I welcome the research carried out by the Banking & Payments Federation Ireland (BPFI) and Safeguarding Ireland on financial abuse and vulnerable persons. I understand that BPFI along with its member banks and with support from Safeguarding Ireland have developed a guide which provides advice on how you can best prepare for a time when you may need assistance to properly manage your money. The guide, Safeguarding Your Money Now and in the Future, is available here: www.bpfi.ie/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/BPFI-Safeguarding-Customers-Guide-FINAL.pdf.
I am advised by the Central Bank that its consumer protection framework is designed to ensure that customers’ best interests are protected. Regulated entities must provide reasonable arrangements and/or assistance to people who may be experiencing particular vulnerabilities, including as a result of the impact of COVID-19. All regulated firms should take a consumer-focused approach and to act in their customers’ best interests, particularly in dealings with vulnerable consumers.
A review of the Consumer Protection Code 2012 (the Code) is currently underway. Amongst other things, the review will consider whether the provisions that relate to vulnerability remain appropriate, and whether they need to be enhanced. A public consultation on the Central Bank’s proposals for amendments will take place in 2021 giving all stakeholders an opportunity to make submissions. This review will also include transferring the Code into regulations in line with the regulation making powers given to the Central Bank in the Central Bank (Supervision and Enforcement) Act 2013 .
The Code currently defines a vulnerable consumer as follows:
“A “vulnerable consumer” means a natural person who:
a) has the capacity to make his or her own decisions but who, because of individual circumstances, may require assistance to do so (for example, hearing impaired or visually impaired persons); and/or
b) has limited capacity to make his or her own decisions and who requires assistance to do so (for example, persons with intellectual disabilities or mental health difficulties).”
Provision 3.1 of the Code provides that: “Where a regulated entity has identified that a personal consumer is a vulnerable consumer, the regulated entity must ensure that the vulnerable consumer is provided with such reasonable arrangements and/or assistance that may be necessary to facilitate him or her in his or her dealings with the regulated entity.”
Provision 2.11 of the Code provides that a regulated entity must ensure that in all its dealings with customers and within the context of its authorisation it “without prejudice to the pursuit of its legitimate commercial aims, does not, through its policies, procedures, or working practices, prevent access to basic financial services”. This provision aims to ensure that vulnerable people can gain access to mainstream financial services.
In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, banks are helping customers who are cocooning to manage their banking in a safe way without leaving their home. The retail banks have dedicated phone lines to assist cocooning customers during the COVID-19 crisis.
I would also like to draw the Deputy’s attention to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) which is an independent statutory body with a statutory role in relation to financial education. The CCPC carries out this role by running public awareness campaigns on personal finance issues, providing online comparison tools for various financial products and providing personal finance information on its consumer website, including advice on avoiding scams. The CCPC also fulfils its statutory role in the development of financial education and capability by delivering financial education programmes for workplaces and schools and conducting research, such as the Financial Capability and Well-being in Ireland in 2018 study, to inform its financial wellbeing strategy and priorities.