Monday 11 December 2017

Comment: Time to harden up – we're a soft touch

Charlie Weston

Charlie Weston

WE were promised rigorous regulation of our broken banks.

We were promised that there would be no more soft-touch, free-for-all in the financial space.

We were promised that the consumer would be put to the fore when it comes to how financial institutions operate.

Well, six years on and €64bn in taxpayers' funds later, what have we got to show for it?

What we have is around 136,500 residential mortgage accounts in arrears, household incomes down between 15pc and 20pc, property taxes and higher VAT and other levies, higher bank charges and an ongoing credit famine.

We are living with the consequences of bad lending.

So much for recognising the mistakes of the past and ditching light-touch regulation, and its first cousin irresponsible lending.

We may not have irresponsible lending, because we have little of any kind of lending.

But consumers are still suffering because the needs of the financial system have been given priority over consumer rights, which is the conclusion of an important new academic study by the Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC).

Banks were mainly responsible for bringing the country to its knees.

And the conclusion of the report by Dr Stuart Stamp, of NUI Maynooth, and lawyer Paul Joyce is that there is every chance of another financial collapse.

The authors argue that consumer protections are so weak that there is nothing to stop people making bad financial decisions when the economic upturn gears up, and little redress for consumers from bad lending during the boom.

Depressingly, the authors conclude that preservation of the financial system is given precedence over attempts to look after consumers, or make good their losses.

The Central Bank has been accused of watering down protections, putting consumer codes in place that have no legal standing.

This is despite the Central Bank being staffed up heavily over the last six years of economic collapse.

It emerged last year that more than 40pc of staff at the Central Bank were contracted to work less than 35 hours a week.

And these regulators are well paid.

Is it really too much to expect them to do more to protect the very people who pay their wages through taxes, the same people who rescued the banks?

Regulators still adopt a soft touch when it comes to the banks. But we consumers are a soft touch as well.

Irish Independent

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