Tracker Mortgages and Differential Pricing in Insurance: Discussion

We are dealing with No. 5 on our agenda, which relates to tracker mortgages and differential pricing in insurance. I welcome the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman, Mr. Ger Deering, and his colleagues. We will be discussing the final report of the Central Bank on its examination into tracker mortgages and will then deal with the practice of differential pricing in insurance.

I wish to advise the witnesses that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I invite Mr. Deering to make his opening statement.

Mr. Ger Deering

I am pleased to have the opportunity, together with my colleagues Ms Mary Rose McGovern, Ms Tara McDermott and Mr. Diarmuid Byrne. to address the committee. I note that the committee is particularly interested in complaints relating to tracker mortgage interest rates but I also note its interest in the practice of dual pricing.

The Office of the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman, FSPO, was established on 1 January 2018. The establishment of the office involved the merger of the former offices of the Financial Services Ombudsman and the Pensions Ombudsman. We provide a free service for consumers to resolve complaints about the actions of their pension provider or financial service provider. Our goal is to redress the balance of power between the individual consumer and provider and we do this by making our service as informal and accessible as possible. We mediate between the parties and, where necessary, we investigate and issue legally binding decisions.

Mediation through telephone, email and meetings is the first and preferred option for resolving complaints. By engaging with the parties directly, we try to achieve a timely and satisfactory resolution. Where these early interventions do not resolve the dispute, we use our extensive powers to investigate and adjudicate complaints in a fair and impartial manner. Full details of how we managed complaints in 2018 are set out in the overview of complaints 2018 that is available on our website.

We are dealing with a large volume of complaints which has led us to a situation where we are not dealing with complaints as quickly as we would like to. In order to deliver the objectives in our strategic plan, we submitted a workforce plan to the Minister for Finance and I am pleased to have received approval to recruit an additional 35 staff. We have been proactively recruiting to fill these posts. However, similar to many public sector bodies, the current buoyant job market is making it difficult for us to retain staff. Our staff resources are still not at the level we would like but we will have more people joining us before the end of the year.

I am conscious that there has been considerable interest in the time limits for making complaints to my office and, in particular, that this has had and impact on our ability to deal with certain tracker mortgage related complaints. Therefore, I would like to address this issue. In July 2017, the Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland (Amendment) Act 2017 was enacted. This legislation changed the period within which complaints could be made to the then Financial Services Ombudsman. These changes were carried forward into the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman Act 2017.

The legislation setting out the jurisdiction of this office in respect of time limits for bringing complaints against financial service providers is complex as a result of the various changes that have been made. Before the formal investigation of each individual complaint can commence, my office must assess whether the complaint has been made within the time limits set out in section 51 the 2017 Act. A complaint that relates to a long-term financial service must be made within one of the time limits set out in section 51. I have set those time limits out in a document I have submitted to the committee and will not go through them now. This can be a lengthy process because, in many instances, an objective consideration must be given to the complainant's date of knowledge and this may require scrutiny of all relevant historical communications. Both parties are given the opportunity to make all evidence available to that end and all such evidence is shared between the parties so that any jurisdictional determination is conducted in a way that is transparent and fair to both parties.

We also take into account section 54, which suspends those time limits for the period during which a complaint is being dealt with under the provider’s internal dispute resolution procedure.

In the exercise of my discretion, I must point out that not only must reasonable grounds exist, that is, there must be a particular reason to extend the time limit but, in addition, it must be just and equitable, in all of the circumstances, to both parties to do so. This provision cannot be exercised simply because, for example, the complaint relates to the application of a tracker mortgage.

The wording in the legislation means it is not possible for a party to the complaint or, indeed, the Ombudsman to simply "waive" the time limits. The use of the word "shall" in this provision mandates me to make a determination that a complaint is inadmissible where it was made after the expiry of the legislative time limits. Some providers had taken an approach in to tracker mortgage-related complaints that the complaint was made within the time limits. In such circumstances, a full formal assessment of whether the complaint was made within the time limits may not be necessary and the complaint can proceed to investigation.

In advance of or during a full assessment of the time limits, it is open to a provider to express a view that the complaint was made within the time limits. This is then taken into account in making a determination on the application of the time limits. However, where a provider puts forward a view that the complaint was made to this office outside the time limits, and the assessment and evidence supports this view, I must, in accordance with the legislation, determine that the complaint is inadmissible for investigation by this office.

Since the change in time limits, my office has been required to spend considerable time carrying out jurisdictional assessments on a large number of files, including on tracker mortgage-related complaints. In recent months, however, this is no longer the case for these complaints. This is because all of main lenders are now taking the approach in the vast majority of tracker mortgage-related complaints, that the complaint was made within the time limits, thus eliminating the need, in those instances, for a full assessment as to whether the complaint was made within the time limits to be conducted.

It has always been my view that the most effective and efficient way to provide redress and compensation to borrowers who were wrongly denied tracker mortgages was for the banks to co-operate fully with the Central Bank tracker examination project. It is for this reason that we have co-operated significantly with the Central Bank in that process. After that, when the individual banks completed the tracker mortgage examination, we were then able to proceed with the complaints we had on hold during that process.

Where complainants inform us that they have agreed a settlement with their financial service provider, we close the file. Where complainants have not been offered redress or compensation by their lender or where complainants are not satisfied with an offer of redress or compensation from their financial service provider, or do not receive an offer from their financial service provider, the mediation, investigation and adjudication processes of this office are, in most cases, available to them.

We registered 347 new tracker mortgage-related complaints between January and October 2019 and closed 455. Of the 455 complaints closed, we resolved 234 complaints through our informal mediation process, 146 were closed during the investigation, adjudication and legal services process, we closed 43 complaints at registration and assessment stage, while 24 were deemed withdrawn and eight were noted to be outside the jurisdiction of the office because of the time limits. I will be happy to provide further details on each of these processes and categories should the members wish me to do so.

I recently issued 15 legally binding decisions on tracker mortgage complaints. Two of these were upheld, two were substantially upheld, three were partially upheld and eight were not upheld. I have also issued six preliminary decisions. Now that the time limit issue has largely been resolved for tracker mortgage complaints, I expect we will progress the vast majority of complaints. We hope to continue to resolve the majority of complaints through mediation. However, I also expect to issue a considerable number of legally binding decisions in the coming months. I will publish all the decisions issued in 2019, including the tracker mortgage-related decisions, no later than January 2020. I will also publish a digest of these decisions similar to the digest of 2018 decisions that I published which includes a short summary of selected decisions.

I very much welcome the power to publish my decisions provided by the Oireachtas in our governing legislation. Publishing these decisions not only enhances the transparency and understanding of the powers of the office and of the service we provide, but it also plays an important role in providing enhanced protection for consumers. These decisions will be of assistance to consumers and their advocates and to financial service providers, in both avoiding and resolving disputes. I am confident that the publication of these decisions in our online database of decisions will help to improve the quality of services and protections available to consumers.

The committee has indicated that it wishes to discuss the issue known as dual pricing in the insurance industry with us. My understanding of dual pricing is that it involves a practice whereby some insurers profile their customers to identify price sensitive customers who may shop around for the best price and move. Such customers may then be quoted a lower renewal fee, or a discount, compared to loyal customers who are profiled as being less price sensitive as they do not shop around and are, therefore, quoted a higher rate or not offered a discount. Insurers, like all financial service providers, have a responsibility to treat their customers fairly. Fairness is at the heart of what we do as FSPO. Being fair means not improperly discriminating against a person or a body. The Oireachtas has specifically provided that I can uphold a complaint against a financial service provider where I believe the provider’s conduct in respect of a complainant was improperly discriminatory. In that regard, the Act provides that I can uphold, substantially uphold or partially uphold a complaint where the conduct complained of was unreasonable, unjust, oppressive or improperly discriminatory in its application to the complainant. I can also uphold a complaint, although the conduct complained of is in accordance with a law or an established practice or regulatory standard, if the law, practice or standard is, or may be, unreasonable, unjust, oppressive or improperly discriminatory in its application to the complainant.

My office will not interfere with the commercial discretion of a financial service provider when it is exercised in a fair and reasonable manner. This means that we will not interfere with how a provider charges for its services if the conduct involved is not unreasonable, unjust, oppressive or improperly discriminatory. For charges not to be improperly discriminatory, however, I expect that the same criteria would be applied consistently and fairly to customers in establishing whether the conduct of a provider in charging consumers for its services is fair and reasonable. This is particularly so, given the range of data used by providers together with the complex and opaque pricing techniques sometimes applied. This makes it difficult to establish whether the charge was fair. Understanding the factors that inform decisions of financial service providers is becoming even more difficult with the increasing use of artificial intelligence and machine learning and the manner in which personal data and data from external sources are used to profile consumers. Indeed, even identifying or recognising a dual pricing issue can present a challenge, as the complainants themselves would not necessarily recognise it or present it as such, and because a renewal quote will not necessarily be based on the exact same set of circumstances as the previous year.

I believe two of the main methods of combatting dual pricing are for insurers to provide consumers with clear and accurate information when they renew or incept insurance policies and for consumers to shop around regularly before taking out or renewing an insurance policy. Where consumers believe that the conduct of a provider has been unreasonable, unjust, oppressive or improperly discriminatory they can make a complaint to my office.

The Oireachtas has provided me with significant powers. I can direct compensation of up to €500,000 and I can also direct rectification, which could, for example, involve directing a financial service provider to reinstate a tracker mortgage rate or directing it to change the margin or the date from which a particular rate was applied. As FSPO, I look beyond the contractual terms and consider the fairness and reasonableness of the conduct complained of.

I assure the Chairman and members that, together with my management team here today, and my staff generally, I will continue to use the powers the Oireachtas has given me in an impartial manner to ensure a fair outcome in respect of complaints made to my office and we will continue to cooperate with the Central Bank in achieving better outcomes for consumers generally.

I thank the committee for the opportunity to engage with it today. My colleagues and I are happy to deal with any questions the committee may have.

I thank Mr. Deering and call Deputy Michael McGrath.

I thank the Chairman. I welcome Mr. Deering and his colleagues and commend him and his management team and all of his staff in the work that they do. I always find his office very good to deal with and the function it performs is important for consumers.

I will start by asking Mr. Deering about the tracker mortgage issue. A while ago I read an article written by Charlie Weston in the Irish Independent on 28 November 2009 where he said that one of Mr. Deering's predecessors, Mr. Joe Meade, had written to the then Financial Regulator asking that a probe be carried out because of some findings that he had arrived at, where some lenders had denied people the right to a tracker rate after coming off a fixed rate of interest. Does Mr Deering believe that a lot of time was lost before this issue was escalated to the level that it should have been escalated to, which should have been much earlier? It was late 2015 before the Central Bank instituted an industry-wide probe. Has Mr. Deering reviewed the original files and correspondence from 2009 as to what the response was, for example?

Mr. Ger Deering

I certainly did go back and look at the individual files. I came into the role of financial services ombudsman in April 2015. It pretty quickly became evident that tracker mortgages were going to become an issue and that people had been denied tracker mortgages who should not have been. One of the first things I did was carry out an analysis because I felt we had very valuable information in the office but the difficulty was that it was in hundreds of complaints files. If I remember, more than 400 complaint filed formed part of that analysis. At that stage, I put together analysis and gave a fairly considerable dossier of information that identified what had caused people to go off their trackers and why they could not go back on the trackers and the various triggers. At that stage, we worked very closely with the Central Bank and it helped the Central Bank in scoping out the tracker mortgage exercise it put in place. We have continued to work with it in this regard.

Was Mr. Deering able to establish what happened back in late 2009 when the issue was raised directly with the financial regulator at the time? What was the outcome? It took a further six years before a full industry-wide probe was started.

Mr. Ger Deering

We regularly send complaints to the Central Bank. The record I have is that a particular complaint was sent to the Central Bank to draw its attention at that time. I am not aware of a report that had a broad range with regard to the tracker mortgage issue being systemic but I am aware of a particular complaint that was sent over at that time.

According to the article, the letter sent suggested the then financial regulator would carry out a probe into the issue. I would be interested, if Mr. Deering has the correspondence from the time, particularly the response from the then regulator, if he would share it with the committee, to the extent that he can. It would be very helpful. I ask him to look into it and come back to us.

To move onto more recent times, the issue of the time limit, which has now been overcome, should never have arisen in the first place. Will Mr. Deering confirm that certain banks expressly challenged the jurisdiction of his office to take some tracker mortgage complaints on the grounds that in their view they were outside the time limits?

Mr. Ger Deering

I mentioned in my presentation the section of the Act that deals with the time limits. What the banks did was apply the time limits and point out that certain complaints were made outside of the time limit. As I mentioned, the language used in the legislation is that I shall deem a complaint to be inadmissible where it is made outside of the time limit. Not all banks did this. Some banks took the view in their submissions that the complaint was made within the time limit. This meant we did not have to carry out a jurisdictional assessment. Once a bank raised the part of the legislation regarding a complaint being made outside of the time limit, I was required to carry out a jurisdictional assessment and time limit assessment on them.

Sure, but it is fair to say an attempt was made by certain banks to prevent the financial regulator's office from considering tracker mortgage-related complaints on the grounds of the time limit.

Mr. Ger Deering

They used the provision in the legislation that put them outside for that purpose.

Is Mr. Deering satisfied now that no such further objections have been raised and the time limit is not a barrier to tracker-related complaints being dealt with?

Mr. Ger Deering

I always have to be cautious in answering that question because at one stage statements were being made publicly that banks were not going to challenge this. I can only deal with each individual complaint file, as the Deputy knows. It took some time for this to become manifest on individual complaint files. At the moment, we do not see it as a problem but we work on a complaint by complaint basis and it is always a possibility that it can happen. It is not presenting a difficulty for tracker mortgages.

Did the banks write to Mr. Deering in recent months to state they would not raise issues regarding time limits?

Mr. Ger Deering

Yes, they did.

They still have the right to do it on an individual, case by case basis.

Mr. Ger Deering

Yes.

But Mr. Deering did get written commitments from all of them.

Mr. Ger Deering

Yes.

I assume Mr. Deering is now getting full co-operation from all of the institutions concerned in dealing with tracker mortgage complaints.

Mr. Ger Deering

Yes and we have significant powers. The powers in the legislation are very clear and significant. At this stage, we have co-operation and people are operating within our procedures.

I will move on to the complaints Mr. Deering is dealing with. At the end of October, 1,174 tracker-related complaints were on the books. Given there are a number of cohort issues of which Mr. Deering is aware, the AIB prevailing rate is probably the biggest issue in quantum terms with regard to the number of cases and there are also the Permanent TSB prevailing rate issue, the Bank of Ireland staff tracker issue and the EBS prevailing rate issue; is Mr. Deering grouping them in any sense? If he examines a case relating to the AIB prevailing rate issue and finds in favour or against the customer and other cases are very similar, I accept he must deal with each case individually but is there any way he can group them and then try to ensure a finding has effect or at least can make the process more efficient for the other cases in that group.

Mr. Ger Deering

I am sure the Deputy will understand if I clarify that I cannot talk about a particular organisation or particular complaint.

Mr. Ger Deering

Taking the Deputy's general question the answer is that we have complaints categorised. While we look at each individual complaint on its own merits, we are very conscious that any decision made could have implications beyond that particular complaint. When the Central Bank came before the committee several weeks ago it explained, and I can confirm, that we are working very closely with it. We send all of the tracker decisions to it for its information. If we believe there is something to which we need to draw its attention we will do it separately by referring it specifically. I expect that decisions on particular cohorts are then implemented by the bank in question. I do not have the power to do this but it is the sensible thing. Where the same set of circumstances applies, the same terms and conditions apply and the complaints are the same then obviously if one complaint is upheld it should be reflected in the others. In theory, we could have to deal with each individual complaint. I expect and hope the reality would be different and that as we start to issue decisions in the coming weeks that the banks will take them on board and apply them beyond the particular complaint we are dealing with. I mentioned that I will publish the decisions and this will be a big help. This will be of significant assistance to complainants and providers. Complainants will be able to look at their particular set of circumstances and see how it measures and compares with the set of circumstances in a particular decision. Based on the legislation I can only deal with each individual complaint in its own right but I expect, given the similarities between certain complaints, that it may not be necessary to issue decisions in every complaint. However, it may and I will do so if it is required.

Does Mr. Deering have to wait for the annual report to publish those decisions?

Mr. Ger Deering

No, in January we published the 2018 decisions and I will publish the 2019 decisions in January and they will include trackers. We will publish more often than this so we will not have to wait for the annual report. What I do want, and what we will have, is a selection of tracker mortgage complaints that will give people an understanding of the issues we are dealing with and the different types of complaints we are dealing with.

To recap on this point, when Mr. Deering reaches a conclusion on a particular complaint that sits within an overall cohort he provides the outcome of that to the Central Bank.

Mr. Ger Deering

Yes.

The bank will be made aware of the outcome, as will the complainant and Mr. Deering can publish this.

Mr. Ger Deering

Yes.

What we heard from the Central Bank, as Mr. Deering knows because I know he was following the hearing, was that it would expect that if a decision made is in favour of the complainant it would expect the lender to apply that across the board to other cases in the basket, provided the circumstances and characteristics are similar. Mr. Deering will facilitate this.

Mr. Ger Deering

Absolutely.

It might save him work.

Mr. Ger Deering

Indeed and, more important, it would save a lot of time and effort for complainants. It will not make sense for one complainant after another to have to go through the whole process if the outcome is clear. I cannot rule out this possibility but we will certainly do what we can to try to ensure decisions have application beyond our complainants.

The number of tracker-related complaints Mr. Deering has closed out so far is 455.

Mediation is the most popular way of resolving them. It is great to see that is working in approximately half of those cases that were closed out.

Some 146 cases were closed during the investigation, adjudication and legal services process. Why is that figure so much higher than the number of decisions made? Mr. Deering made 15 relatively recent decisions. What is the main difference between those two?

Mr. Ger Deering

The main difference there would be where somebody was at an advanced stage in the investigation process, the complaint was put on hold, the complainant has now been made an offer, for example, of redress and compensation, and he or she has accepted that and decided to close the complaint. People can withdraw or close their complaints at any stage.

The case settled is in effect.

Mr. Ger Deering

They very often get an offer, yes.

Is that recorded as an outcome by the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman?

Mr. Ger Deering

Yes. We record it.

Is the detail of that outcome recorded?

Mr. Ger Deering

It would be recorded on that file. We would have it on the file.

It is placed in the category of having been investigated and adjudicated and is then closed?

Mr. Ger Deering

Yes.

Few cases have gone to full decision so far.

Mr. Ger Deering

That will change. First, investigation and adjudication is the lengthier process so it takes longer. The other issue is that so many complaints were on hold for so long and then came off hold. We then got into jurisdictional assessment which, unfortunately, took time as well. What one will see now is a significant number of decisions. Unless complaints are settled, one will see many more decisions issuing. If one considers the process as a linear process, that is the very last step of it. We are now approaching that step for quite a number of complaints and one will see the number increase significantly in the coming months.

I have a couple of other quick questions, if I may. On the length of time it takes to deal with a complaint, what is the timeframe for dealing with a complaint that comes in to Mr. Deering's office in November 2019?

Mr. Ger Deering

Sadly, it is taking longer than we would want to because, as I mentioned, we are under-resourced. While we have sanction to employ extra staff, we do not yet have those staff in place. The timeframe depends on how the complaint gets resolved. In the early stages, complaints are resolved reasonably quickly. There is a waiting period for dispute resolution. We aim to resolve complaints in dispute resolution within three months. When they go to investigation and adjudication, it can certainly take between one year and 18 months to complete them but we will speed up all of that in 2020.

While we hope that most complaints will not go the distance, if a complaint goes the distance, full investigation and adjudication does not work and a decision is required, the process takes between 12 and 18 months.

Mr. Ger Deering

It could, yes. However, our strategic plan is completely focused on improving and speeding up the service. In addition to recruiting additional staff, we have a number of measures that we propose to take to shorten that timeframe.

Has Mr. Deering received complaints on the issue of insurance and dual pricing?

Mr. Ger Deering

First, our system does not catch those as a category. The other issue is that complainants would not necessarily identify their complaints as such. What we have as a category is complaints regarding the cost of premium. We have looked at the complaints we have in that space and there are a number of them. We have only identified 18 or so that could be described as such and we are looking into those in more detail now.

It will be quite a task for us to get behind the reasons. I note the committee discussed this matter last week. The data the financial service companies are collecting are extraordinary. I am not sure that people know that these data include what people watch on Netflix, what they googles and when they change their telephone number. I do not know whether that is happening in Ireland but it is happening internationally and it is feeding into people's credit rating and into those kinds of decisions. It will be a significant challenge for us to get behind those kinds of issues. However, if there are complaints where people are being wrongly discriminated against, we will do what we can to get the information and get behind it to see what the position is.

On the issue of price differentiation in the mortgage market, banks may provide better rates to new customers than they do to existing customers and may provide a cash-back incentive, for example, to new customers and not existing customers. Has Mr. Deering's office examined those issues through any individual complaints that have come in? Are those practices consistent with the 2017 Act under which the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman must adjudicate on whether practices are reasonable and just or oppressive or discriminatory in their application to the applicant?

Mr. Ger Deering

We would not necessarily have looked at those kinds of issues at a global level but where they arise in an individual complaint, for example, if somebody felt that he or she was unfairly induced or something was offered, we would look at the circumstances, how the information was presented to the person and how the matter was dealt with. It is not, however, an area that we look at. That is more a matter for the regulator. It is not something that we have been looking at on a global level.

Does Mr. Deering have examples of cases where his office reached a decision in favour of a complainant and has observed that the practice in question is continuing to be applied in a general sense by financial service providers in the industry? If the office observes that such a practice is continuing, does it bring the matter to the attention of the Central Bank?

Mr. Ger Deering

I do not have any examples of it at the moment. We bring matters to the attention of the Central Bank. If there was anything that we felt was systemic or should be brought to the attention of the regulator, we certainly would do so. I do not have any examples of the specific issues to which the Deputy is referring.

I thank Mr. Deering.

I welcome Mr. Deering to the committee. For the purpose of transparency, while not a connected person, a close relative of mine has a current complaint before Mr. Deering's office in relation to a tracker mortgage. That probably tells its own story because it was one of the 80 original complaints made to the then Financial Services Ombudsman. As we know now, more than 40,000 people had money wrongly taken from them. Unfortunately, as we see from Mr. Deering's figures, there are many, including one of the original complainants, who are still complaining about the treatment. I say that to ensure we have full disclosure.

I want to dig into some of the detail. None of the financial institutions is arguing over the time limits. Is that correct?

Mr. Ger Deering

Yes, certainly in the case of all of the major banks. The reason I am not being categorical is that there are a small number of complaints outside of those institutions and an issue could arise when we are dealing with those complaints. At the moment, there are no financial institutions using the time limit to stop us from dealing with complaints.

What caused the change in attitude by the financial institutions? If Mr. Deering had not gone public at the end of the summer, would we probably be in the same situation? Was there much push-back from Mr. Deering's office in relation to this? How long was this going on before the issue was resolved?

Mr. Ger Deering

It was certainly going on for a number of months from the time the various institutions would have finished their tracker mortgage examination. It was not an issue up until then because they were on hold. As they started to come off hold, it started to become an issue. I raised the matter with the Banking and Payments Federation Ireland and elsewhere. Ultimately, the institutions were using the legislation and I must also operate within the legislation. There was no way that I could coerce or force them. I think the cause was the publicity during the summer. The position seemed to change at that stage. I do not think there was anything else.

I will come back to the tracker examination. Before I do so, the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman faces a challenge regarding recruitment and retention of staff. Mr. Deering provided the committee with figures. The service had 53 staff in January 2018 and has recruited 43 staff since. Doing the mathematics, that should mean a staff of 96 but there are only 60 staff in the office. A large number of staff, presumably with experience, have left the office. As Mr. Deering outlined, dealing with complaints can be a lengthy process. I am conscious of the disruption that can be cause if somebody dealing with a case leaves the organisation. Will Mr. Deering talk to us about the challenges? Is there anything that can be done to deal with this or has the office put in place its own systems to retain staff?

Mr. Ger Deering

We are doing a number of things. The problem is that there is so much recruiting taking place across the public service.

What one finds very often is that people will have applied for jobs maybe with us or with somebody else possibly even at a different level. We recruit them and they come in to us where we have seen people leaving even after a few weeks. They may say they have had an offer from another public body nearer to their home. I know of one very good person who was with us only for a few weeks who we would have loved to have kept. He was from one of the Dublin suburbs. He was on a panel for another public sector body which offered him a job. It ranges from this to where some of our own people who are experienced receiving promotion in other areas. All of the work in investigation, mediation and dispute resolution has grown significantly. One has the Residential Tenancies Board, the Data Protection Commissioner and a whole range of other bodies expanding at the same time. A particular set of circumstances come about. We are more confident that the major surge that happened for a period of time may settle down. We are also putting other measures in place.

A significant issue, to be frank, is that anybody coming into a public sector body has to start on the first point of the scale, whether that is the clerical officer, executive officer, or HEO scale. That can be quite low and challenging for people trying to live in Dublin, particularly if one is coming from the private sector. If one is coming from the public sector and has had five years experience, one will go on to the fifth or sixth point of the scale. If one is coming from the private sector one will start at the bottom of the scale. We get a mix of people and are very happy to get people from the public sector, but we are also very happy to have people coming from the private sector with skills that we can use. This is a problem.

I want to go on to time limits. Mr. Deering mentioned that while the change in legislation removed the prior barrier that existed and introduced the knowledge criteria that certain time limits still apply. I remember when I sponsored the original legislation we had a lengthy discussion about long-term financial services and so on. I argued against it but eventually accepted it on the basis that it was better to have the legislation passed than not passed. There are certain time limits there.

What is Mr Deering's view of the time limits and the knowledge we now have of working out the legislation and resources that are made available from his office to look at the issue of the time limits as opposed to what consumers really want, which is to adjudicate or facilitate mediation? Is there a need to look at this again as there has been a new amendment to this in the 2018 Act? What are Mr. Deering's views on that?

Mr. Ger Deering

I will make a general point on that and will then ask my colleague Mary Rose McGovern to comment in more detail.

The legislative changes have been an improvement in that many people now can bring a complaint to us particularly on a long-term financial service who could not do that before. The difficulty is that many people think that the limit is gone entirely, whereas the six years still applies in certain respects and a three-year date of knowledge, and the discretion. I am not suggesting that the six year rule was good but it was more straightforward as a person knew whether he or she was in or out. We now spend much more time trying to explain and deal with people and challenges from providers as to whether a complaint is in or out. Our preference at the time would have been a simpler approach of no time limit. I accept that the Attorney General and other people had issues with that. We constantly deal with complaints and files. We have many files now where we spend more time dealing with the jurisdiction than with the substantive issue: we would have the substantive issue dealt with.

Back in 2015 and 2016, when we did the strategic and operational review, the people who were most angry with us at the time were people who could not get in or have their complaint dealt with. That has moved on now. When we were doing dispute resolution and mediation we do not go in but ask the providers not to argue about jurisdiction because this is a voluntary process. In general, they do engage. Now we have people who have been through that process and in our place for months where we have to turn around and say to them that we cannot investigate and adjudicate their complaint. We find that they are still very angry.

Ms MaryRose McGovern

It is a good thing for a number of complainants that those changes to what was a very strict six year time limit have been made. The changes have introduced complex concepts in terms of being able to explain to a complainant what is a long-term financial service and what is a date of awareness. There are some other bits and pieces within the Act, for example the time-limit being paused while internal dispute resolution, IDR, is being undertaken, that have really created quite a minefield for negotiating, to such a degree that internally we have been working on a flowchart for our own staff who do not work within the legal services division to understand and assist them in forming some sort of a view in order to give people a steer on whether there might be a problem in due course if the complaint does not resolve itself within dispute resolution.

Mr. Ger Deering

The interesting thing to observe, before we leave that topic, is that what we point out to providers is that this is a customer of theirs who has some a dispute or complaint with them. It is in everybody's interest that it is resolved. What we actually find is that a complainant becomes more convinced in some respects when a provider puts up a very strong argument, as they are entitled to do under the legislation, that this complaint is out of time. That convinces the complainant all the more that he or she must have a case. We find that it would sometimes be easier to deal with a complaint than with the time jurisdictional issue.

I assume, and maybe I am not correct in this, but that the majority of these cases - I know the Ombudsman's office was dealing with 1,174 cases at the end of October and there may have been some tracker cases before that, post-examination - would not have been able to be heard were it not for the change in the rules, allowing for the three years of knowledge. Is that correct?

Mr. Ger Deering

Yes.

Ms MaryRose McGovern

That is fair to say. In many instances, the conduct complained of goes back many years beyond six years but the date of awareness may be more recent.

I strongly support the publication of the Ombudsman's office's findings. We dealt with that in my legislation in the category of findings etc. because it empowers consumers to see that they may fall into a particular category. Does that cause a particular timing issue whereas the three year rule states that they should have knowledge of the conduct because the customer could have got a settlement and have been through the examination period? The three years is now up before the findings are published. Does the Ombudsman's office anticipate a difficulty or is it looking at the goodwill of the institutions at that point?

Mr. Ger Deering

If things continue as they are currently, it will not be an issue but there is always that risk that it could become a problem at some future stage.

When we dealt with the legislation, I was a little surprised on this because there was a provision which Mr. Deering dealt with on the powers of the Financial Services Ombudsman to extend the duration. He states - I wish to tease it out - that not only must reasonable grounds exist but there must be a particular reason to extend the time. There is no requirement for the "particular reason" in the legislation so why does he infer that there has to be a particular reason as opposed to just reasonable grounds?

Mr. Ger Deering

First, the reasonable grounds in themselves require a reason. When one thinks about it, the reason this was put in was because the Attorney General and those drafting the legislation presumably felt strongly that it cannot just be open with no limits. The next thing is that when one gives a person discretion they have to be in some way fettered. There was a suggestion at one stage that all trackers should be considered under that situation. One could not have had that as it has to be on the basis of the individual complaint and its particular circumstances.

Could the reasonable grounds test in that section of the legislation not be satisfied by the fact that consumers were reasonably waiting for the Central Bank to carry out its examination, which took a number of years to conclude and has just concluded now, so therefore the reasonable grounds test for each and every person who has a tracker complaint is satisfied because that is reasonable. If I was one those affected by the tracker mortgage scandal, it is reasonable for me to say that the Central Bank, which has a consumer protection role, is about to protect me however late in the day it is. That process took nearly four years.

Mr. Ger Deering

That is an argument we would certainly look at but without looking at the individual circumstances of that particular person, I could not just say that it would meet the requirement.

It is probably not an issue at this time in this investigation.

Mr. Ger Deering

That is correct.

Under section 44 the Ombudsman shall determine a complaint to be inadmissible where it was made after the expiry of the time limits specified in section 51.

Section 51 is the section that allows one to extend it but the test of that may be quite difficult. In terms of the language in the legislation, would it be preferable if it said that the ombudsman "may" determine, as opposed to "shall" determine?

Mr. Ger Deering

It certainly would be less restrictive. At the moment it is very clear that once it is deemed or found to be outside of the time limit, I have no discretion.

That goes back to the original point about the time limits themselves in the context of the legislation.

On the tracker mortgage numbers, Mr. Deering mentioned that there were 1,174. Deputy Michael McGrath teased through some of this but it is my understanding that 234 complaints were resolved through mediation. Does Mr. Deering know if they were resolved in favour of the complainant or in favour of the financial institution or was it just down to a misunderstanding and there was no benefit or loss involved in any of the 234 cases?

Mr. Ger Deering

We have two different categories of complaints that are resolved through mediation. One is complaints that are resolved through clarification, which means that the complainant did not get anything other an explanation which he or she accepted. An important point to make here is that where a person settles a complaint through clarification, he or she has the right to re-open it. If anything further comes to light, he or she can reopen that complaint. The other 37 cases were resolved through settlement, meaning that the person actually got something. There are people who have got their trackers back through mediation by our office. That has been very successful for some people. A small number of people have also received an increased offer of compensation.

In all 37 of the settlement cases, there was a benefit to the consumer.

Mr. Ger Deering

Correct. They got something, which could be compensation or some form of rectification. It could range from somebody getting a monetary sum because the complaint was badly dealt with or was not handled well - the person does not receive anything vis-à-vis the substantive issue - right up to people getting their trackers back or getting increased compensation.

If someone gets a tracker mortgage back, that would be worth a substantial amount of money. That would be a large settlement from the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman's office. These are people who first had to go through the bank's internal systems, the so-called independent appeals process and then to the ombudsman's office. Will the ombudsman be publishing the brief relating to those 37 cases? I do not think the legislation requires him to do so but it is very important that people can see what is happening with these settlement cases.

Mr. Ger Deering

We are very conscious of all of this. We are conscious that mediation is a confidential process but we are also conscious that we are a public body and that transparency is important. We conducted research on this and published a document on our website which talks about balancing transparency and confidentiality. One of the ways we do that is through the publication of case studies. We publish examples and case studies in order that people can see what is happening. As the Deputy rightly pointed out, we are not required to do so under the legislation but we think it is very helpful to do so. We also publish statistics on things like how many people got a settlement and how many people's cases were closed through clarification. There is another issue that worries or concerns people, which relates to the fact that the process is confidential. We have a code of ethics that is followed by our mediators and staff but if they have a concern that an issue is particularly egregious, is systemic or is one that should not be covered up by mediation, they can decide that the complaint should not be mediated and it will go to the ombudsman for a decision. While we are all about resolving disputes and we want to leave the decision, as much as possible, to the complainant but we also do what we call reality checking because we have a responsibility to the people with whom we are dealing.

It is good to hear that, because out-of-court settlements and confidentiality clauses can often provide unwarranted protection. Is the ombudsman seeing different approaches being adopted by financial institutions to mediation and settlements? Are they all similar in terms of their engagement or do some need to be pushed along the road?

Mr. Ger Deering

I will park the tracker mortgage issue for a moment and answer the question generally. The vast majority of financial service providers have now got into that space and are operating the mediation process well. On tracker mortgage complaints, some have been slower than others but it would be fair to say now that they are all realising the value of mediation. That said, while up to 80% of complaints generally are resolved through mediation, which is very significant, that still leaves a substantial number of complaints. By the end of this year we will probably have issued the best part of 500 decisions, so not everything is being resolved in mediation.

A total of 146 cases were closed during investigation, adjudication or legal services processes. Does that mean that there was nowhere else for those cases to go or that there was no case to be answered?

Mr. Ger Deering

No, if a person does not close the case himself or herself, it will go to a decision. What happens is that during the process, people may get an offer or may decide-----

Through the independent appeals process? Where would the offer come from?

Mr. Ger Deering

They may get it directly from the bank. Some of those people have had complaints with our office for some time. We have been writing to them for some time asking them to let us know the status of their complaint. They do not always come back and tell us that they have actually accepted an offer of redress and compensation from the bank. In some instances, it takes time and the cases get closed when we realise that a settlement has been reached or they inform us of same.

These are people who have made a complaint to the ombudsman but the appeals process-----

Mr. Ger Deering

-----works for them.

None of those 146 could have gone through the appeals process, made a complaint to the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman and then got an offer mid-stream from the bank. Could they?

Mr. Ger Deering

They could. It is possible.

That is technically an out-of-court settlement. Is that offer recorded with the ombudsman's office?

Mr. Ger Deering

It is recorded on that file and we would record the number of times that happens.

Of the 146 that were closed during investigation, adjudication or legal services processes, how many were closed to the benefit of the consumer?

Mr. Ger Deering

Of those, 121 involved a settlement and only five were withdrawn.

Of the 121 cases, how many went through the independent appeals process?

Mr. Ger Deering

Perhaps my colleague, Ms. Tara McDermott knows the answer to that question.

Ms Tara McDermott

No, I do not but I would assume that most of them had gone through the independent appeals process. The vast majority were closed when they had accepted the redress and compensation in the first instance and then decided to accept the outcome of the appeal. At that stage, it was live in the investigation process within our organisation so it was closed for outside settlement.

Of the 146 cases, do we know how many went through the independent appeals process and then made a claim?

Mr. Ger Deering

We can provide that information to the Deputy in due course. We do not have it here today.

Of the 146, we know that 121 benefitted and were better off at the end of the day. A total of 43 complaints were closed at registration and assessment stage. What would be the reason for that?

Mr. Ger Deering

People regularly bring a complaint to us without having taken it to the provider. Usually those cases involve people who have complained to us and we have told them that they have to make their complaint to the provider first. Then they either do not come back to us at all or they come back and tell us that the complaint has been resolved.

They may come back when they have finished the process.

We are running out of time, Deputy.

I ask Mr. Deering to give me examples of the larger types of settlements reached relating to the tracker mortgage issue.

Mr. Ger Deering

There are upheld, partially upheld and substantially upheld complaints, in which the Deputy is very interested. One of the better developments is the fact that the decisions are published and people can actually see what we mean. The Deputy will have heard me saying previously that just because a complaint is either partially or substantially upheld it does not necessarily mean that the person has not got something substantial from it. Rather, it means that there were a number of elements to the complaint. To answer the Deputy's specific question, I have directed compensation of up to €50,000 in respect of some of the complaints that were upheld. In one of the cases that was substantially upheld, I directed the provider to put the person back onto a tracker mortgage. The complaint was substantially upheld; there may have been other elements to it that were not upheld. There are some significant benefits to some of those decisions.

We know from the figures provided that of the 455 complaints closed thus far, there was a benefit to approximately 165 consumers from that cohort.

Mr. Deering stated the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman can deal with the practice of dual pricing if it is deemed unfair. I am not sure whether he is aware of the research done in the United States that suggested it is predatory and unfair when there are two prices for the same risk, or of that done by the UK Financial Conduct Authority, which identified the loyalty premium, whereby for every year a customer stays with a company, he or she will be hit by a higher premium. The company expects the customer to renew and, therefore, does not base the premium on the basis of risk but rather on the fact that because he or she is more loyal to the customer than the chairperson is, he or she will be hit with a higher premium, even though they could have identical risk. Would that be deemed as unfair? The data show that if a customer renews his or her contract four times with the same company, for example, he or she will be hit by a loyalty premium of 40%.

I have to hand a copy of a renewal premium from a customer. It is interesting that there was a renewal premium on 14 November, with the same policy number on each one. The renewal premium rose this year, from €1,044 to €1,256. That is dual pricing in action. Most people do not know there is dual pricing but the customer was sent two quotations from the company, with the same policy number, with a difference of more than €210 between the premiums. If it can be substantiated that the insurance industry is hitting customers with a loyalty premium based on the renewal and not the risk, could that be adjudicated by the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman in favour of the consumer?

Mr. Ger Deering

It is a possibility. We deal with cases where somebody has been improperly discriminated against. We accept, in respect of risk, that an insurance provider is entitled to discriminate, or to set one category of person against another. All other things being equal, a case where a person is discriminated against simply because of his or her pattern of renewal, for example, is something I would examine. It is difficult to say without having a specific complaint to examine.

Our real challenge will be to have a comparator. When we deal with a complaint, we can usually only seek certain information. While we will seek broader information, it will present a significant problem to us when trying to get comparators and to understand. We have the power and the legislation behind us to dig and get that information.

I will outline my personal experience of getting my renewal premium. I shop around every year but I have always reverted to the original company to say I have found a better offer, and in fairness it has always matched it. For the sake of not having to change paperwork, I have always found a better quote. On the records of the company, however, I would be considered to have stayed with it for more than ten years. When I got my renewal quote, it was more than €270 higher than the quote on the company's computer. The comparator was there. Like many others, I called the company and asked whether it was the best price it could do for me, but it offered me a 33% lower price for using its website. Is that fair? I accept we would have to outline the details and that there are hundreds of such cases. One of the most rewarding aspects of being a public representative is the number of people who have contacted me to say they have saved money by doing what I have suggested. A young fellow at a public meeting had told five of his friends how to do what I have outlined, and the six of them had saved €9,000 from the same company.

Mr. Ger Deering

While I acknowledge it is not what the Deputy has suggested, we would have to examine whether the person in question has received a discount because he or she dealt with the insurer online, which would be okay and would be a different matter.

We will exclude online discounts.

Mr. Ger Deering

We must also exclude new customers. We must exclude a range of factors before we can get into the space and understand what causes the premium to be different. We can examine the complaint, and while there will be challenges, we have had challenges in other areas and have overcome them

When does the ombudsman expect to make its first adjudication on dual pricing?

Mr. Ger Deering

I do not know because we have received approximately 18 complaints that may or may not currently fit that category. It will be in the coming months.

I thank Mr. Deering for his opening statement. Of the 8,870 complaints discussed, approximately 1,174 relate to tracker mortgages. That is approximately one eighth of the overall business. Have most of the 3,178 that were inherited been resolved? I can see that 4,443 of the 8,870 complaints have been addressed but some of them are probably included in the new lot.

Mr. Ger Deering

I do not know whether we have that figure, although it is certainly something we could examine. We deal with complaints in the order of how long they have been in the office. Quite a few of them should have been dealt with but some are more complex and will take longer to deal with.

The 80:20 rule probably applies as much to these cases as it does to anything else, in that there will be some problematic cases that hang around for ever. I am just trying to get a handle on the figures in Mr. Deering's opening statement.

Mr. Ger Deering

Quite a number of complaints received this year have been closed and were dealt with quickly because they were straightforward, but there is no doubt that some of the complaints we inherited on 1 January last year remain live and open with us.

I presume that as the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman becomes more established and as its staff become more familiar with legislation, they will be better and more experienced in their work. The ombudsman has recruited 43 people, while losing 36. It has spent an awful lot of time recruiting people, whether through agencies or advertisements and so on. Approximately 80% of the number recruited have been lost. I presume they are not all of an age that they are retiring but rather that it has lost them to other companies. Is it that the ombudsman lost the 53 long-term employees or that the 43 people arrived and within three weeks, or three or six months, the reference to the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman on their CV got them a better job somewhere else?

Mr. Ger Deering

It is a mix. We have lost some long-standing staff members to promotion opportunities. I do not want this to sound as if it is negative. It happens in the public service all the time that people move around but in the case of a small agency, it can be different. I have spoken to personnel officer in Departments and so on, where the same is happening but they can absorb it better. Other people might have been on a recruitment panel to come to us, but may have been on a panel for a more senior job somewhere else and that opportunity may arise. Recruitment will take place this week and next week, and we are hopeful of getting to a steady state.

Does the ombudsman recruit staff through the Public Appointments Service?

Mr. Ger Deering

We have our own licence but it is through a public advertisement, not an agency. We advertise and interview, but it is exactly the same as the Public Appointments Service because we have a public licence to recruit.

Once the employee joins the ombudsman's system, he or she will be part of the public service.

Mr. Ger Deering

Yes, but interestingly he or she will not be a part of the Civil Service. For example, when the organisation was set up on 1 January 2018, we had people who were civil servants at the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. The legislation provided that they had two years either to become public servants or to return to the Department, which most of them did. If one is part of a Department of 3,000 people, one's opportunity for promotion is much better because there are internal competitions in those Departments, as opposed to an organisation the size of ours, where it can take longer for opportunities to arise at senior level.

That might explain the figure of 53. Presumably, many of those people have gone.

Mr. Ger Deering

Some of them have gone.

Is it one half or two thirds?

Mr. Ger Deering

It is probably approximately half.

The Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman is losing corporate knowledge all of the time and in any business it is difficult to retain a certain level of corporate intelligence when one keeps losing staff.

Mr. Ger Deering

That said, we have very intensive training and induction programmes. I am confident that the people we have, with the training that we have, are doing a very good job. I am very happy with the quality of what we are doing. The challenge is to do more of it.

I am not trying to fault the office of the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman. I am just trying to understand the numbers. The fact that the office is so new has meant that people had to make a call one way or the other. That will probably not arise to the same extent in the longer term.

Many of the points related to tracker mortgages have been raised. To make a general point, the statement last week by KBC Bank's group chief executive, for which I acknowledge he more or less apologised, highlighted that the Irish Banking Culture Board has its work cut out for it because the view seems to be that we should just forget about the tracker issue and get on with it because it this issue was not a big deal. The tracker mortgages issue was an enormous deal to the more than 40,000 families and households affected. The committee has discussed this issue at length, as I am sure Mr. Deering's office will have noted. As someone who is dealing with all the problems and seeing the banks at their worst rather than their best, where does Mr. Deering believe the Irish banking system has come in the past ten years? Does it still have a lot of work to do to develop a culture in which fairness, transparency, openness and an understanding that the customer should be central becomes crucial in everything the banks do? The remark made last week is fairly damaging. It is damning in highlighting how some people are really thinking.

Mr. Ger Deering

Senator Horkan mentioned the Irish Banking Culture Board. We wish the board well in its role. It has a significant job to do. The chairman of the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman Council, Ms Maeve Dineen, and I met members of the Irish Banking Culture Board a few weeks ago and we are committed to co-operating with them. The culture board and my office have very different roles. We respect its role and it respects our independent role. We will work with it because anything that improves culture and how banks treat their customers is also part of our strategy.

To answer Senator Horkan's question, there is still some way to go. I believe there has been an improvement. We have seen an improvement on the complaints end in terms of the people in the banks who deal with us and try to resolve the complaints, particularly through mediation and so forth. We often deal with the people who are trying to resolve complaints in the banks and we see that they are doing their best. Sometimes, however, when a complaint goes back to the business unit, the same understanding does not seem to be shown. While there have been improvements, there is no doubt there is still a way to go in putting the consumer first and foremost.

The Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman has a role in the pensions area, which is also in the financial services industry. Is the number of complaints falling or rising?

Mr. Ger Deering

While the number of complaints has levelled off a little, it has continued to rise. Tracker mortgages have played some part in that but there may also be more of an awareness of what the office does. We want to increase that awareness. When we manage to get ourselves up to date with the complaints we are dealing with, we would like to have a broader awareness of what the office does and ensure that people are aware that we are available. We are trying to get the banks to resolve more complaints themselves or indeed avoid causing complaints in the first instance.

That is what I am driving at. Over time, if banks act in the way they are supposed to act, Mr. Deering's office will not have as much work to do. People will always have the opportunity to submit a complaint, however vexatious or frivolous, in the hope that they might get something out of it. I do not think Mr. Deering's office is seeing many such cases. He is seeing people who come to his office with a genuine complaint. His office is the last resort. We can see the immediate outcome. A very small number of complaints were left out or withdrawn owing to jurisdiction issues. The outcome in many more cases was legally binding mediation. The complaints seem to be genuine and the complainants seem to have valid concerns in the vast bulk of cases. When Mr. Deering has the additional staff, what will he do to let everybody know his office is there? That will put the banks and the other institutions on their toes to do it right in the first place and not have this stuff.

Mr. Ger Deering

Part of our three-year strategy is to increase outreach. We do a limited amount of outreach now, but it is an important part of our strategy to reach out and ensure that consumers who might not normally know that we are available know about our services. We are also trying to make our services as easy as possible to access. The role of our dispute resolution service, which is headed by Mr. Diarmuid Byrne, has helped people to understand the process and maybe gain easier access to a resolution. As part of our strategy, we will certainly do an outreach programme to make people more aware that we exist and of how our services operate.

Is it fair to say that the tracker mortgage issue as a live issue is dying away at this stage and the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman does not expect to receive many more complaints about it? There are 170 cases or thereabouts on hold but I presume the office does not expect a surge in complaints.

Mr. Ger Deering

It is very hard to know. We do not know if there will be a surge. Certainly, numbers reached a peak in 2018 and we have not received as many in 2019 as we did last year. When I issue certain decisions, people may identify that their mortgage falls within the same category. As we discussed earlier, if the banks apply those decisions across all of those cohorts, it should not be necessary for people to complain. We hope that people will get a resolution to their problem without having to come to us, but we are available if they need to come to us.

The time limits will kick in at some point. Eventually, perhaps in six years' time, the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman will no longer receive tracker complaints, although other issues may arise in the future.

On insurance and dual pricing, maybe it is my fault but we get used to insurance companies coming out with any old premium. Mine went from something over €200 to something over €300 and then to €400, €500 and €600. I do what Deputy Doherty does. I ring up the company and complain. I then shop around before contacting the original company again. I had a 15% discount from another company and when I rang my company, the quote for €390 was reduced to €310. I was also told that the person I had spoken to previously had not applied all of the discounts. The reason these discounts had not been applied was that I had not been pushy enough the first time. That seems to be normal rather than abnormal practice, but is it fair?

Mr. Ger Deering

As I said earlier, we will not get involved with commercial discretion. If there are discounts for various things and they are available, transparent and open and people in the same circumstances can get them, whether that is for buying online or for new business, I would treat that separately. I would see it as separate from a case where there is something happening in the background that the customer is not even aware of, where he or she is somehow being profiled for reasons that have nothing to do with the insurance product or the risk the individual poses as an insured person. If someone is being discriminated against or treated unreasonably or improperly compared with someone else who is in the same circumstances, we would certainly look at that from a reasonableness and fairness point of view.

Would that be very difficult to prove? I am a certain age and live at a certain address and I am not told if there is a premium or loading for that. If I provide my details on the various insurance websites, they come up with very different figures. I am the same person, only a little older with a slightly older car, and I am not driving any more or less than I did previously. Different companies give vastly different prices based on the same statistical information. However, if I phone up the company, the €420 quote suddenly falls to €360 and if I phone a second time, it is reduced to €290. I am not told the quote is being reduced by €20 because I indicated I do not drive on weekends or after midnight or I do not do X, Y or Z. This will be incredibly difficult. I am not saying dual pricing does not go on or that there are not analytics on whether we stay up late at night watching Netflix or get up early or that track my mobile phone or whatever. I do not know what it is possible to do. I do not think any of us is fully cognisant of what companies are capable of doing, including accessing our search histories and so on. I see some people smiling. Big data is everywhere. I just wonder how a complainant or the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman will be able to prove a complaint that he or she was offered a different price based on discrimination. It seems to me that insurance companies charge whatever they want and whatever they think they can get away with. Obviously, they believe there are customers who do not switch or are less liable to switch and they will charge those customers more.

They might offer customers that have a history of switching something more attractive. They might be prepared to discount it bit more if they have analytics on price points. For example, if you give them 30% they stay but if you give them 20% they do not. I do not know. How does Mr. Deering see this playing out in terms of the ability of the FSPO - I do not doubt his ability - to bring a successful case that proves that the system is as broken as it seems to be? If one goes into a shop, a packet of biscuits is a packet of biscuits and a bottle of Coke is a bottle of Coke. Why is it so easy for insurance companies to game it whatever way they like?

Mr. Ger Deering

I agree with Senator Horkan that it will be a challenge and that it will be quite difficult for us to get behind some of this information. That said, we have the powers to require information and to look at records. We will not make comparisons between the prices offered by company A and company B, because that is competition and that is not our role. Likewise, we will not be looking at new discounts or any transparent discounts that are offered for a reason. What we will be looking at is whether someone has been targeted for an invalid reason, if I can put it that way, something that has nothing to do with the risk that the company provides as a driver. We will examine whether people are being treated in a certain way because they have a particular profile, which is nothing to do with insurance and other people are treated in a different way. There is no doubt it will be a challenge and until we have dealt with a number of complaints I cannot answer Senator Horkan's question.

I am trying to give Mr. Deering a hypothetical situation. It could be twin brothers who apply to the same company with the same driving history, the same age and the same general profile yet one gets a different price to the other. One might be charged €400 and the other might be charged €700. What is the difference? That might be the only case that could be compared easily. I do not know.

Mr. Ger Deering

It is as much about individuals who have stayed with the company over the years and their circumstances. I take the point that, as Senator Horkan mentioned, people are getting older and perhaps the car is getting older but I think the company has to be able to identify why it has made this significant change. I do need to be very clear: what we do not need is a flood of complaints to our office that an insurance company has increased a person's premium. Sadly, that is happening and providers are entitled to use commercial discretion. We will not be able to deal with those. It will be difficult, not alone as Senator Horkan said, to decide and adjudicate a complaint but even to identify that it is an issue. We will work through the complaints that are in our office at the moment to see what we can do with them.

I wish Mr. Deering the best with that work. It is not my agenda to give him a lot of extra work to do. I thank him for the work he is doing because it is clear that he is opening and closing cases.

I welcome Mr. Deering and his staff. I will not go over some of the issues raised by previous speakers. With all of the evidence Mr. Deering has to date, does he think there are any cartels operating in the insurance industry? We have all seen premia go up and when one tackles them, they come down. Is there a price that all the companies will not go below? Is there any evidence to suggest that there may be a cartel in place?

Mr. Ger Deering

I have no evidence of that, because we deal so much with individual complaints and because the complaints are so different in nature. One can see within a company where somebody was treated differently depending on the person with whom he or she dealt. The simple answer is that I have no evidence of cartels.

Many people purchased buy-to-let properties because this represented a tax efficient way for them to incorporate property into their pension funds. In many cases, buy-to-let properties have been the ruination of some people's lives and families. They were sold by the banks and in some cases people's private houses were sold as well. Does Mr. Deering deal with any commercial aspect of the matter, particularly in the context of buy-to-let properties that have badly affected the pension plans of people who expected to have nest eggs for the future but whose plans have gone belly-up? What has happened to the pension payments that were made through a tax-efficient system?

Mr. Ger Deering

Certainly, we have come across complaints from people who have buy-to-let properties. Sometimes we come across what are called involuntary landlords, namely, people who moved and did not get to sell a property and then they started to rent it. I appreciate what Senator Paddy Burke says. In most of those cases the person was hoping to have the income from the property for when they retire. That is slightly different than if they had money invested in a pension plan. What we look at there is the conduct of the provider if a person fell into arrears or whatever other issue arose and how the person was treated. We do not have an overall role in terms of investments that have gone wrong or has lost value over time, unless there was an accusation of mis-selling at the time.

Is it an issue that arises more frequently in the ombudsman's office?

Mr. Ger Deering

We saw a rise, but I think it is an area that is perhaps moderating. As a result of the fact that property prices and rents are increasing, perhaps people who have managed to weather the storm are not in as bad a position as they were three or four years ago.

Has Mr. Deering received any complaints about the commercial aspect of loans that people have taken out?

Mr. Ger Deering

We can deal with individual consumers but we can also deal with organisations, including businesses with a turnover of less than €3 million per year. In an Irish context, that is a significant number of businesses. We have received complaints from small businesses and sole traders about products that were sold to them, loans they had or difficulties they experienced. Again, it is not the commercial discretion of the provider that we deal with. Sometimes people come to us and stated that their banks have refused to give them loans. We will look at the conduct of the relevant bank and at how the person was treated. We will look to see if all of their income was taken into account, but we do not second-guess the provider's decision on whether the person has an ability to pay the loan and say the bank should have given the loan.

Could Mr. Deering tell us about the conduct of the banks concerning small commercial loans? Some people have suffered dire consequences due to their treatment by the banks.

Mr. Ger Deering

As with all of the areas in which we operate, it is mixed. We have had complaints that have not been upheld on the basis of the conduct of the provider. While a person might not be happy with the renegotiation of a loan or with an alternative payment arrangement, it has been considered that the conduct of the provider has not been unreasonable in the circumstances. In other cases, a complaint has been upheld or partially upheld because the conduct of the provider in that regard may not have been reasonable. It varies, as with other complaints.

Has Mr. Deering dealt with any cases where receivers have been put in charge of properties and their conduct has not been above board?

Mr. Ger Deering

We have. It is important to differentiate here that we will deal with the conduct of the banks in appointing a receiver but we do not investigate the conduct of a receiver because he or she is not a financial services provider and his or her conduct does not fall within our remit. We have dealt with cases where receivers have been appointed and we have upheld complaints where a receiver has not been properly appointed. We have also not upheld complaints where in fact the provider was entitled to appoint a receiver. In many of the instances, the key issue is that people themselves do not engage. Sometimes, the more a customer engages with a financial services provider, the better the outcome.

Where a negative decision is made against a customer but the decision is overturned later by the Central Bank or whoever else, what does Mr. Deering do about such cases in terms of the office's general examination? How does that inform or change his office's approach to its investigations as lessons are learned from the differences in the outcomes of decisions?

Mr. Ger Deering

Does the Chairman mean through the examination?

Mr. Ger Deering

We take a fresh look at every complaint. We take all evidence into account. For example, if a case has been through an appeals process, we look at what was given by the complainant to the appeals process and what was given by the provider. We have the advantage of all of that.

We will take into account any information coming from there but it is a fresh consideration and it is, ultimately, my decision, or that of the office, as to whether the complaint should be upheld or partially upheld.

The first decision may be that a party is not part of the process and the ombudsman could later decide that the party is part of it. Mr. Deering must have seen many such cases. Has he seen many cases where there was a difference in the decisions reached? If so, what did he learn from that and what has changed?

Mr. Ger Deering

We have not seen many yet because of the small number of decisions I have made so far. We may see more of those in future. As I mentioned earlier, if I come across a complaint that has been through the process and I decide to uphold it, I will then work with the Central Bank of Ireland and the bank in question to see if the decision should then be applied to other people in similar circumstances within that bank.

This goes back to the question asked by Deputy Michael McGrath about the different groupings or a basket of cases and so on.

Mr. Ger Deering

Yes.

As the ombudsman reaches a decision in terms of compensation or redress, he is guided by legislation.

Mr. Ger Deering

Yes. The amount of compensation is capped, so there is a €500,000 limit. There is no guidance other than that and it is a matter for the ombudsman to determine what is appropriate.

If the ombudsman came across a case that he or she believed deserved way more than €500,000, could there be mediation between the ombudsman and the bank? How would the view of the examination be reflected if the case is exceptional and something else should be done? From some of the stories I have heard, I can imagine there may be such cases.

Mr. Ger Deering

It is important to note that I can direct compensation and rectification. The compensation is in addition to the rectification. For example, with a tracker mortgage complaint, there is no limit on the rectification. I can direct the provider or the bank to put the person on the tracker mortgage rate and the value of that could be very significant. It could be over €500,000. Separate from that I can direct compensation. There is a cap of €500,000 on compensation but there is no limit to the rectification.

Mr. Deering earlier made reference to the BPFI. Does he have much engagement with the federation?

Mr. Ger Deering

We usually meet its representatives twice per year. They organise meetings of the personnel responsible for dealing with complaints in banks and we speak to them about what we expect of the banks, trends and what is happening. It is how we engage with them approximately twice per year. We do something similar with Insurance Ireland.

Is the ombudsman clearly marking out territory in that regard? Is he being soft soaped by banking organisations? I ask this with respect to the office. I have been examining the amount they pay for BPFI membership and one bank disclosed that it pays €125,000 per year. The other banks would not disclose that figure, which is shameful. I will come back to that again when those representatives come before us. Likewise, the banks pay money to the Irish Banking Culture Board and staff have been seconded to that board. These are two significant organisations and one does nothing else except support the banks. Some of the statements coming from them are shocking to the core because they reflect a change in the bank attitudes from where they were a few years ago to where they were prior to the crash. It will be interesting to see how the culture board sets out its position as not being beholden to the banks that fund it.

Is the ombudsman exercising his full authority with respect to the conversations he may have with the BPFI? Are its representatives clear that regardless of what they do or say, or how many cups of tea everybody may have together, the ombudsman is not on anyone's side except the side of fairness, justice, redress and so on?

Mr. Ger Deering

I am familiar with the concept of regulatory capture and I assure the Chairman that there is no question of that. We engage with BPFI to avoid, more or less, what the he is commenting on. We would prefer to meet in that forum rather than meet individual financial service providers. This is an open and transparent meeting from our perspective where we set out the issues. For example, in March this year, I pointed out to them the need to examine how they were dealing with time limits in tracker mortgage complaints. It did not have the impact I desired at the time but we deal with such business matters. It is an efficient way of doing it but I assure the committee that it does not in any way influence or have an impact on any decisions or the operation of the office.

I ask the question because the public looks to the ombudsman and people have respect for the office. Between the work of this committee, the ombudsman's office and generally what went on with the tracker mortgage issue, we have come to the point where approximately 40,000 cases have been uncovered. There may be more. There are still issues within the banks in respect of tracker mortgages, including in Bank of Ireland and other groupings. They are still reluctant to face up to their responsibility when it comes to the changes needed. The role of the ombudsman is central to what I would describe as teaching them a lesson. I am not asking Mr. Deering to be unfair about the outcomes but rather to be absolutely fair when it comes to the general public understanding of the important role played by his office. The public are looking to the ombudsman to implement its full range of powers in dealing with the matters.

Mr. Ger Deering

I absolutely agree and I welcome the Chairman's comments that we are not on any side but on the side of fairness. We are impartial. It is about doing what is right and ensuring the banks, insurance companies and all the financial service providers act correctly and for the right reasons.

Exactly. Has the ombudsman received any complaints about building and life insurance? There was a report in the newspapers regarding the EBS. Leaving the name to one side and is it an issue that is generally beginning to emerge in the office? Is it of any significance?

Mr. Ger Deering

We certainly deal with life insurance and all insurance products. The particular issue mentioned by the Chairman has not come to my attention. Sometimes we are a little behind as before something happens, a person has to go to the provider before coming to us. Matters could be out there a little while before complaints arrive in our office.

In that case, the ombudsman would react to a complaint.

Mr. Ger Deering

Yes. It is important to differentiate between us and the Central Bank of Ireland. As the regulator, it can deal directly with a matter but we can only react to an individual complaint.

We were dealing with the agents of a certain financial institution selling products. Could a complaint be made by agents about the products or must it come from the customer?

Mr. Ger Deering

Interestingly, we take complaints from a range of people. It starts with the consumer but, as I mentioned, we can deal with complaints from a business with a turnover of less than €3 million, so we sometimes have complaints about a broker. Separately, we could have a complaint from a broker about an insurance company. Sometimes we get a complaint about a credit union and a small credit union may complain about an investment. Once they fit within the legislation, the complaints can come from any of those parties. A consumer is defined as somebody to which a financial service provider has provided a service or refused to provide a service. One does not even have to be a customer to be a consumer and fit under our legislation.

There is a particular matter that neither the witness nor I would want to get into but the financial institution in question is reluctant to deal with it in spite of the evidence mounting against it.

It is something the committee will come back to in due course, but in talking to those involved, I want to make sure that we exercise all of the options open to them as we delve into the problems they are experiencing.

In respect of the staff, which is critical to Mr. Deering's operation, does he believe the challenge he is facing will be a long-term one as the economy picks up or as the movement takes place within the civil and public service? He said that they start at the lower levels. Is there anything that can be done to change that in respect of what Mr. Deering does?

Mr. Ger Deering

What has to happen is that people have to be given credit for their years of service. As I mentioned, someone coming into our organisation having worked eight or ten years in the public service will go up to the scale and will be on eight or ten points or whatever are the points on the scale. However, someone who worked the same eight or ten years as a solicitor in a private sector firm or as a financial expert in a firm will start on the minimum of the scale. That is creating a problem. We make it very clear in our recruitment process that these are the rules. They are not our rules. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform imposes them. However, in the private sector people are used to being able to negotiate. They go through the process of being selected and then say that they did not think they would have to start on the minimum point. We are caught with that situation.

They are bringing experience-----

Mr. Ger Deering

Absolutely. It is very valuable experience that we need and would be very happy to have.

-----and Mr. Deering's office is losing the experience.

Mr. Ger Deering

Yes. That is one issue. I believe it will settle somewhat because our recruitment process coincided with the end of the embargo when a range of options opened up across the public sector and the Civil Service. In addition, we are doing work with people before they even come into the organisation to make sure that they want to work in our organisation and will commit to it.

Is Mr. Deering's office still taking applications?

Mr. Ger Deering

We are, but it goes in phases. We will advertise and then have a recruitment phase. We are interviewing next week for people at executive officer, EO, level.

The applications are closed.

Mr. Ger Deering

They are closed, but we will be advertising again early in the new year.

The second question is on the insurance issue. We have dealt with the insurance companies. We have dealt with Insurance Ireland and, generally speaking, it is the same as the banks. To get information is next to impossible. This committee has done a huge amount of work on digging into the insurance industry and so on and in respect of the latest issue raised by Deputy Doherty, who has done a great deal of work on the issue of insurance and is to be credited for that. In that area, the public finds it very difficult to deal with insurance companies. One can search for a better quote and so on but there are people who do not have the ability to do that, particularly elderly people. The banks would not encourage one to deal with them. The insurance companies would not encourage one to deal with them, although one has to deal with them. There must be a simpler way of making complaints and listening to people other than them having to come to our offices or us having to engage with Mr. Deering. There are many people who would like to process complaints but who are simply not up to it, therefore. They are being screwed either by the insurance company or the bank. I mention that to Mr. Deering in passing. Does Deputy Doherty want to ask a question?

I do. I want to raise two issues, one of which is dual pricing. I have countless examples of people coming to me on the issue of dual pricing. When I talk about dual pricing I am not referring to introductory offers, which can range from 10% to 20% up to a certain value. I am talking about excluding them and looking at the price using the exact same data on which the insurance company has priced the renewal quote. In some cases, it is huge. I had a case of a 21 year old woman who was working part-time. She got a loan from the credit union and bought a car for €4,000. Her insurance premium was just over €4,000. I asked her to give me all her details. I put them into the same company's website and I got the premium for €1,200 cheaper than her renewal quote. That is dual pricing in action. That company, Liberty Insurance online, offers a maximum reduction of 10% or up to the value of €150. Even if we were to discount that €150, it would still be more than €1,000 for the same person, the same risk, the same company and two different prices.

How would the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman be able to find the information? What powers does he have to be able to go in and get that? To take the case I mentioned, I have not given any details. I do not think I gave the name of the company. I gave the financial details. What powers does Mr. Deering have to investigate whether, in respect of that case, there were discriminatory or unfair practices? We have an industry that is under investigation by the European competition authority. It was subject to raids and so on a number of years ago. At the core of that is not sharing data. What powers does Mr. Deering have to get to the bottom of that? He mentioned that it was challenging. That is my first question.

Mr. Ger Deering

The answer is that we have significant powers because the legislation provides that we can request any document or record that is required. There are provisions in the legislation for obstruction if a provider does not do that. On occasion, we have had to threaten to use those powers to make sure that we got the information we wanted. We also have the powers of seizure to go in and collect evidence, if required. We have not had occasion to use that but it is available to us. The kernel of this point is that some of this information is buried in algorithms and very detailed information but we have the powers to collect the information. We need to upskill ourselves sufficiently to analyse that information and to know how to deal with it, but it will be quite challenging to prove that. I will not say otherwise. We are not in the criminal sphere. We prove on the balance of probability in terms of what is happening. It is an evidence-based process and we will collect what evidence we can collect.

I have a case, which I will deal with and may advise this person to go to Mr. Deering's office. I mentioned it earlier but I may have been wrong and I want to correct the record. I refer to a letter sent to an individual in recent days with three different quotes for the exact same policy number. The first quote was €1,044, the second was €1,256, which was issued on the same day, and the third was €1,336. These algorithms are spitting out different quotes for the same policyholder and the same risk. Is that something Mr. Deering's office could investigate?

Mr. Ger Deering

We would seek the documentation and the reasoning behind those quotes.

I know Mr. Deering does not want a very large influx of complaints. I have great respect for his office, and we may not always agree in terms of the adjudications that are made and so on, but it is a great asset for people to be able to take claims to an independent authority and have them properly scrutinised and adjudicated upon. It is something I will be encouraging where there is a genuine issue, not that someone's premium has increased but where they believe they are being discriminated against. I would advise the witnesses to brace themselves because if the people who are talking to me follow through on that, they are likely to see an influx of them.

I want to touch on a separate issue. I have written to the Central Bank about this but I have not got a response as of yet. I am sure I will shortly. It relates to death benefit insurance operated by credit unions.

The first credit union has withdrawn death benefit insurance from its members, despite the fact that 4,500 members who have been paying into the scheme have asked for it to continue. It is being blamed on Central Bank regulations. Gurranabraher credit union in Cork was the first to offer death benefit of €4,000. It said the Central Bank now has regulations that require 50% of the membership to want it for it to continue. I have a question for Mr. Deering on this auto-renew financial product. I have not seen the forms for this credit union but I have seen the forms for other credit unions that currently operate the scheme and they have not taken a decision to withdraw it at this point, but it may be just a timing issue. It is a very simple form in some cases where it is €1 or €2 or whatever it is per week or per month, and it is on the basis of auto-renew. There was no suggestion at any time that the credit union could withdraw this. My colleagues in Cork have told me people have been paying into the scheme for 40 or 50 years. They are now at a later stage in their life and they are relying on the €4,000 to bury them but the service has been withdrawn from them overnight and everything they put into the scheme, which they could have done with over the 40 or 50 years, has been for naught. Has the FSPO looked at such cases or is it within his jurisdiction to examine them?

Mr. Ger Deering

I am sure the Deputy will appreciate that I will not comment on the particular instance he outlined. However, we have looked at complaints of this nature. The outcomes can vary. It is very often within the commercial discretion of the provider. These are credit unions, so they are member organisations, and where the members decide that they are going in a particular direction, what we look at is the level of communication and how people were told. For example, this can sometimes happen when an amalgamation takes place of smaller credits unions. That has happened a lot. It may be that a member might have had an option to go somewhere else that still provides the service had he or she known in time what was happening but he or she could have been incorporated into another credit union without knowing. I can only give a general answer but if the complaint relates to the conduct of a financial service provider, we can accept the complaint. If the issue turns out to be within the commercial discretion of the provider itself, we may not be able to uphold the complaint but once it relates to a financial service provider regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland, it falls within our remit.

Is the crucial factor in cases such as that the individuals who subscribe to this type of insurance have to be informed clearly that it could be ended at any time?

Mr. Ger Deering

That may well be the situation. Best practice would tell you that if, as the Deputy said, somebody has had a policy for some time, that it should not disappear overnight and the person would have to be informed.

Do I have recourse if my provider decides that the life insurance I have been paying into it for 40 years is no longer on offer?

Mr. Ger Deering

In that instance, again, it would depend on the terms and conditions of the policy. Some policies are for life. There are whole-of-life policies and other policies have a term, so they are due to finish after 20, 30 or 40 years or whatever it is. It would depend on the terms and conditions of the policy.

I refer to whole-of-life policies. This was death insurance. There is nothing that says whole of life more than death insurance.

Mr. Ger Deering

There is that, but it may have been a policy that was renewed every year, as opposed to one that ran for the entire life. It may be that people assumed it was whole of life but in fact it was a policy that was renewed every year and, therefore, there may not have been for life. We would have to see the details of the terms and conditions of a product like that. While we go beyond terms and conditions and look at fairness, we also have to look at the terms and conditions as well.

My final question relates to the tracker mortgage cases before the ombudsman. We went through some of the numbers and some cases have been resolved by mediation and determination. Has Mr. Deering dealt with the prevailing rate issue in any of the cases to date? Has he adjudicated on it or has a settlement been reached as a result of mediation on the prevailing rate? It is an issue that is very much under consideration by members of this committee. We have raised it with the banks and the Central Bank. There is a lot of expectation and many people are waiting to see how the FSPO is going to adjudicate on cases before it concerning the prevailing rate.

Mr. Ger Deering

I am not being specific on any organisation. The answer is, "Not yet". All of these complaints are now coming to a stage where there will be decisions very shortly in relation to a number of them.

The people who may be watching this meeting are the customers of Permanent TSB or other banks who have cases with the ombudsman on the prevailing rate. Many others are waiting to see how they will be adjudicated because they fall into what is termed "the cohort", and if it applies to one, it is likely to apply to others. What does Mr. Deering mean by "shortly"? Does he think any of these cases will be determined before Christmas or are we talking about next year?

Mr. Ger Deering

It will possibly be by the end of the year but certainly within a number of weeks. We are not talking about long term. A number of cases are at a very advanced stage and it should be only a matter of weeks. The one thing that we always have to caution is that the parties are entitled to make submissions and sometimes people want to make a further submission and that can delay a decision. Complaints are at an advanced stage, which I will decide very shortly.

Will that be across the institutions?

Mr. Ger Deering

Yes, I do not want to comment.

I know Mr. Deering does not want to comment on individual institutions. That is fair.

I wish to ask about the publication of the synopses of those cases if they are found in favour of the consumer. If I could hypothetically say that the case with bank A was dealt with pre-Christmas, that is good for the consumer, but it is useless for the rest of the individuals who are looking in unless they see the synopsis of how this was determined. How quickly will the decision be published?

Mr. Ger Deering

They will see the synopsis but they will also see the full decision, which is great. They can read the full decision. We will publish them as quickly as we can. I hope that might be in January. As I mentioned, there is a number of things – once we have the decisions made on the submissions, we then have to wait 35 days to allow for an appeal as that is the period specified in the legislation. Once all of that is cleared we will publish those decisions.

Will that be done on a rolling basis? If Mr. Deering makes a determination in February, is it likely that it will be published in April?

Mr. Ger Deering

No, what we may well do going forward is to publish them on a quarterly basis. I like to put out the digest, which explains it for people who do not want to read the full decisions. We give them an indication of what they are and they can then read the full decision if they wish. It is more likely to be on something like a quarterly or half-yearly basis rather than a rolling basis.

On the latter point, if it is half yearly, a lot of people are waiting, in particular to hear about the prevailing rate, so I would encourage Mr. Deering not to wait six months to publish the decisions. I would encourage him to aim for quarterly publication. The first decision will give an indication to people whether they need to pursue this through the courts themselves or if the office has come down on their side.

I thank Mr. Deering and his colleagues for attending. It was a good exchange.

The joint committee adjourned at 4.10 p.m until 10 a.m. on Thursday, 21 November 2019.