Call for ombudsman to protect vulnerable from financial abuse

Ger Deering says banks have gotten better at engaging in mediation with customers

Ger Deering said most lenders are abiding by his advice not to proceed with court action against customers whose complaints are under investigation by the ombudsman

Ger Deering said most lenders are abiding by his advice not to proceed with court action against customers whose complaints are under investigation by the ombudsman

 

The financial services ombudsman has been urged to do more to help protect vulnerable and elderly people from possible monetary abuse.

Appearing at a joint Oireachtas committee on Wednesday, Ger Deering, who was appointed to the role two years ago, was also tackled on the issue of people being “forced” into adopting online banking.

However, the ombudsman noted that while he has perhaps the strongest powers among his peers in Europe, with an option of awarding up to €250,000 in compensation, and the ability to force financial services providers to reinstate policies, he could only act after a complaint has been made by an individual.

Mr Deering told TDs and Senators he believed adequate measures are in place to protect vulnerable people from exploitation, although he accepted that some individuals might not have the skills need to put in a complaint.

The ombudsman added he was focused on making his office’s service more accessible and in trying to raise awareness of the work it does.

Online banking

Mr Deering, whose primary role is to settle disputes between consumers and financial services providers, also heard complaints from TDs and Senators about banks pushing consumers to do their banking online.

“Online banking being forced down the necks of elderly people is appalling. It causes terrible frustration and many vulnerable people are worried about if their direct debits will get paid on time,” said Fianna Fáil TD Eugene Murphy.

The ombudsman said that prior to last year, most complaints sent to his office usually involved a full investigation and adjudication primarily because financial services providers would not engage in the mediation process with their customers.

Research conducted on behalf of the ombudsman in 2015 found 80 per cent of financial services providers did not offer to meet or speak with customers who had a complaint.

“Up to 2014 and even into 2015, the banks in 99.9 per cent of cases refused to engage in mediation. That has turned around now though and banks and insurance companies have engaged in the process and both they and consumers are seeing the benefits of this,” said Mr Deering.

He added that most lenders are also abiding by his advice not to proceed with court action against customers whose complaints are under investigation by the ombudsman.