I propose to take Questions Nos. 8 and 10 together.
There is already a comprehensive licensing system in place for moneylenders. I refer to Part VIII of the Consumer Credit Act 1995, as amended, for detailed information in this regard. Moneylenders have to apply to the Central Bank annually to have their licences renewed. Section 93 of the Consumer Credit Act 1995 sets out the Central Bank's powers on the grant or refusal of a moneylender's licence. I am advised by the Central Bank that the appropriate moneylending application form, for new licences or renewal, must be completed and returned to the Central Bank with a number of items for review and consideration. A moneylender's licence granted by the Central Bank is specific to that moneylender. Each individual moneylender's licence outlines the specific products that the moneylender offers, the annual percentage rate, APR, for each product and the total cost of credit for each product.
Before applying for a moneylender's licence, an applicant must give notice of this intention in a local or national newspaper, published in Ireland and circulating in the District Court area in which the applicant intends to engage in the business of moneylending. The Central Bank may refuse to grant a moneylender's licence if, in the bank's opinion, the cost of the credit to be charged is excessive or if any of the terms and conditions attaching thereto are unfair.
One of the conclusions of the report on the licensed moneylending industry published by the Central Bank in March 2007 was that the introduction of an interest ceiling for moneylenders may not achieve the objectives of lowering the cost of credit to consumers. In February 2011, the Central Bank published the results of a themed inspection of licensed moneylenders. The Central Bank advised me the themed inspection showed a high level of compliance among firms. Overall, the inspection found that customers were charged in accordance with the moneylenders' authorised APRs and cost of credit. I have no plans to amend the regulation of licensed moneylenders at this time. Currently, there are 46 moneylenders licensed by the Central Bank.
Persons who engage in moneylending and who do not hold the necessary licence granted by the Central Bank are in breach of the law under section 98 of the Consumer Credit Act 1995. Complaints may be made to An Garda Síochána, which has the power to bring prosecutions against such operators. A person guilty of an offence under the Act is liable, on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding €3,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or both, or, on conviction on indictment, to a fine not exceeding €100,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or both. There are no plans to bring proposals to Government to increase these penalties.
A number of provisions in the criminal law may be of relevance to the practice of moneylending in particular circumstances. For example, these may include section 10, harassment, and section 11, demands for payment of debt causing alarm, of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997, and the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994, which specifies offences of blackmail, extortion and demanding money with menaces.