersons who knew their customers personally and did not see the need to record accurate contact details. In these incidences, we accept the proposal to remove the threshold altogether at this time. It would be impossible for the insurance undertakings to comply with the law.
Section 9(7) of the Bill provides that the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs can alter the €500 threshold. Undertakings have already tried to contact these customers to no avail. In any case it is in their interests to pull out all the stops in doing this so as not to lose the underlying funds while still having to maintain the policies.
As my Department has been drafting this Bill for some time, the industry has been preparing for the onset of a new regime. Since publication of the Bill, companies have been trying to identify policies valued above €500 and the Irish Insurance Federation advises that it has been developing new software to assist with this. To remove or change the threshold at this point will cause not inconsiderable problems for the sector. There is nothing to prevent the undertakings from writing to all customers or doing so more than once – this is likely to happen in any case. Since the dormant scheme came on stream last March, the number and value of accounts reactivated has been significant.
Four advertisements will be placed this year regarding this new scheme, two by the insurance industry, one on behalf of the banks and building societies and one on behalf of An Post. This should bring the scheme into the public consciousness.
The right to reclaim is statutorily guaranteed. Once records relating to these low-valued policies are finally computerised and the backlog of unclaimed policies has been cleared, it might then be appropriate to lower or remove the threshold. For these reasons, I do not propose to accept the amendment.
I regret the Minister does not accept the amendment. Given that we agree many of the people affected by this will be elderly, why not use the offices of the Department of Social and Family Affairs to inform people? Almost all these people will now be in receipt of a State pension and a notice given through the Department of Social and Family Affairs would be more effective. While many people collect their pensions at post offices quite a high proportion now use banks. The Department of Social and Family Affairs has a good record of public information campaigns and it should be the primary conduit of the information campaign.
I do not know the format the advertisement in the newspapers will take, but bank notices are generally dreary, threatening and often off-putting to elderly people. If the Minister is not prepared to lower the threshold I hope he will give consideration to this. Community resource centres and old people's centres could also air the notice. This type of information campaign would be more effective in this instance.
I will ask the Department of Social and Family Affairs if it is possible to send notices to resource centres etc. from its own resources. I do not want to get a big bill from it for doing this work but it seems like a good idea.
People are becoming more conversant with this type of procedure but Deputy Burton is probably right, older people may not be as conversant. There are notices in banks and I am sure there are also notices in post offices.
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 12, line 43, to delete "fails" and substitute "has been unable".
My eminent legal advisers inform me that the word "fails" is ambiguous and the substitution of "has been unable" is a clearer terminology from a legal standpoint.
Section 9(1)(c) provides that where an insurance undertaking has taken all reasonable steps to notify the policyholder and fails to do so, the undertaking need not personally notify such a policyholder of the existence of an unclaimed policy. The proposal is to provide that the undertaking need not contact such a policyholder, where it has tried previously to do so but has been unable to do so, rather than having failed to do so.
As this section was drafted in order to provide a defence for the undertakings in circumstances where they have taken all reasonable steps, as provided under section 9(1)(c), the Office of the Attorney General advises that the onus of proof is greater where the requirement is that the undertaking was unable to make contact rather than that it failed to do so. To be “unable” could imply lack of ability to make contact, which should not be the case and which would – I am sure the Deputy would agree – be indefensible. However, to “fail” to make contact implies that all that could reasonably be done was done, such that no fault then lies with the undertaking.
Further, to provide that the undertaking has taken reasonable steps but has been unable to make contact infers that the undertaking should have been given more time, that is, that the reasonable steps were inadequate. This would leave us with something of a conflict in this section.
I could guess the eminent legal advice the Deputy has taken, and I have often concurred with it on previous occasions and accepted amendments, but we have the opposite advice on this area from the Attorney General. This is an issue between lawyers.
Is that the advice of the current or the former Attorney General?
The current Attorney General. I am unable to accept the wishes of the Deputy's friend on this occasion, much as I respect his advice on many of these matters and have often abided by it.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 13, line 11, after "policies" to insert "and the number of such policies".
This section deals with the advertisement that is to be placed in the newspapers informing potential holders of unclaimed policies that the assurance company concerned has such policies. This amendment proposes that such an advertisement would not only state that an assurance company holds unclaimed insurance policies but that it would also indicate the number of such policies as of the date of the notice, given that the number would change over time.
The inclusion of this amendment would make a difference in terms of public information in that it would alert the public to the potential for them to claim back money on unclaimed policies. If the public were notified that, for example, Irish Life had 1,000 unclaimed policies, that would have a much greater impact and would probably generate news coverage about the issue rather than a bland newspaper advertisement, as Deputy Burton suggested, to the effect that an assurance company had unclaimed policies. The provision of such additional information, which would be available to the companies would considerably enhance public awareness of this issue. At least the companies could at the time of the notice give their best shot in terms of their information on the number of unclaimed policies held. Acceptance of this amendment would be helpful and worthwhile.
It will probably not be possible for the undertakings to publish, on the day of the public notice, the number of unclaimed policies they each hold. Section 9(1) does not require the companies to have identified all their unclaimed policies by that date. Rather, each company will merely have to establish by that date – usually the first weekday in October each year – that it holds at least one such policy. Therefore, if we amend the section, as proposed, it is likely that the companies could not comply with the law as it would then stand.
As I pointed out earlier in relation to the banks, they published a notice some months ago, but they are still reactivating policies and checking their records. However, they were aware that an account holder had at least one bank account that met the relevant criteria. The same rule will apply to the assurance companies. The companies will establish that they have policyholders who comply with the relevant criteria and fall into this category. They will then be required to publish a notice in that regard every year in October. However, the companies will have from October until the following March to work out the total number of their unclaimed policies as at 31 March and the proceeds from such policies will then be transferred to the dormant accounts fund.
If any such policy meets the criteria of section 9(1), that is, whereby the proceeds of the policy are below €500, is deemed "non-correspondence", or the undertaking has previously tried unsuccessfully to make contact with that policyholder, then the undertaking must place a public notice in relation to those policies.
Experience gained from application of the scheme to the credit institutions would indicate that the identification process will go on for some months after the date of the public notice, at least initially, when the backlog of policies is to be cleared. This is even more likely to be the case for the insurance undertakings, given the disparate nature of life policies, and the two different periods of dormancy that apply in this case, five or 15 years.
In any case I can see no value in publishing this information. It is enough that the public will be made aware that all or most life assurance undertakings in the State hold unclaimed policies. For these reasons, I do not propose to accept Deputy Bruton's amendment.
I could easily meet the substance of the Minister's objection by changing the amendment to include the words "and the number of such policies known to the company on the date of the notice". If the Minister requires further clarification, the additional words "and compliance with this provision will not constitute a breach of any other section of the Bill" could be included. If the Minister is concerned about the legal obstacles to the acceptance of this amendment, it would be easy for his draftsman to overcome them. On the other hand, if the Minister is simply determined to deny the publication of information that would alert the public about this issue and give them a much more meaningful understanding about what is happening, that is a different matter. If that is the case, then the Minister will object to any formulation of this amendment.
The public have a right to know about this issue. Their money is being transferred; it is not someone else's money. To include the additional information proposed would, contrary to what the Minister said, greatly enhance public interest in this issue. If members of the public were aware that, for example, Irish Life had 1,000 unclaimed policies, Royal Liver had 3,000 and another assurance company had 5,000, that, in itself, would be a news story. Such information would generate a good deal of news coverage and many more people would probably come forward to identify whether any of those policies belonged to them. The inclusion of this amendment would enhance the significance of the public information notice.
I envisage that happening in any event. I anticipate that when an assurance company issues a notification, the press will inquire about the number of policies it envisages will be unclaimed. In any event, after the first year, the number for that year will be obvious and people will have an idea about the number of unclaimed policies held in the following year. The big rush will happen in year one, as happened in the case of the banks. Dealing with these accounts will be a major operation. I do not believe there is any advantage in including the Deputy's amendment.
If an assurance company were to indicate in the first week of October that it had 1,000 unclaimed policies and it transpired that it had 50,000, it could be accused of having provided incorrect information. The staff in these companies might decide to work day and night from October to March to comply with the legislation. I do not believe there is any advantage in including this amendment.
I will withdraw the amendment, confident in the hope that the Minister will accept my next amendment.
Amendment No. 8 is consequential on amendment No. 12 and amendments Nos. 11, 13, 17 and 18, are related. These amendments may be taken together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 13, between lines 25 and 26, to insert the following:
(i) a Central Database of the name and date of birth of unclaimed policies is jointly operated by the NTMA and institutions covered by this Act so that a member of the public can check the possibility that they are the holder of an unclaimed policy or have an entitlement to its proceeds, by furnishing photographic evidence of identity and the Birth Certificate of the possible policy holder, and
(ii) the operator of the Central Database, on receipt of this evidence, will arrange for any institution holding an unclaimed policy in the name to make contact with persons in respect of whom there isprima facie evidence that they are entitled to the proceeds of an unclaimed policy, in order to establish if he or she is entitled to any monies;”.
This is the group of amendments I would most like to see the Minister accept. Their acceptance would provide the public with a much simpler way of identifying whether they own an unclaimed policy, the proceeds from which will be transferred and, equally, it would provide the same provision, as applied in the case of dormant bank accounts, which no doubt are much more numerous.
In these amendments, effectively, I am proposing a central database. One of the problems with maintaining a central database relates to restrictions from the Data Protection Office and under the Data Protection Act. In these amendments I have tried to devise a procedure which would overcome the restrictions under the Data Protection Act. I contacted the Data Protection Commissioner to ascertain whether he thought that such a procedure might be acceptable. While he obviously only gave me a general opinion, I was encouraged to learn he thought there was potential in this procedure.
I propose that a central database would be maintained and jointly funded by the NTMA, which will be the beneficiary of the unclaimed policies and by the institutions who are currently the beneficiaries of the unclaimed policies. The central database would only contain the name and date of birth of people who held unclaimed policies. In other words, it would not contain any confidential information relating to the account or to the address. It would provide a fairly simple contact point, which a person could check in terms of his or her name and date of birth. If on presenting them the central database discovered that it had a person on its records with the same details, it would communicate that to the financial institution concerned which would then contact the person who had presented himself or herself, not the other way around. That person would not be given the opportunity to scan all the data held by the central database and none of the rules covering this area would be breached. Only a person's name and date of birth would be used and for the purpose for which he or she gave them originally, namely, for life insurance policies.
This information would not be open to others, such as the Revenue Commissioners, the Garda Síochána and credit collectors, from whom the Data Protection Act rightly protects people. It would provide a two stage process that would be 100% insulated from misuse by people who would seek to use the information for purposes other than those for which it was intended. It would greatly enhance the scope for identifying unclaimed accounts. My understanding is that a person can go to the Irish Bankers Federation which will contact banks in an effort to help. It is a tedious procedure because it must contact every bank to see if a person of the name concerned holds an account there.
My proposal is for a central database. Its support, which has resulted in a number of amendments, would be by insurance companies placing the name and date of birth of all customers on their registers which would then be transferred to the central database.
This is an attempt to deal with the problem that the Minister admitted on Committee Stage was a genuine concern. He showed some sympathy for the approach at that stage. I am disappointed, given the weight of the drafting abilities behind him, he does not have a corresponding amendment rejigging the terms of this provision. It is a worthwhile amendment.
There would be some expense and it should be carried jointly by the National Treasury Management Agency, the ultimate beneficiary of the dormant accounts money, and the institutions concerned because there would be some additional expense in maintaining such a central database.
As we move forward, we will undoubtedly examine other areas. People have drawn my attention to the fact that, for example, where a company is taken over by another, the shares of dissenting shareholders who do not accept the transfer of ownership are held by the original company. This is another type of unclaimed account which I hope the Minister will, in time, pursue. Similarly, uncashed dividend cheques return to the central fund of a company and this presents another legitimate case. If we are to go this road, and I am sure the Minister sees these other opportunities coming up the track, we should make the effort to put in place a central database of this nature that could retain the information in a way that would be sufficiently encrypted so as not to be abused. I hope the Minister looks sympathetically on these amendments.
I support the amendment and the need for a central database not only for accounts that result from unclaimed life assurance policies and previous bank account legislation but also for the other examples Deputy Richard Bruton mentioned. Some difficulties will probably remain to be overcome, for example, whether the person named on the accounts is the beneficial holder of such accounts depending on when they were opened.
The amendment could be nuanced further by adopting the availability of information technology. For example, it is not necessary for a person to walk into an office with a birth certificate or other identification documents to access such a database. With the Internet, the companies concerned could supply someone making an inquiry with a password or PIN that would make such information unique to that person.
The need for a database is something that has been well argued and will become more obvious as more sources of finances that are absorbed into the general profitability of financial institutions are revealed in society and the economy at large. I hope the Minister will look favourably on this series of amendments.
I am not completely convinced of the merits of establishing another database with the NTMA. The agency will soon be doing everything in the country at the rate at which we offer it responsibility. There is a simple way of doing this, namely, from a certain date, requiring people to give their personal public service number, what used to be called the RSI or tax number. That can also be firewalled against being given to inappropriate authorities for other purposes. The essential core of the personal public service number is a person's name and date of birth. It is a unique identification that is given to children as they are born. We have an embryonic database and we need rules by which it can be utilised in future without the need to establish another one. It would require stringent privacy rules associated with its use for these purposes. It would be a simple way of addressing the matter. Deputy Richard Bruton is to be congratulated for the detailed amendment he has tabled and the thought he has put into it.
The proposal for a central database, accessible by members of the public, to the extent where they can check if there is a dormant asset in their name, is one we have examined before and holds a great deal of merit. The Deputy's proposal is that such a database would be operated jointly by the NTMA and the institutions. Where the controller of the database received reasonable evidence of a claim to the proceeds of a dormant account or unclaimed life policy, arrangements would be made for the relevant institution to contact the claimant and pursue the matter.
I agree with the Deputy that if such a database was properly constructed and managed, this might further assist members of the public in tracing dormant moneys. I am aware that a number of commercial organisations are interested in assisting with such a database. However, although I think these organisations may be underestimating the legal complexities and obstacles to be surmounted if we are to proceed with this proposal, I am on record as stating that I am in favour of this but do not consider it can be countenanced for the Bill because it requires detailed further analysis from both a legal and commercial viewpoint as well as the agreement and assistance of industry.
A number of issues must be considered, not least of which is the legal and constitutional right to privacy enjoyed by all. In this regard, the issues to be considered are the institutions' duty of confidentiality to their customers, the issue of non-correspondence accounts and policies, the Data Protection Act 1988 and the constitutional right to privacy.
Analysis of these issues might show that these obstacles are not insurmountable as, for example, many of the account holders or policyholders could be dead, such that the right of the heirs to private property takes priority. However, before we examine the legalities of this, it might be prudent to obtain more details from the institutions on the profile of likely claimants.
The Deputy suggested that the database would not be generally accessible but rather serve as the first port of call in establishing a claim. I will come back to this point later but would suggest that measures are already in place that provide this service.
The second major consideration is the commercial viability of establishing and maintaining such a database. In this regard, I would not foresee a role for the NTMA. At no stage will the agency be given personal details of accounts or policyholders. It will merely have details of totals transferred from any given institution and the number of accounts or policies involved. Therefore, it is to be assumed that the database would be administered by the institutions themselves.
It would then have to be established who would exercise overall control, who would resource it, how often it would be updated to take account of reactivations and where it would be located. Strict controls would have to be put in place to ensure that only legitimate access to the data could be obtained. Naturally, this raises the issue of liability for unwarranted access to or dissemination of information as well as the potential for fraud. In the model proposed, the institutions would have to accept this liability. This could only be done by agreement.
There is a question concerning the cost involved and how that cost would be shared as between the institutions. I am advised by industry that the costs, which include set-up and software development as well as staffing implications as regards handling and monitoring of data, are likely to be considerable, given the number of assets we are dealing with, and may outweigh any added value that a central database might bring, particularly as its main use will probably only be in the first year of operation. It also should not be forgotten that any costs are likely to be passed on to the customer.
We should also not lose sight of the fact that the institutions already have systems in place which can be used by the public to trace lost or forgotten assets. Anyone with a potential claim can request an institution to examine the evidence of such. In particular, where there is uncertainty as to where the asset may be, the representative organisations – the Irish Insurance Federation, the Irish Bankers Federation and the Irish Mortgage Council – will pass on information they receive to their member institutions with a view to tracing the moneys. Sections 14(5) of the Dormant Accounts Act and 12(5)(b) of the current Bill provide that where adequate proof is adduced of a claim, the claimant will be entitled to examine an institution's register of unclaimed policies or register of dormant accounts, as the case may be, in so far as that account or policy is concerned. To a large extent, this already meets the purpose for a central database.
Nevertheless, I do not want to give the impression that I see no value in this proposal. As I have stated, this was looked at previously when the 2001 Act was being drafted, but was not pursued as so much else had to be achieved in that legislation. I have asked my officials to examine this matter further and discuss the pros and cons of the proposal with industry and the Office of the Attorney General. As I see it, centralising large volumes of personal data would not only have to be legally permissible, but also cost effective and user-friendly to warrant pursuing the exercise. The Deputy and this House can rest assured that this is still under consideration as a near-term objective.
I would not see a role for me as Minister for Finance in promulgating that legislation. The matter would have to be considered by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, having had advice from the Attorney General. I see no objections to outside bodies doing this type of work if they can overcome the possible legal and constitutional difficulties regarding the matters to which I have referred. If any outside bodies believe there is a profit to be made from this, I would so encourage them, in so far as they can get over difficulties that may arise regarding the other matters.
I thank my colleagues for their support on this amendment. I did not intend that this measure would be given to the NTMA either in terms of access to names and addresses or to operate it. I simply believed it should share the cost, as it is the major beneficiary of this legislation. I chose the date of birth rather than the PPS number because many of these policies would not have had PPS numbers on them, whereas it is much more likely that the date of birth would have been recorded on some of these unclaimed policies. Over time that certainly will change. I did not know there were commercial organisations interested in this, nor do I carry the can for any such organisations.
I welcome the Minister's willingness to look at this further and I recognise that my amendments could not simply be accepted without further analysis. However, the issue of fraud, mentioned by the Minister, would not be a major concern. They would add significant extra value over the Minister's proposal that people could go to an insurance company and inspect a register in respect of their accounts. In practice people will not go to several different sources of that nature. The merit of the central database is that they would only have to go to one place. This is an important element that should be considered.
I am disappointed the Minister is saying the onus to do this is elsewhere. It will not happen without some legislative authority. I cannot see companies surrendering even minimal information to a commercial operator if it is not pro vided for in law. If we are to go further down the road of ensuring that unclaimed moneys that are currently to the benefit of commercial operations should revert to the State, we need to consider such legislation. If the Minister returns to the House, as I hope he will, to deal with unclaimed moneys in commercial companies as a result of dividends or other share transactions, he should by then have the appropriate legislation from the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. This would mean that when we consider the next tranche of funds, we will not have to accept general sympathy towards the idea without being in a position to work out the legal complexities.
I thank the Minister for his general support and hope he will be able to inject some urgency into his colleagues to investigate how this can be done in practice.
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 14, line 42, after "section" to insert "or amounts claimed by the Minister where the Minister is of the opinion that the undertaking's estimate undersubsection (2) is inadequate”.
The purpose of this amendment is to provide a mechanism whereby the company's estimate of a value can be challenged by the Minister. In the legislation the onus rests with the company.
Section 10(2) of the Bill currently provides that where the net encashment value of a policy cannot be accurately determined by an insurance undertaking, an estimate of its value will be determined and that amount transferred to the dormant accounts fund. This section was drafted to take account of the old industrial branch policies, where often, due to inadequate details, it is only possible to establish what is owed on presentation by the policyholder of the policy document. The section closely reflects the provision in the Dormant Accounts Act for "petty balances".
The Deputy proposes that my colleague, the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, be given authority to claim further amounts in respect of those policies from the undertakings where the Minister is of the opinion that an undertaking has underestimated what it should have transferred to the fund. I do not propose to accept this amendment for a number of reasons. During discussions with the insurance industry when drafting the Bill, it became clear that it would be impossible to accurately determine how much is owed under these policies. Therefore, I do not think that the Minister would be able to carry out any more accurate assessment of the amount owed.
Most of the undertakings tend to establish an industrial branch fund into which the undertaking transfers an amount it estimates to be its liabilities in respect of these policies. The undertakings have indicated that they intend transferring most of the proceeds of these funds to the dormant accounts fund. The amount to be transferred will be based on a calculation carried out by the undertaking's actuary as most of the records relating to such policies are non-computerised. However, as these industrial branch funds generally hold moneys from a large number of very low value policies, it is preferable, from a cost-effective administrative point of view, that the undertakings themselves rather than the NTMA deal with reclaims on those moneys. We can take it that the dormant fund will take most of the moneys from these IB funds rendering this amendment unnecessary and, most probably, unworkable.
I move amendment No. 14:
In page 18, line 22, after "undertaking" to insert "in accord with regulations set by the Minister".
This amendment deals with the section that allows insurance companies to levy charges or make deductions in respect of policies before they hand moneys over to the dormant accounts fund. Perhaps my amendment is redundant in that I felt their ability to levy charges and make deductions should be limited by regulations set by the Minister. On Committee Stage, the Minister indicated that the word "may" in that section is interpreted to mean that they can only do so in accord with the terms of the actual policies concerned. If that interpretation is accurate, my amendment is redundant. However, it is an interpretation that an innocent word such as "may" did not immediately convey to me. Will the Minister confirm that the use of the word "may" means the provision will be restricted to the application of legitimate charges that were notified to the policyholder in advance at the time he or she undertook the policy? This would ensure there are no surprises or additional charging.
Section 15(3)(a) provides that the moneys to be paid to a valid claimant are to be net of any charges or deductions that may be made by the insurance undertaking, in other words, charges that comply with the normal and legal practice of insurance undertakings in these circumstances. As such, these charges and reductions take account of taxes and administrative charges which the undertakings are legally entitled or obliged to recoup from the proceeds of a policy that has been encashed. It would be inappropriate for my colleague, the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, to make regulations related to such taxes or administrative charges in that they would raise either the revenue matters or the contractual relationship between the insurance undertaking and its client. In any case, the basis for these charges is the policy contract. I have long held that the dormant accounts scheme should interfere as little as possible with the rights of customers and that is what this Bill and the previous legislation have tried to adhere to. Therefore, I do not propose to accept the amendment.
I move amendment No. 15:
In page 19, between lines 33 and 34, to insert the following:
"(f) the making of all reasonable efforts to identify unclaimed policies.”.
The amendment tries to address the obligations of the insurance companies to make all reasonable efforts to identify unclaimed policies. This section, which provides for a certificate of compliance, provides that an undertaking must show compliance in a number of matters, including the publication of notices, transferring money to the fund and keeping a register.
The one matter which the Bill does not appear to provide for is the most basic test of all, namely, that the undertakings have made all reasonable efforts to identify the owners of accounts or policies. If such efforts are not made, the policy will never be deemed unclaimed and, as such, the proceeds will never be transferred to the fund. We need to make legal provision in the Bill for this to happen. Perhaps that is already the case and I failed to spot it. We need to put the onus on companies that they cannot fail, perhaps through benign neglect, to make reasonable efforts to identify whether a policy is unclaimed.
We have defined what an unclaimed policy is, namely, one to which certain things have not happened over a defined period, but we do not appear to have taken the extra step – the Minister is free to correct me if I am wrong on this – of establishing a legal obligation to identify and notify such unclaimed policies. If the companies in question do not make the effort to deem accounts or policies unclaimed, the dormant accounts fund will not benefit from them and the undertakings will be in a position to avoid losing the money in the accounts from their reserves. As the Minister correctly pointed out, it is in their interests to keep such moneys. Perhaps the amendment is redundant. I ask the Minister to comment.
The certificate of compliance completed by each institution and subject to the dormant accounts scheme will be signed off by a duly authorised officer of the institution in question and will state that the register of unclaimed policies has been properly maintained. The register will contain a great deal of detail about an institution's unclaimed policies, for example, the number of each category of policy, the dates on which notices were sent to policyholders, the dates on which the policies were deemed unclaimed and all details regarding claims from the dormant fund in respect of any given policy. Therefore, it seems clear that if the register is properly maintained and this is certified by the authorised officer, all reasonable efforts must have been made by the institution which identifies its unclaimed policies.
In any case, the amendment would negate the need for section 8(3) which provides that it is an offence for an undertaking not to give notice to the holder of an unclaimed policy. This section already ensures that the undertakings must take all reasonable steps to identify unclaimed policies. To attempt to go beyond the provisions in the section would result in a disparity between the provisions for the credit institutions and those for the insurance undertakings. It would also infer a need for the institutions to take steps beyond the stringent measures already set down in the Bill and would provide no added value, given that what one institution considers reasonable may not be considered reasonable by another. For these reasons, it is unlikely that the proposal is workable or warranted and I do not propose to accept it.
To be clear, is the Minister stating that once an unclaimed policy is defined as having been dormant for, say, five years, section 8 makes it an offence for an insurance company to fail to contact any holder of an account which has been inactive for that period?
The institutions cannot, for example, pretend that the account is not unclaimed because they did not bother pursuing it.
That would be an offence under section 8(3).
That is an important point because otherwise benign neglect could result in a policy remaining untouched. On that basis, I will withdraw the amendment.
I move amendment No. 16:
In page 25, line 2, after "privilege" to insert "or would otherwise be privileged against disclosure in legal proceedings".
This amendment addresses the notion of privilege which is confined in the Bill to legal privilege. There may be exceptional circumstances in which other forms of privilege would arise, for example, executive privilege in relation to State secrets. Confining it to legal privilege is not reasonable.
Section 24 of the Bill provides that undertakings will be indemnified for information they disclose to inspectors if that disclosure is done in good faith. This section has been included in order that confidential information about policyholders can be given to inspectors where it is needed to check the valid and efficient operation by that undertaking of the dormant scheme. However, section 24(2) provides that an undertaking can refuse to disclose any document containing information which is based on professional legal privilege, in other words, information related to advice from a solicitor or barrister.
This is a standard provision and, as such, there are many statutory precedents for this type of clause, for example, section 68 of the Stock Exchange Act 1995. However, to attempt to provide for privilege beyond advice given by a solicitor or barrister is only ever done on foot of statute for a specific reason. The Freedom of Information Act 1997 is an example of an Act in which privilege is given to certain officials in relation to their functions under the Act. For example, officials cannot be compelled to produce documents which are the private papers of a representative of the European Parliament.
Under the Committees of the Houses of the Oireachtas (Compellability, Privileges and Immunities of Witnesses) Act 1997, privilege is given to witnesses appearing before committees of the Houses in relation to documents they are compelled to produce before the committee. What is suggested in the amendment has no precedent in statute and, having checked with the Office of the Attorney General, it would be unacceptable from a legal point of view. I do not propose to accept the amendment.
I move amendment No. 19:
In page 28, between lines 25 and 26, to insert the following:
"(b) Eighty per cent of the moneys in the investment and disbursements account shall be directly applied in areas specified by the Central Statistics Office as being economically disadvantaged.”.
This is my sole amendment to the Bill. It seeks to address the original legislation, the Dormant Accounts Act, which the Bill before us seeks to amend through its Second Schedule. The Unclaimed Life Assurance Policies Bill, as the legislation is now called, has received universal acceptance in the House in terms of the principle it advances. The debate has been about the technicalities as to how the policies can best be delivered into the dormant accounts fund. My amendment seeks to specify the way much of the money in the fund can be spent. I ask the Minister to give consideration to it.
The original Dormant Accounts Act is general about the areas in which the money can be spent. There is a need to be more specific as to how the money can be spent. I acknowledge that, at the very least, there is now a political remove that might not have existed in terms of previous funds that were set up and from which public funds were subsequently allocated. I am thinking particularly of the misuse of the original national lottery funds in terms of the way the money was spent and who decided on the areas in which it was spent. I want special consideration given to the potential that exists in the dormant accounts fund to be a tool of wealth redistribution, which is something the Minister and his colleague on the Government bench might not be prepared to accept. That potential could be realised by the Minister accepting this amendment.
The model I suggest is that the Government has already made use of the Central Statistics Office to define the areas in terms of economic disadvantage when it announced the RAPID and the CLÁR programmes, neither of which has been successful because specified funds did not exist for those programmes. They were merely a front-loading of national development plan projects. If there is a specified sum of money in the dormant accounts fund, 80% of that could be allocated to communities already defined by an agency of the State as being economically disadvantaged. The Dáil would be sending out a clear message through this legislation about how public money can be used in a more beneficial way. I ask the Minister to improve this legislation, which I admit has the widespread acceptance of everybody in this House, by accepting this amendment.
In the first instance I should point out that the Central Statistics Office does not specify areas of economic disadvantage.
The Central Statistics Office has published regional accounts detailing county incomes and retail GDP, the most recent being for the years 1995-99. The public accounts tabulate estimates of disposable income, a total income per person per region such as the NUTS II, Border, midland and western, and southern and eastern regions, and by county, as well as GVA at basic prices per person by region. As such, the Central Statistics Office may indicate in a regional accounts publication the regions which fall above or below the State average disposable income but it does not specify areas as being economically advantaged or disadvantaged.
In any case, I do not propose to accept this amendment for various reasons, the primary among them being that what is already in the Dormant Accounts Act at section 41 ensures that those with the greatest needs will benefit most from disbursals from dormant funds. It was never intended that geographical areas of disadvantage, even if they could be identified and agreed on, should benefit but rather that individuals suffering disadvantage of a social, economic, educational or physical nature should gain from the scheme. I am sure the Deputy will agree that many people who are disadvantaged live outside areas that might be considered such. There can be no doubt that from the sums involved, we are better off targeting the individual via programmes and projects rather than the area. Would the Deputy's proposal, if accepted, be any more effective than the application of the criteria already in the Act? I do not think so and for those reasons, I do not propose to accept the Deputy's amendment.