Bank cash withdrawals ban 'will make elderly sitting ducks for criminals'
A bank ban on manual cash withdrawals of less than 700 euro will make vulnerable people "sitting ducks" for criminals, it has been claimed.
New restrictions by Bank of Ireland will also include an end to cash or cheque lodgements to a bank teller of less than 3,000 euro.
The changes, to be enforced within two weeks, have sparked outrage from organisations representing the elderly and the vulnerable.
Sean Moynihan, chief executive of elderly agency Alone, said the moves will let criminals know that a customer is leaving a branch with a significant amount of cash.
"All they'll have to do is hang around the banks on pension day," he said.
"There's huge fear around the country about burglary at the moment, with people feeling vulnerable in our communities.
"Bank of Ireland needs to slow down here and think about those people.
"They have done the figures on how this benefits themselves, but they haven't looked at the risks to the vulnerable in the community, around holding onto cash, as well as people not au fait with technology."
Mr Moynihan said many elderly people rely on dealing with staff at banks because they are not used to ATMs, or their physical ailments make technology difficult to operate safely.
Recent research showed only one in ten over 65s were using the internet for online banking.
"Many older people won't be able to adapt to using ATMs and as a result may end up with large amounts of cash in their home, making them more vulnerable to burglary," he added.
"Older persons on the government pension will have to save up for three weeks and then make a bulk withdrawal if they wish to take money out with a teller."
Referring to the massive bank bailouts, he added: "When the banks needed the community, the community was there. So the banks have a responsibility to the community."
Labour Party TD and former junior minister Willie Penrose said the measures will make elderly bank customers "sitting ducks" for criminals.
"Now criminals will know the level of money customers are withdrawing," he said.
"Someone can now keep an eye on you. Before now, nobody would know if you were withdrawing five euro, 500 euro or 5,000 euro.
"I don't know how low the bank is going to stoop to try to save a bit and improve its bottom line.
"This comes at a time when we're trying to encourage people not to keep large amounts of money at home."
Mr Penrose said he was going to ask the Finance Minister, representing the State as a shareholder in Bank of Ireland, to intervene over the controversy.
Bank of Ireland said the changes will be enforced in branches from mid-November.
They will mean any withdrawals under 700 euro or lodgements more than 3,000 euro will have to be done electronically.
"Bank of Ireland understand these changes may be a new way of banking for some of our customers, and we want to reassure customers that our branch teams will be available to help and guide them through this change," a spokeswoman said.
"We encourage customers to come and speak to our advisers in our branches with any questions they may have on this change, and on using our ATM and lodgement ATM machines.
"For any customers who require additional assistance or who may not be used to using the ATM machines, our staff will be on hand to help them."
Bank of Ireland has 250 branches nationwide.
Labour senator Marie Moloney said customers unhappy with the changes should switch bank.
"This is disgraceful conduct by Bank of Ireland," she said.
"Clearly they don't appreciate the value of customers with smaller accounts.
"Given how much support the bank got from the taxpayer in recent years, this is no way to treat customers.
"I am encouraging any Bank of Ireland customer who gets their social welfare paid into their bank account to now consider transferring that payment to their local post office or credit union where they will get personal attention and a customer-friendly service."
Finance Minister Michael Noonan said the counter-restrictions were "surprising and unnecessary".
"The changes announced by Bank of Ireland today around in-branch lodgements and withdrawals is a commercial decision for the bank," he said.
"However, I consider these changes surprising and unnecessary."
Mr Noonan said he wanted to see the bank fully honour commitments to assist more vulnerable customers in branches and that he wanted a clarification from management on plans to facilitate customers.