Complaints against banks could be heard in public following Zalewski ruling

Complaints against banks could be heard in public following Zalewski ruling

Complaints against banks and pension providers could be heard in public under new legislation brought in response to a Supreme Court ruling.

The Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman (FSPO) will have the power to hold oral hearings in public where it is deemed to be “appropriate or desirable” when the Financial Services and Pension Ombudsman (Amendment) Bill becomes law.

The general scheme of the bill was published by finance minister Michael McGrath yesterday.

The bill, among other things, intends to safeguard the consumer protections and access to the FSPO for customers of financial service providers who have left the Irish market.

The provision allowing for public oral hearings follows the Supreme Court decision in the Zalewski case, which concerned the Workplace Relations Commission and its quasi-judicial role.

Currently, section 56(4) of the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman Act 2017 states: “The Ombudsman shall, without prejudice to the form of investigation, ensure investigations are conducted otherwise than in public.”

The proposed bill will revise this and insert a new section 56(4)(a) stating:

“Where the Ombudsman determines that it is appropriate or desirable for a complaint investigation to include an oral hearing, the Ombudsman shall decide whether to conduct any such oral hearing in public or in private, having consulted with the parties and having considered the nature or circumstances of the complaint and whether it is in the interest of justice to do so.”

Mr McGrath said: “I am delighted to receive government approval to publish the general scheme of this important bill.

“It is critical that consumer protections are afforded to all customers in a consistent manner and that those protections are safeguarded for when a provider leaves the market.

“The bill, once enacted, will ensure that the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman can continue its important work of helping consumers and small businesses resolve complaints against financial service providers and pension providers. This is important given recent exits from the Irish market.

“These targeted amendments will better equip the FSPO to withstand any potential challenge to its operations and the improved legal clarity will reinforce the statutory basis of the FSPO, a key element of the consumer protection framework in Ireland.”

The general scheme will now be referred to the Office of the Attorney General for drafting of the bill. The text of the bill will be finalised with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel and the government intends to progress the legislation through the Houses of the Oireachtas “in the coming months”.

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