THE Irish Brokers' Association has launched a blistering assault on the state's financial regulator, accusing it of overcharging the financial services industry by 1.5m last year.

In an unprecedented rebuke, IBA chief executive Paul Lynch said the overcharging exposed the regulator's double standards because it failed to return the money immediately to the financial firms affected.

The regulator forced AIB and other financial institutions to rebate customers with interest when a string of overcharging scandals came to light last year. But its 1.5m overcharge, stemming from the fees collected for policing the financial services industry, is being deemed a discount on this year's bills.

The regulator has an annual budget of 45m, which is drawn jointy from the state and the financial services industry. Last year's overcharging happened because the regulator overestimated the expenses budgeted for 2004.

Lynch said the watchdog was behaving in a way it would not tolerate from the industry it polices. He also accused it of excessive red tape and refusing to listen to the firms it polices. He said there was "intense frustration and annoyance" among IBA members, who include all of the country's top insurance brokers, but they were afraid to speak up out of fear of provoking a backlash from the regulator.

Lynch said the 1.5m overcharge should have been rebated immediately. "If the regulator took the approach they took with other institutions that have overcharged, this money would have been reimbursed, " he said.

Lynch also accused the regulator of bombarding the industry with proposals for tougher rules and stronger consumer protection and then refusing to listen to the feedback.

"They look for submissions from industry, cherry pick the ones that support the positions they've already decided on, and then bring out their conclusions, " he said. "We don't consider that a consultation process."

He said the IBA had raised its concerns with the regulator in July but that its letter had not even been acknowledged. "If we treated our customers in the same way that the regulator treats us, we'd be quite rightly hauled over the coals, " he said.