I propose to take Questions Nos. 228 to 231, inclusive, together.
The aim of the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA) project is to create a single market for euro-denominated retail payments. SEPA is an EU initiative that will change the way that these payments are processed across Europe. SEPA will allow payment systems users to make euro-denominated retail electronic payments to payees located in any of the participating countries, using a single payment account and a single set of payment instruments (the participating countries are the EU member states, together with Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland and Monaco).
SEPA comes into full effect on 1 February 2014 and businesses will need to ensure that payroll, direct debit and accounting systems are SEPA-ready. SEPA will introduce new business rules in relation to retail electronic payments and implement common standards in all participating countries for issuing and executing the underlying payment instructions. SEPA will deliver tangible benefits to businesses, for example by allowing faster settlement and simplified processing will improve cash flow and reduce costs.
The implementation of SEPA within Ireland is overseen by the National Payments Plan (NPP) Steering Committee, which was established in 2012 to modernise the way payments are made in Ireland. In this regard, an NPP-SEPA sub-group has been formed, consisting of representatives of consumers, businesses, Government and banks. This sub group provides an avenue for the discussion of any issues that arise in the process of migrating to SEPA.
The SEPA Direct Debit Scheme exists in two forms – the ‘core’ scheme and the ‘B2B’ (Business to Business) scheme. Both scheme forms allow creditors to collect funds directly from a debtor’s bank account, provided that a valid mandate has been given by the debtor to the creditor. The key difference is that in the B2B Scheme the payer is not entitled to obtain a refund in respect of an authorised transaction (in contrast with the rights afforded to the payer in the in the core SDD scheme).
Adherence to the core scheme by banks is mandatory, but provision of the B2B scheme is optional; thus far only two Irish banks are in a position to offer the SDD ‘B2B’ service. The remaining banks are currently focussed on the migration of their business customers to the SEPA ‘core’ scheme in advance of the 1 February 2014 end-date. Once this objective has been achieved, the possibility of offering the ‘B2B’ scheme will be examined by these banks; this issue is currently the subject of ongoing discussion between the banks concerned and the Central Bank of Ireland.
In terms of the refund rights available to payers under SEPA, these are laid down in the Payment Services Directive 2009 (the PSD) as transposed by S.I. 383 of 2009, and in the SEPA Direct Debit (SDD) scheme rulebook published by the European Payments Council (the owner of the SDD scheme).
The PSD grants consumers refund rights in three situations – for overcharging, unauthorised debits and incorrect processing. For unauthorised debits and incorrect processing, the payer has a right to an immediate refund as long as they notify their bank as soon as possible, and no later than 13 months after the debit date.
In cases of overcharging, if the payer has authorised payment without the amount having been stated in advance (e.g., through a direct debit or a card payment) and the amount debited is not what could reasonably have been expected, the payer is be entitled to challenge the debit by contacting their payment services provider within eight weeks. The payment services provider is then obliged to reimburse the payer within ten days or justify its refusal to do so.
In addition to the protections available under the PSD, the SDD ‘core’ scheme rules grant payers a 'no-questions-asked' refund right during the eight weeks following the debiting of a their account. During this time, any funds collected via the SDD ‘core’ scheme will be credited back to the payer's account upon request.