That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to ensure that services provided by public bodies and banking services are accessible by persons who are unable to access such services through information systems and to ensure that access to banking is provided to persons unable to operate an automatic teller machine.
I seek to introduce a Bill to provide access to public services and banking other than by electronic means. There was a good deal of controversy some time ago when a particular bank proposed to limit banking transactions of under €700, which is quite a sum of money, to automatic teller machines, ATMs. Thankfully, that bank has withdrawn its plan to do so in the short term but one would wonder if it was an expedition on its part to assess public reaction, wait a while and bring back the proposal. That proposal would cause great distress, particularly if it was replicated by other banks.
It is a time of the year when we think of the elderly, of people who are alone and people who may not be in a position to help themselves. There is a large number of people, typically, but not only, elderly people, who are not able to use ATMs and bank cards, who find that the only way they can avail of banking services is over the counter and who rely on that personal touch. They may simply be too old now to learn to use an ATM, the use of which, I presume, most Members of this House would take for granted.
Similarly, there is an increased movement towards providing public services through the Internet. When people ask how to apply for a service, they are told they will find the relevant application form on the Internet. People pay their local property tax online; it is very hard to pay it over a counter. There is an increasing tendency to pay online. This Bill proposes to ensure that people are able to avail of banking services over the counter and also to avail of public services over the counter.
A Bill to provide for persons with a disability was introduced in 2005 to ensure persons with a disability could access public services, that there would be a person in every branch office who would ensure that persons with a disability could access public services. Essentially, this Bill uses similar terminology and makes a similar proposal, namely, that all public services would ensure that persons who could not use or are unable to access the Internet would still be able to avail of public services, be they those provided by a Department, a county council, an organisation of the State or the Revenue Commissioners, and ensure that people are able to interact, for example, with the Revenue Commissioners over a counter, or pay bills as they fall due over a counter as opposed to having to use the Internet to make bank transfers because a large number of people cannot do that.
While I accept there is an additional cost involved for banks in providing banking services, face to face, and for public services to provide a service for people who cannot use the Internet, there is a reason they are trying to drive increasingly more business, more customers, more members of the public, in the case of public services, to the Internet. Nevertheless, it is essential for this State to ensure such access for people, typically those who are elderly, people who are living alone and do not have a relative to help them. I have discussed this issue with many parishioners and friends and they have told me that they have ended up doing increasingly more transactions for their parents who are elderly and who are not able to use the Internet. They are happy to do so, as am I, but at this time of the year in particular, we should think of people who do not have a son or a daughter or a relative who can do transactions on the Internet or whom they might not trust with a bank card to go to an ATM and withdraw money or pay a bill on their behalf. That is the purpose of this Bill. I thank the Acting Chairman for the time afforded me to introduce the Bill.