Bank ordered to pay €4,000 compensation after refusing account to Syrian refugee

Bank ordered to pay €4,000 compensation after refusing account to Syrian refugee

Emily Logan

A bank has been ordered by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) to pay €4,000 in compensation to a Syrian refugee who was denied a bank account.

The man was supported by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission in taking a case against the bank for breach of the Equal Status Acts 2000-2015, alleging that they refused to open a bank account for him on the ground of his Syrian nationality.

Using its statutory powers, the commission provided legal assistance, advice and representation to the man, who came to Ireland from Syria as part of Ireland’s Refugee Protection Programme and was seeking to set up the bank account after he entered employment.

In its decision, the WRC found it difficult to disagree with the man’s argument that where a service provider such as the bank was to have applied an explicit policy of direct discrimination based on nationality, there had to be an extensive duty on the bank to ensure that such a policy was carefully applied to avoid this kind of situation.

As well as ordering the bank to pay compensation of €4,000, the WRC ordered the bank to engage directly with the human rights watchdog to prevent any re-occurrence of this type of incident, with the bank and commission asked to make a progress report in six months.

The man at the centre of the case alleged that he had tried to open the bank account in 2017, but had been refused by a member of staff on presentation of his refugee travel document and told that “we don’t open bank accounts for Syrians at the moment”. The man then complained to the bank.

At WRC hearing, the bank said that it accepted, and had always accepted, refugee travel documents as proof of identity. The bank said that, since becoming aware of the incident in question, it had updated its website to specifically refer to the fact that it accepts refugee travel documents as proof of identity.

In its final adjudication, the WRC stated “…on the day of the incident the two front line staff members of the (bank), by their actions, appeared to be oblivious to any policy that may have been in place to cover such a situation. This reflects on the (bank) and is I believe the complaint being presented…and not the fact that a front-line member of staff made a mistake.”

Chief commissioner Emily Logan said: “Financial institutions need to ensure that customers are protected from any form of discrimination by putting in place appropriate training mechanisms and clear guidelines, and ensuring staff are aware of them.

“As a lawful resident of Ireland, this man had the right to open a bank account subject to the usual banking conditions, irrespective of his nationality.

“The commission welcomes this outcome from the WRC following our legal support for his case. We will be engaging with the bank over the next six months to ensure that appropriate actions are taken.

“The commission is aware that this is not an isolated incident and we are aware of other people who have experienced similar incidents, and we would ask all service providers to pay attention this outcome.”

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