Syrian Refugee Wins Equal Status Case for Refusal of Bank Account

Commission Provided Legal Representation to Refugee from Syria in Case Against High Street Bank

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (‘the Commission’) has today welcomed a significant decision by the Workplace Relations Commission (“the WRC”) in the case of a refugee who took a case against a bank for breach of the Equal Status Acts 2000-2015, alleging that they refused to open a bank account for him on the ground of his Syrian nationality.

Using its statutory powers, the Commission provided legal assistance, advice and representation to the man in bringing his case to the WRC. The man came to Ireland from Syria as part of Ireland’s Refugee Protection Programme, and was seeking to set up the bank account after he entered employment.

In its decision, the Workplace Relations Commission (“WRC”) found it 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 WRC adjudicator also ordered the bank to engage directly with the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission to minimise the possibility of any type of re-occurrence of the type of incident experienced in this case and asked that both the bank and the Commission report back to the WRC adjudicator after 6-months on progress.

The man at the centre of the case alleged that he had tried to open a bank account with the bank in 2017, but had been refused by a member of the Bank’s staff on presentation of his refugee travel document and told that “we don’t open bank accounts for Syrians at the moment”.   The man then complained to the bank.

At 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.

The case was taken under the Equal Status Acts 2000 to 2015. In its final adjudication the WRC stated “…on the day of the incident the two front line staff members of the (bank), by their actions, appeared to be oblivious to any policy that may have been in place to cover such a situation. 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.”

Emily Logan Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission stated:

“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.

“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.”

ENDS/

 

For further information, please contact:

Brian Dawson, IHREC Communications Manager,

01 8589601 / 087 0697095

bdawson@ihrec.ie

Visit our website www.ihrec.ie or follow us on twitter @_IHREC

Notes to Editor

The full decision of the Adjudication Officer in this case is available at the following link:

https://www.workplacerelations.ie/en/Cases/2019/March/ADJ-00013897.html

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is an independent public body, appointed by the President and directly accountable to the Oireachtas. The Commission has a statutory remit set out under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act (2014) to protect and promote human rights and equality in Ireland, and build a culture of respect for human rights, equality and intercultural understanding in the State.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is Ireland’s national human rights institution and is recognised as such by the United Nations. The Commission is also Ireland’s national equality body for the purpose of a range of EU anti-discrimination measures.

Under its legal functions set out in the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014, the Commission can, in certain circumstances, provide legal assistance to a person who wishes to bring a matter of human rights or equality of treatment before the Courts or the Workplace Relations Commission.

Assistance under Section 40 of the Act means any or all of the following

  1. the provision, or the arranging for the provision of, legal advice to the applicant;
  2. the provision, or the arranging for the provision of, legal representation to the applicant
  3. the provision of such other assistance to the applicant as the Commission deems appropriate in the circumstances;

 

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