The Minster for Finance has published the general scheme of a bill that would amend the legislation covering the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman (FSPO).
The Department of Finance said that the proposed changes would safeguard consumer protections and access to the FSPO for customers of financial-service providers who have left the Irish market.
The Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman (Amendment) Bill will also ensure that the FSPO will operate in line with the Constitution, after a recent Supreme Court decision, Zalewski v Adjudication Officer and the WRC.
In the Zalewski case, the court held that the Workplace Relations Commission’s (WRC) adjudication officers were involved in the administration of justice, a role normally reserved for the courts.
The court decided, however, that this was permissible, as the administration of justice carried out by such officers was limited. The ruling led to legislation that allowed the WRC to continue to exercise its functions.
The FSPO is an independent service that helps resolve complaints from consumers against financial-service providers and pension providers.
The bill states that the FSPO has the statutory power to investigate complaints against a financial-service provider that was regulated at the time of the conduct complained of – even if the provider lost its regulated status before the complaint was made to the FSPO.
The amendments also give the ombudsman the power to decide whether to hold any oral hearings required during an investigation in public or in private.
This decision is to be made “having consulted with the parties, and having considered the nature or circumstances of the complaint, and whether it is in the interest of justice to do so,” according to the bill.
Another section of the bill is aimed at ensuring that all mediation conducted by the ombudsman is carried out in private.
"These targeted amendments will better equip the FSPO to withstand any potential challenge to its operations, and the improved legal clarity will reinforce the statutory basis of the FSPO, a key element of the consumer-protection framework in Ireland,” said Minister Michael McGrath (pictured).