BANK customers who feel they have been harassed by their banks over their mortgage arrears have been urged to use a little-known power to make complaints to the Gardai.
It came after leading psychiatrist Ivor Browne said he had written to banks on behalf of financially stressed patients telling them he will hold them responsible in the event of a patient's suicide
In the Seanad, Labour Senator Lorraine Higgins said that bank customers had a right to complain about unfair pressure from banks under the 1997 Non-Fatal Offenses Against the Person Act.
“They do not have a right to destroy people’s lives and that of their families by exerting pressure on a daily basis,” she said.
Under the act, it is an offence for a bank representative to demand the repayment of a debt so frequently that they would cause “alarm, distress or humiliation” for the householder or their family. The penalty on conviction is a fine of €1,905. However, there has been only one conviction under this section of the act between 2003 and 2009.
Speaking afterwards to the Irish Independent, Ms Higgins said it provided an extra layer of protection for bank customers - on top of the restrictions on phone calls and visits in the code of conduct for banks.
“Anybody can walk to their garda station and make a complaint that they are being harassed by their bank. It’s a decision that will be made by the Gardai based on the number of phone calls and visits,” she said.
However, Ms Higgins said there had been a low level of prosecutions under this section of the act so far.
“We are very shy at enforcing the law in Ireland,” she said.
The Master of the High Court has previously warned that the banks are driving some borrowers who can not pay their debts to suicide. Ed Honohan, brother of Central Bank governor Patrick Honohan, said he had dealt with several debt cases where the borrowers had subsequently taken their own lives.