Civil Society Roundtable

When 25 September 2023 2:00 PM
Where Central Bank of Ireland, North Wall Quay, Dublin 1

Summary of meeting

The Central Bank held a roundtable with representatives from a range of civil society organisations on Monday 25 September 2023.

The meeting was chaired by Deputy Governor for Consumer and Investor Protection, Derville Rowland, and was attended by Deputy Governor for Financial Regulation, Sharon Donnery, and Deputy Governor for Monetary and Financial Stability, Vasileios Madouros, as well as Director for Consumer Protection, Colm Kincaid.

The attending civil society organisations work across a range of areas including social justice, housing, consumer advocacy, workers’ rights and the rights of older people. The discussion was held under Chatham House rules and this is reflected in the summary of the discussion below.

Deputy Governor Rowland introduced the meeting with some opening remarks. Deputy Governor Madouros gave a presentation on the economic challenges in the current high inflation environment and the Central Bank’s engagement with financial firms to ensure consumers are receiving the protections they require.

After a short break, attendees gave their views on what topics future roundtables should focus on.

In her concluding remarks, Deputy Governor Rowland thanked participants for attending the event and noted that the next Civil Society Roundtable was scheduled to take place in December.

Remarks by Deputy Governor Rowland

Civil Society Presentation

Discussion between Central Bank and attendees

  1. For the main discussion, attendees were asked to consider the following questions:
    • What is your assessment of the lived experience of the groups that you represent in the current economic environment?
    • In an economy operating at capacity, with high employment and low unemployment, what is the labour market experience of the groups that your represent?
    • What are you seeing in terms of financial distress amongst the people that you represent?
    • In your experience, how responsive are financial firms to dealing with vulnerable consumers and/or those that are finding themselves getting into financial distress?

The discussion touched on a range of issues, which can be broadly summarised as follows:

    • The impact of the increased cost of living
    • Attendees said that the members of the public that they represent were reporting back to them that they were going without basics like food, rent, fuel and lighting as a result of the increased costs of living relative to their income.  Many families and groups are still repaying debts they ran up last year covering the increased cost of living. Many of the groups attending reported that the number of applications for financial support to them from the public has increased by up to 20% over the last year. 

      In that context, some attendees said that the public was expecting to see the ECB’s increase in interest rates having a speedy effect on inflation. If it didn’t, then public support for the ECB measures could fall. 

    • The wish to see increased Government spending on social welfare measures
    • Attendees spoke of the need for the Government to increase social welfare spending as a solution to the increase in the cost of living.  The introduction of a “living wage” was also mentioned by several attendees as a priority. Other attendees said they’d prefer to see an increase in social spending rather than a reduction in taxes. 

      A number of attendees said that they were disappointed that the Central Bank would not support increased social welfare spending. The Central Bank attendees clarified that the Bank was advising that Government spending needed to be sustainable, but was not being prescriptive on how the Government chose to increase particular categories of spending. Indeed, fiscal policy should adequately care for the most vulnerable. 

    • Access to credit and cash/banking is an issue for many
    • Some attendees reported that it had become harder for the public that they represent to access credit, whether it was due to the closure of retail banks’ branches, or the departure of Ulster Bank and KBC, or as a result of the applicant’s age. Similarly, the increasing move to online banking and retail is leading to difficulties for many of the individuals represented by the attending NGOs. 

      Some attendees said it was tougher for their members to access credit since recent changes to consumer credit law (Consumer Credit Amendment Bill 2018). 

      The Central Bank responded that access to cash is one of the areas that is being looked at in the review of the Consumer Protection Code and also the Department of Finance’s Retail Banking Review. 

    • Irish mortgage interest rates
    • Some attendees focussed on the impact that high mortgage interest rates were having on some mortgage holders, especially those whose loans were with non-banks and investment funds. Some tracker mortgage holders had been among those members of the public seeking financial assistance from the attending NGOs.

      Some attendees called on the Central Bank to take a harder line with non-banks in relation to the interest rates that they’re charging. 

      The Central Bank attendees assured the meeting that the Bank is taking a strong and robust line with the banks and non-banks on these issues. Consultation on the Code of Conduct for Mortgage Arrears is included in the review of the Consumer Protection Code. 

    • Good level of engagement from Central Bank
    • A large number of attendees noted the good level of engagement that they saw from the Central Bank in relation to consumer protection and regulatory issues, including stakeholder engagement. The Civil Society Roundtables are a great example of this. 

    • Need for better data
    • Some attendees identified a need for reliable, publicly-available data in relation to areas including consumer credit problems, as well as rent arrears. 

      A number of attendees commented on how valuable the data provided by the Central Bank at the Roundtables was to the member groups.   


    2. After a short break, attendees were asked for their thoughts on the agendas for future Civil Society Roundtables:
    • A number of attendees said they’d like to see more regular meetings of the Civil Society Roundtable. 
    • Some attendees suggested that the Roundtable could meet in smaller subgroups to consider specific issues that might not be of interest to the wider group, before reporting back to the wider Roundtable group. However, other members said that Roundtable meetings should include all members, rather than smaller groups.  
    • The suggestions for future topics included:
      • Access to credit, with a particular focus on the need for financial services to be inclusive, and the activity financial services firms are undertaking to achieve this goal. 
      • The cost of credit for those on low incomes.