AN INVESTIGATION has been launched by the Data Protection Commissioner after it emerged An Post is making people reveal the contents of their bank accounts just to pay their TV licence.
Since November the postal service has been forcing people to provide a bank statement and prove they have enough money in their account before setting up a direct debit for their television licence.
People who want to pay their TV licence by direct debit have no choice but to comply, since An Post has the exclusive contract for handling TV licences paid in this way.
Every household and business in Ireland with a television – or even just equipment capable of receiving a television signal, like a satellite dish or a cable – must have a television licence, which costs €160 a year.
The Government is trying to make even more people pay the fee, proposing to change it to a "universal broadcasting charge", which would apply to everyone, regardless of television ownership.
An Post introduced the rule, it said, because a new money transfer regime known as SEPA makes it more complicated to set up direct debits and more costly if mistakes are made.
But every single direct debit agreement in the EU is subject to the new rules – and the vast majority do not require bank statements to set up.
Contacted by the Irish Independent, the Data Protection Office said it has launched an investigation into the matter.
Under data protection laws, organisations can only seek the minimum level of personal data necessary for the service it relates to.
The organisation must be able to show that each piece of personal data sought is needed for a legitimate reason.
A spokeswoman from the Data Protection Office did not clarify whether An Post's actions were legal or not.
"In principle there may be a basis for an organisation to request documents containing bank account information to confirm the account details for direct debit set-up purposes," she said.
In those circumstances, she added, people could conceal transaction information in their statements if they wanted.
But An Post documents specifically say the bank statement must show there are sufficient funds in the account to support the direct debit agreement.
A spokesman from An Post said that people unhappy with the direct debit process could use other payment options, like paying by cash or debit card over the phone or by sending a cheque to their local TV licence office.