Bank refused to open account for refugee because he was Syrian
A bank has been ordered to pay €4,000 in compensation to a Syrian refugee after it refused to open a bank account for him on the grounds of his nationality.
The adjudication by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) came after the man took a case with the support of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC).
The man came to Ireland under a programme to protect refugees displaced by the conflict in Syria.
He was seeking to set up the bank account in 2017 after he entered employment.
However, he was refused by a member of the bank’s staff on presentation of his refugee travel document and told: "We don’t open bank accounts for Syrians at the moment."
The man complained to the bank and brought a case to the WRC under the Equal Status Acts 2000 to 2015.
At a 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.
But in its adjudication, the WRC found that on the day in question two front line staff members of the bank "appeared to be oblivious to any policy that may have been in place to cover such a situation".
The WRC adjudicator said: "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."
The adjudicator said it was 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.
The WRC ordered the bank to pay compensation of €4,000 to the man.
The decision was welcomed by IHREC, which used its statutory powers to provide the man with legal assistance.
It said the case was not an isolated incident and that the bank had also been ordered to engage directly with IHREC to minimise the possibility of any type of re-occurrence.
Both the IHREC and the bank have been asked to report back to the WRC on the issue in six months time.
"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," said IHREC chief commissioner Emily Logan.
"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."
Neither the bank nor the complainant were identified in the WRC adjudication.