Upcoming Seanad debates need to consider impact of legislation on over-indebted people

19 June 2013

According to the legal rights group FLAC, two pieces of legislation that come up for debate in the Seanad this week will impact particularly heavily on people living on very low incomes and living in debt.

Wednesday's legislation, the Social Welfare and Pensions (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2013 will include provisions to extend the powers of the Minister for Social Protection to collect overpayments. According to FLAC's Policy and Advocacy Officer, Saoirse Brady, the proposed changes would give the Minister wide powers to collect overpayments from bank accounts or salaries without any indication being given of how a person's right to a fair hearing or to privacy would be protected.

Indeed, according to Ms. Brady 'the right to privacy is being specifically excluded in the proposed new arrangements. Our main concern is that there is great detail on the power that the Minister has to collect overpayments but little or nothing on safeguards to ensure that any overpayment is collected fairly'. In a submission made to Senators, FLAC has stated that many of these overpayments arise because of departmental mistakes.

FLAC has also expressed concern to Senators about legislation to be debated on Thursday, to give the Central Bank greater regulatory powers in the Central Bank (Supervision and Enforcement) Bill 2011.

While welcoming the proposed power to regulate debt management companies and debt advisors, FLAC Director Noeline Blackwell said that the opportunity was being missed to regulate debt collectors. She said 'it is extraordinary that five years into this recession, there is no regulation or licensing of debt collectors. Responsibility for this is being batted between the Departments of Finance and of Justice & Equality. While that happens, distressed people in debt have no way of having a debt collector struck off or disciplined for bad practice, short of complaining of a crime to the Gardai, because this group is entirely unlicensed.'

Linking the two pieces of draft legislation Ms. Blackwell noted that 'both of the Bills to be debated by the Seanad this week will have their greatest impact on people who are living in poverty. We are calling on Senators to examine both Bills from the perspective of these people and to improve both current drafts to give people living in poverty more protection and a fairer system'.




Editors' notes:

  1. FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) is a human rights organisation which exists to promote equal access to justice for all. FLAC is an NGO that relies on a combination of statutory funding, contributions from the legal professions and donations from individuals and grant-making foundations to support its work. FLAC offers basic legal information through its telephone information line (1890 350 250) and free legal advice through its network of 80 volunteer evening advice centres. It also campaigns on a range of issues including personal debt, fairness in social welfare law, public interest law and civil legal aid.
  2. FLAC's submission on the Social Welfare and Pensions (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2013 is available to download from FLAC's website.
  3. FLAC's submission on the Central Bank (Supervision and Enforcement) Bill 2011 is also available to download from FLAC's website.
  4. The Social Welfare and Pensions (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2013 is available online.
  5. The Central Bank (Supervision and Enforcement) Bill 2011 is available online.
  6. The Social Welfare and Pensions (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2013 is being debated in the Seanad today (Wednesday). The Central Bank (Supervision and Enforcement) Bill 2011 will be debated in the Seanad tomorrow (Thursday). The complete Oireachtas agenda for this week is available to view here.
  7. FLAC's recent releases on personal debt law and social welfare reform are available on the news section of the FLAC website.