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Brexit pensions saved after deal between Irish and UK governments

The governments of Ireland and Britain have guaranteed the continued payment of state pensions, child benefit and other social welfare payments in the event of the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal.

Thousands of people living here get pensions and other payments from Britain, while Ireland also pays people who live in the UK.

Now a legally binding agreement has been signed by the two governments.

It is estimated that around 133,000 people living here, mainly Irish citizens, are recipients of pensions from the UK.

The Irish Government pays contributory pensions to 29,000 people living in Britain.

Child benefit payments from here also flow to the UK.

Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty and her UK counterpart, Amber Rudd, the UK secretary of state for work and pensions, signed a convention at the start of the month to ensure the “reciprocity of social welfare rights and entitlements”.

These rights currently exist under what is known as the common travel area.

Ms Doherty said: “Under the terms of the agreement, all existing arrangements, with recognition of, and access to, social welfare entitlements will be maintained in both jurisdictions.

“This means that the rights of Irish citizens domiciled in Ireland to benefit from social insurance contributions made when working in the UK and to access social insurance payments if resident in the UK are protected.”

The deal has to be ratified by the Dáil, but that is thought to be a formality.

A spokesperson for Ms Doherty said the Government had been planning for a no-deal Brexit, ahead of the March 29 deadline for the UK’s exit from the EU.

However, there are still fears for the continued smooth payment of British private pensions after Brexit.

Correspondence from one pension provider advised its Ireland-based recipients to open UK bank accounts to avoid the loss of payments.

Pension Insurance Corporation told members here: “As it stands, insurance providers may not be able to continue paying out to overseas bank accounts after Britain leaves the EU in March 2019.”

The massive insurer, which pays pensions to 150,000 people in the UK and Ireland, said if a deal on future banking arrangements is not reached by March, it “will need to pay your pension into a UK bank account”.

Asked why people here could not be paid by cheque, a spokesman for Pension Insurance Corporation said: “We are investigating contingency plans and talking to the appropriate regulators.”

Jerry Moriarty, chief executive of the Irish Association of Pension Funds, said people here with private pensions from the UK should still get paid if there is a no-deal Brexit as it is their legal entitlement to receive the payments.

However, some British insurers may not continue to pay the pensions into an Irish bank account.

Mr Moriarty said: “Under European Union rules, you have a right to have your pension paid into any member state, but no one has a clue how this will work out when Britain leaves the EU.”

He added that this was because having a pension coming from another EU country paid into an account in the EU state where you live was an entitlement bound up with EU membership.

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Surge in companies looking for clearance for UK trade post-Brexit

There’s been a surge in the number of companies here applying to Revenue to get the necessary documentation for trading with UK firms following Brexit.

Revenue said over three times more companies applied in the month of February than in January for Economic Operators Registration and Identification (EORI) numbers.

The EORI is the minimum requirement for businesses that wish to trade with, or through, the UK when they leave the EU in 37 days time.

“Over the last number of months we have made direct contact with in excess of 80,000 businesses that will, most likely, be significantly impacted by Brexit,” Lynda Slattery, Head of Brexit Policy in Revenue’s Customs Division, said.

“We have engaged extensively with large economic operators, logistics companies, freight forwarders, haulage companies, Customs Agents, SME’s and software providers. Our message has been clear; you need to assess the impact of Brexit on your business and take the necessary action now, to mitigate the challenges that Brexit undoubtedly brings.”

Revenue says its priority in the context of Brexit is to facilitate the efficient and timely movement of legitimate trade.

It adds that it’s conscious of the priority for businesses to minimise the costs associated with Brexit but that it’s supporting them with information and guidance on preparing for trade with a non-EU country.

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Irish SMEs paying more for loans than EU counterparts

Irish small and medium enterprises (SMEs) pay on average three percentage points more interest on loans than the European Union average on amounts up to €250,000.

The introduction of Government-backed risk-sharing schemes, such as the Brexit Loan Scheme (where interest is capped at 4pc), are helping to address the difference, according to the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI).

Total lending supported by the SBCI has now passed €1bn, the agency said. It was set up to ensure favourable loan rates are available to SMEs, by funnelling State-sourced money through the banks. The agency says it supports just over 26,000 SMEs.

However, recently the country’s main banks stopped using the SBCI’s main original scheme, because low interest rates meant lenders could access cheap money themselves. In response, the SBCI has shifted towards risk-sharing schemes including credit guarantees to finance providers.

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How much will you pay? – Charlie Weston’s comparison on current account bank fees

BANKS are back to their old trick of increasing the charges for running a current account.

Both Permanent TSB and Ulster Bank have angered customers by announcing changes that will mean more people will get caught paying fees.

Remember, switching banks is actually a relatively easy process due to The Central Bank’s Switching Code.

This means switches have to be completed by the bank within a 10-day time frame. This includes the transfer of all direct debits and standing orders.

So how do the current account providers compare?

Bank of Ireland

Customers get hit with some high fees and charges for operating a day-to-day bank account.

There is a 20c fee for ATM withdrawals and a 10c charge for most other day-to-day transactions such as chip and pin, self-service lodgments, online transactions and for any direct debits or standing orders presented on the account. Contactless transactions are just €0.01 for now.

These fees can be avoided if you keep a balance of €3,000 in the account at all times.

And all current account holders get charged €5 a quarter, even if they are always €3,000 in credit.

Customers can avail of a new cashback rewards schemes called Live Life Rewards, which offers deals and discounts for using a debit card.

However, the bank has been criticised for not offering Apple Pay or Google Pay.


It will cost you a small fortune to operate an AIB current account unless you can keep €2,500 in your account at all time.

Failing to do this will mean a host of charges. Among them is a quarterly charge of €4.50. Other fees include 35c for ATM withdrawals, and 20c for most transactions such as chip and pin payments, self-service lodgments and any direct debits presented.

AIB’s mobile app is rated by price comparison site as one of the better ones in the market. And the bank offers Google Pay and Apple Pay.

Its Everyday Rewards scheme offers discounts and deals for using a debit card.

Ulster Bank

The bank is set to get just as expensive as AIB and Bank of Ireland when it introduces transactions charges from April.

Currently Ulster Bank charges its current account customers a monthly maintenance fee of €4, but it has no transactions charges for the likes of ATM withdrawals or for paying with a debit card.

It will reduce the monthly maintenance fee to €2, but will charge customers transactions fees for using the current account for their day-to-day banking.

The bank will impose a 20c charge for the likes of direct debit payments, point of sale transactions, and electronic payments into and out of the account using online, telephone and mobile banking.

ATM withdrawals will generate a fee of 35c, with 1c charged on contactless transactions and 80c for paper or staff-assisted transactions.

And there will be an 80c charge for cheque transactions, in addition to the government stamp duty of 50c.

Permanent TSB

It is changing the rules for those with its older current accounts, in a move that will mean thousands of them will end up paying fees.

The new terms and conditions will make it harder to qualify for fee-free banking.

Customers who do not qualify for free banking will have to pay €18 a quarter. This works out at €72 a year for using current accounts.

Changes will also see a reduction in interest paid for credit balances, and new overdraft fees.

The bank said there will be a new fee of €25 for setting up an overdraft facility or renewing one. Permanent is also cutting the interest rate it pays on credit balances in the accounts. Currently, the bank pays 0.25pc on balances up to €1,500. The new rate is 0.01pc.

The bank is imposing the changes on those who have legacy current accounts, and not to its flagship Explore Account which was introduced three years ago.

Explore Account has been the only current account the bank offers to new customers or to existing customers opening a new current account.

With Explore you can make a profit when it comes to fees. There is a €4 monthly account maintenance fee, but all day-to-day banking is free.

And you can earn 10c back every time you use your debit card to pay for something in store or online. You can earn up to €5 per month through this feature alone.


Customers who keep a balance of €2,500 in the standard KBC account can avoid fees. Otherwise, there is a 30c charge for ATM withdrawals and with the same charged for processing a cheque.

With the Extra current account, all day-to-day banking is free if you just lodge €2,500 a month. There is no overdraft setup fee and you will also receive preferential rates of interest on your savings account and mortgage that you hold with the bank.

The bank offers Google Pay, Apple Pay, Fitbit Pay and Garmin Pay, while its IT capability allows you to apply for a current account online.

An Post

A new player in the market, An Post is considered expensive by Its current account has a monthly maintenance fee of €5. The ATM withdrawal fee is 60c. All other day-to-day transactions are free.

There is a chance to offset these costs by earning money back by using their An Post debit card to make purchases in a partnered businesses. Customers can get 5pc back on a Lidl shop over €25 and SSE Airtricity customers can get 10pc off their bill when they pay by direct debit from the account.


German fintech N26 is a digital bank with a licence to operate here. Lauded for its mobile app, you can open an account in minutes using it. The app supports Goode Pay and Apple Pay.

There is no monthly fee and all day-to-day transactions are free. But you are only allowed five free ATM withdrawals a month. After that there pricey €2 charge per withdrawal.

Cash and cheque transactions are not permitted. A big plus is that there are no foreign exchange fees if you are using a non-Euro currency.

When you open an account you get an IBAN and IBEC number, meaning you can get paid into the account by your Irish employer and set up direct debits and standing orders just like with any other Irish bank account.

Which is best?

Both N26 and the Permanent TSB Explore accounts get the thumbs up from’s Daragh Cassidy. KBC is also good value but only if you can lodge €2,500 in the account on a monthly basis.

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An Post plans nationwide network of parcel lockers as online shopping soars

An Post is advancing plans for a nationwide network of self-service parcel locker stations to enable customers more conveniently access online deliveries and make returns.

It will put it in competition with existing providers, including Parcel Motel, the service that is part of Nightline. That group was acquired by UPS in 2017.

An Post said it had “a vision to become the e-commerce backbone of Ireland for shippers and shoppers”.

Last year, it said it was contemplating the installation of lockers in existing post offices.

The company has now said the new parcel locker system would be concentrated in high footfall areas in Dublin and key regional centres. An Post plans to initiate the contracts to install the lockers in November this year.

“An Post wants to make it easier for customers to collect and return parcels at locations and times that best suit them,” a spokesman said.

He said the move had been prompted as An Post transformed its business “in an increasingly digital world”, and in line with the surge in e-commerce activity.

An Post processed more than 30 million parcels last year, a 42pc increase on 2017, as shoppers increasingly opted to buy goods online, a trend that is putting huge pressure on many high street retailers.

“An Post is looking to roll out a range of new, physical touch points designed to complement its retail outlets network and offer online consumers exceptional convenience and flexibility when it comes to the delivery and returns of their parcels,” An Post has told prospective companies interested in supplying and installing the new locker stations.

It is envisaged they will be installed at points such as fuel forecourts, shopping centres and public transport nodes.

The tender is in two lots: one for the installation of the locker stations across the country, and the second for their maintenance over an initial five-year period.

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50,500 more people at work as unemployment plummets

There are 50,500 more people at work as unemployment plummeted by over 10pc in the last year.

The numbers employed rose by just over 2pc or 50,500 people.

This pushed the total number of people at work to 2.28 million.

The numbers unemployed fell by 15,200 or 10.5pc to 128,800 last year, according to the Central Statistics Office’s new Labour Force Survey.

Statistician Jim Dalton said the figures reflect continual growth in employment.

He said employment has increased for 26 consecutive yearly quarters.

The 2pc yearly rise in employment compared with an increase of over 3pc or 67,300 people the previous year.

Administrative and support service activities and construction enjoyed the biggest growth in employment.

However, the number of self employed workers slumped by almost 4pc or 12,100 people over the year to 319,600.

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45% of all properties bought with cash or savings

A new consumer monitor shows that 45% of all the properties sold last year were bought with cash or savings.

The latest quarterly Consumer Market Monitor, from the Marketing Institute of Ireland and UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School, shows that 55,000 homes were purchased in 2018, an increase of 8% on 2017.

The monitor reveals that almost 25,000 homes purchased with cash or savings last year, similar to the level of cash purchases made during the recession years of 2009 to 2013.

While the residential property market is growing, the monitor said the number of homes bought last year was about half the amount purchased during the height of the last boom in 2005, when 105,000 homes were sold.

It also shows an increase of 12% in the number of mortgages issued during 2018, with 30,629 drawn down.

But that is a considerably lower level than during the last boom, with 85,000 mortgages issued in 2005 and similar levels in 2006 and 2007.

The monitor also shows that while market growth was sluggish, demand remains high for housing in Ireland.

Construction has picked up in recent years, with 15,000 new units built in 2017, 18,000 new units built in 2018 and another 20,000 and 23,000 new homes set to come on stream in 2019 and 2020 respectively.

“However, based on the rate of new household formation, construction levels fall short of the number required to bring housing demand and supply into balance,” the monitor said.

“The CMM shows that there is a need for 350,000 extra housing units to meet demand over the next 10 years. This level of house-building would increase Ireland’s total housing stock by 17.5% to 2.35 million units,” it added.

Professor Mary Lambkin, who authored the report, said the consumer economy is performing well in most areas, but the residential property market is still lagging behind.

“The property market’s sluggish growth does not reflect the large increase in the working population and the rate of new household formation that has occurred over the past five years,” she said.

“While the number of homes for sale has increased to about 23,500, the level of property sales should be about double the current level, approaching the level that the market experienced during the early 2000s, when the workforce was about the same level as it is today,” the Professor added.

Tom Trainor, chief executive of the Marketing Institute of Ireland, said the outlook for 2019 is largely positive, with fundamental economic conditions remaining strong and likely to continue to drive employment and income growth.

“The risk of a hard Brexit is weakening consumer confidence, in turn moderating the outlook for spending. But also, the mismatch between property supply and demand means home prices and rents are likely to outpace pay and will hit disposable income,” Mr Trainor added.

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Revealed: Almost half of properties sold last year were bought with cash or savings

Approximately 45pc of all properties sold in 2018 were paid for with cash or savings.

This is similar to the level of cash purchases made during the recession years of 2009-2013, when mortgage approvals were at an all-time low.

Overall and growth in the property market remained “sluggish” in 2018, despite a high demand for housing in Ireland, according to the latest Consumer Market Monitor (CMM), from the Marketing Institute of Ireland and UCD Smurfit Business School.

There were 55,000 homes purchased in 2018, an increase of 8pc on the previous year. Almost 25,000 of these properties were bought with cash.

While the residential property market is growing, the number of homes purchased in Ireland in 2018 was approximately half the amount purchased during the height of the last boom in 2005, when 105,000 homes were sold.

In addition, while there was a 12pc increase in the number of mortgages issued during 2018, with 30,629 drawn down, this is a considerably lower level than during the last boom, with 85,000 mortgages issued in 2005 and similar levels in 2006 and 2007, the CMM found.

Professor Mary Lambkin, author of the report, said: “The property market’s sluggish growth does not reflect the large increase in the working population and the rate of new household formation that has occurred over the past five years.”

“While the number of homes for sale has increased to about 23,500, the level of property sales should be about double the current level, approaching the level that the market experienced during the early 2000s, when the workforce was about the same level as it is today.”

Looking forward, and residential property sales are expected to increase by 5pc this year to 58,000. This will be facilitated by the increasing rate of construction of new homes as well as increasing supply of second-hand properties coming on the market, according to the report.

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Ireland spending ‘hundreds of millions of euros’ on no-deal Brexit – Coveney

Ireland is spending “hundreds of millions of euros” on preparing for a no-deal Brexit, which would be a “crazy outcome” of three years of EU-UK negotiations, Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said.

“We are spending hundreds of millions of euros in Ireland preparing for a no-deal Brexit to try to protect Irish citizens in those circumstances,” he told reporters after talks with other EU foreign ministers. “We don’t want to have to do that.”

“Of course we want a solution here and yes, there is frustration in Ireland. We have less than 40 days to go to UK formally leaving the EU and we still don’t know what the British government is actually asking for to get this deal ratified.”

Coveney said the European Union wanted to find ways to help UK parliamentary ratification of the Brexit deal but that the lawmakers’ asks needed to be “reasonable”.

“We want to find ways of providing the reassurance and clarification the British Prime Minister needs to be able to sell that deal in Westminster. But that doesn’t involve reopening that withdrawal agreement,” he said.

“What we can’t do is essentially remove or change the guarantee and the insurance… that prevents border infrastructure in the future and replace it with something that is wishful thinking,” he said of the so-called Irish border “backstop” part of the stalled deal that is bitterly contested in the UK parliament.

He said Ireland and the EU would not accept a fixed time-limit on the backstop either as that would kill the purpose of the insurance policy.

But he reiterated the EU’s readiness to change the political declaration on future ties with Britain – which makes part of the Brexit package together with the legal divorce treaty – to include more assurances of clarifications on the backstop there.

“We have a deal, it was negotiated. And now we need to find a way of getting it ratified,” he said of the EU-UK sealed by Prime Minister Theresa May last November.

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Is investing in stocks a better bet than property?

Weekend newspaper supplements often quiz somebody reasonably well known about their finances. The answers are often the same: ‘money is not my main motivation, my priorities are my family, friends and employees’ and other assorted fibs. One question that always receives the same answer is about property versus shares. People always say that they much prefer investing in bricks and mortar. They don’t like equities because they are, it is often asserted, too volatile or too difficult to understand.

That point about volatility is essentially correct. Consider the last few months. Through the final quarter of last year there was plenty of commentary predicting another financial crisis. At the same time, global stock markets were falling, sometimes quite heavily.

One of the silliest games played by hyper educated people, who really should know better, is any attempt to explain short term movements in stock markets. Those falls of last year were rationalised by apocalyptic sounding analyses that essentially said ‘there is an awful lot of debt in the world’ and ‘it’s a long time since we last had a decent recession’. It’s important to remember that stock markets drive commentary, not the other way around.

So far in 2019, Armageddon has apparently been avoided, with a near 10 per cent rise in global stocks. That’s the tempting conclusion to draw: buoyant stocks mean that the world economy is in fine fettle. Unfortunately, that would be wrong – this year’s market bounce means absolutely nothing at all.

That’s right, just as the falls in markets late last year carried few discernible significant messages, double digit returns this year represent merely good fortune – luck – for anyone who bought stocks over the Christmas break. It’s no wonder that many people give up on stocks as too difficult: that unexplainable volatility is real. Property prices can go up and down, but it is widely believed they mostly go up and do so in a much smoother way than equities.

Beliefs are one thing, facts are another. Property is, in fact, a touch more volatile than most of us seem to realise
Beliefs are one thing, facts are another. Property is, in fact, a touch more volatile than most of us seem to realise. But real estate has offered handsome rewards to many a well-timed purchase. Certainly, anyone who has been able to ride out a property cycle or two has done very well: those celebrities subject to gentle financial interrogation often mention buying a house for next to nothing in the 1970s and observing how many millions it is worth today. Good luck to them.

Facts are sacred
The fact is, notwithstanding the fabulous gains from their house purchase, they would, generally, have done better in stock markets. A more volatile ride, certainly, but the rewards would have been much better. The preference for property, notwithstanding the historically superior returns from stocks, must be driven by that fear of volatility: the fact that stocks produce the best returns of any asset class over the long run has been known for decades.

These are all general remarks about stocks. If we get more specific, we can build a slightly better case for the prosecution. Some stock markets, like the UK, have had a torrid couple of decades: the FTSE100 index, for instance, is currently at a level first seen in the late 1990s. Many stock markets have been beaten by bond market returns over the recent past, as well as some property markets. Bonds are not supposed to beat stocks according to the text books. Nevertheless, that general point about stocks is still correct: wait long enough and you will, typically, do better than any other investment you could reasonably make.

Second, that phrase, ‘wait long enough’, is a cop-out, since nobody can ever attach a precise meaning to it
Two slightly more sophisticated arguments about stocks would focus on time: first, all that data suggesting superior returns is, obviously, taken from the past. Second, that phrase, ‘wait long enough’, is a cop-out, since nobody can ever attach a precise meaning to it. How long is enough? Years or decades? We simply don’t know. And modern investors, we are told, should focus on algorithmically driven, super leveraged high-frequency trading if they want to make serious money from stocks. It really is no wonder that many of us give up and put our faith in property. Even if stocks are better in the long run, we understand property and the returns are still good enough, even if they aren’t necessarily the best – ‘good enough’ is a very underrated concept in the fee driven asset management world.

Time dependent
But remember that point about time: the conclusions we draw about property are as time dependent as the arguments we make about stocks, or any other investment. They are as backward looking as all investment conclusions typically are.

That definitive favouring of property over stocks is, therefore, perfectly understandable. But is it right? Will property be ‘good enough’ in the future? I have my doubts, particularly about residential property. First, it is interesting – but probably no more than that – to observe property prices flat or falling in many different parts of the world. Second, the global populist scourge is driven by many things but unaffordable housing is a big part of the story. There are a lot of vested interests lining up to stop property prices rising further. That’s not true of stocks.

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