‘Access to Cash’ Legislation: Minister for Finance publishes General Scheme of Bill
The Minister for Finance has published the General Scheme of the Access to Cash Bill.
A key deliverable arising from recommendations made as part of the November 2022 Retail Banking Review Report, the importance of this planned legislation was emphasised by the Department of Finance in its December 2023 public consultation on the planned National Payments Strategy (NPS) (which is open for feedback until 14 February 2024) (read our insights here). This week’s proposals are not expected to progress from a General Scheme to a Bill for presentation to the Oireachtas until the Department of Finance has had sufficient time to consider the feedback to the NPS consultation during the first half of 2024.
The NPS consultation noted that, by volume, 54% of point-of-sale transactions are carried out using cash (explaining the greater emphasis in that consultation on ensuring continued cash access than was the case with the 2013 National Payments Plan (where the overriding aim was the promotion of electronic payments)).
Key aspects of the General Scheme:
- Maintaining the cash infrastructure at (approximately) December 2022 levels initially (with KBC and Ulster Bank data removed).
- The Minister will be able to set regional criteria (which can be adjusted based on census data and/or cash demand) stipulating the minimum numbers of ATMs per 100,000 people, the percentage of the population (by specific region) that must be within 10km of an ATM and the percentage of the population (again by specific region) that must be within 10km of a cash service point where cash and cheques can be lodged. The Central Bank will be empowered to assess local deficiencies (regions where it is particularly difficult to access cash), and require designated entities to address those deficiencies. The Central Bank will be tasked with publishing guidance on local deficiencies before the Bill becomes law.
- Responsibility for compliance with access to cash requirements will rest with designated entities (banks whose market share of current/payment accounts and share of household deposits in Ireland exceeds a prescribed proportion to be set by the Minister (expected to be 8-10% initially)). It is expected that the three main Irish retail banks will be the initial designated entities. The Central Bank will have specific monitoring and enforcement rights – failure to comply with a direction to address a breach/local deficiency will be a prescribed contravention under the Central Bank’s Administrative Sanctions Procedure.
- The Minister will also be empowered to make regulations banning or capping access fees for withdrawals from Irish ATMs by consumers with EU bank accounts. While unusual in Ireland (and separate from day-to-day bank charges) access fees are flat fees to make ATM withdrawals (irrespective of the amount of the withdrawal).
- The General Scheme provides for a Central Bank registration framework for ATM operators and cash-in-transit firms (CITs). The current proposal for a revised EU payment services framework (PSD3) also involves a registration system for ATM operators. Under the access to cash proposals, ATM operators and CITs would be subject to a similar registration regime to that currently applicable to virtual asset service providers (VASPs) – information-provision will be key. While registration obligations and requirements to provide additional information on request will be applied to ATM operators and CITs, the Department of Finance is conscious that this limb of the access to cash proposals should not operate to disincentivise those entities from continuing to operate in Ireland. There will be a transitional period – existing entities will be deemed to have registered provided that they then apply to register within 3 months of the relevant section being commenced.