Explainer - What is "IBAN discrimination" and what can I do about it?

What is IBAN DiscriminationIf you have a euro payment account with a payment service provider, for example with a bank or credit union in the European Union, you will be provided with an International Bank Account Number or IBAN. 

Your IBAN is a unique combination of numbers and letters that identifies your account in the Single European Payments Area or SEPA.

SEPA includes all 28 members of the EU as well as:

  • Iceland
  • Liechtenstein
  • Monaco
  • Norway
  • Switzerland
  • Andorra
  • San Marino
  • Vatican City.

What does my IBAN look like?

Your IBAN will start with two letters to denote the SEPA country where the account is based, e.g. IE for Ireland or DE for Germany.

This country code is followed by two "check digits", and finally a country-specific basic bank account number.

For example, an Irish IBAN looks like: IE29AIBK93115212345678

A German IBAN looks like: DE89370400440532013000

In Ireland, the standard length of an IBAN is 22 characters made up of a combination of letters and numbers but it can be up to 34 characters long in other SEPA countries.

What is my IBAN used for?

Your IBAN is used to make and receive domestic and international euro payments across SEPA countries.

These payments were harmonised in 2014 when IBANs were made the standard identifier for all SEPA bank accounts.

What does this mean for consumers?

What this means is that you can make a cross border euro bank transfer within SEPA just as quickly, easily and cheaply as you can within your home country.

One of the main benefits of this is that you can use a single payment account for euro transfers and do not need to open multiple bank accounts.

So for example, if you are from Ireland but work in another European or SEPA country, your employer can pay your wages into your Irish bank account as if you were at home.

You can also set up a direct debit with a utility provider in another EU member state using your Irish bank account.

All you need to do is give your employer or utility provider your Irish IBAN.

Similarly, if you have a payment account in another SEPA country but live in Ireland you can use your home bank account for all euro payment credit transfers and direct debits.

All you need to do is give your Irish employer or utility provider your IBAN starting with the country code of your home country e.g. "DE" for a German bank or "GB" for a UK bank.

What is IBAN discrimination?

IBAN discrimination is where an employer or company, such as a utility company, refuses to accept your SEPA IBAN for euro payments or direct debits.

IBAN discrimination is not permitted under the SEPA.

An Irish employer or utility company cannot insist you open or maintain an Irish bank account for euro transfers.

What can I do if believe my IBAN is subject to discrimination?

If a company or employer in Ireland says it will only accept an Irish IBAN for a direct debit or credit transfer, we advise you to take the following steps:

  • Advise them that they are obliged to accept IBANs from other SEPA countries (Article 9 of the SEPA Regulation).
  • Send a formal written complaint if necessary.
  • If you do not receive a satisfactory response to your complaint you can report the alleged breach to the relevant competent authority (see below for further details).

Who is the relevant competent authority for SEPA in Ireland?

In cases involving consumers and traders (such as a utility provider), the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) is the competent authority.

You can contact the CCPC's helpline at: Lo-call 1890 432 432.

For all other cases, the Central Bank of Ireland is the competent authority for the purposes of the SEPA Regulation in Ireland. 

You can contact the Central Bank’s helpline at: enquiries@centralbank.ie or Lo-call 1890 777 777.

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