Ombudswoman Lora Vidović initiated an investigation on suspected discrimination after receiving a complaint filed against a commercial bank for not issuing cards for protected accounts, owned by enforcement debtors. This means they cannot use ATMs or other banking services available to other clients with bank cards, such as contactless payment or internet banking, but instead are forced to go to the bank. As many enforcement debtors are older persons and chronically ill, who are in increased risk of coronavirus infection and should therefore avoid unnecessary social contact, such practice could constitute discrimination based on property, socio-economic status and health.
This problem also relates to those living in smaller municipalities in rural areas, without bank offices, because of additional costs of going to the nearest bank, and has been enhanced in March and April during the limited possibility to leave the place of residence and permanent stay, as an infection prevention measure. In her 2015 Annual Report, Ombudswoman warned about this problem and recommended all banks to issue bank cards for protected accounts, so citizens could use ATMs and internet banking services without limitation. Several of them have since implemented the recommendation, but the majority decided only to consider it or immediately refused to do it, while some have never responded.
As five years have passed since, and due to the coronavirus related circumstances, Ombudswoman requested the Croatian National Bank (CNB) to provide information regarding the implementation of this recommendation and to inform her about all activities and measures taken to enable owners of such accounts to withdraw their money using ATM’s, as well as to use contactless payment and internet banking services.
This problem could be an example of indirect discrimination where a seemingly neutral provision, criterion or practice puts or might put someone in a less favourable position in regard to others in a comparable situation, unless they can be objectively justified by a legitimate aim, while means to achieve it are appropriate and necessary.
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