Tracker mortgage scandal: ‘We still find ourselves in turmoil’

Homeowners tell of trauma, stress and trickery over higher than necessary repayments

Hazel Melbourne and Thomas Ryan, victims of the tracker mortgage scandal, speak to the Oireachtas finance committee.

 

The impact of the tracker mortgage scandal on the lives of the thousands of people who were caught up in it was laid bare in heartbreaking detail before the Oireachtas finance committee on Thursday morning.

Four homeowners who were wrongly taken off valuable tracker mortgages by Permanent TSB and Ulster Bank and subsequently forced to pay tens of thousands of euro more in repayment than necessary told of the huge impact the ongoing struggle had on their health and well-being.

And they spoke of a lost decade during which they were robbed of their financial independence and bullied by bankers.

The group were brought together by financial adviser Padraic Kissane who has been fighting on behalf of wronged tracker holders for almost 10 years.

He told the committee that the experiences of the four people was “reflective of customers across all lenders and representative of thousands of lives”.

He said each story was “deeply personal and difficult to share” and added that the victims had had issues with their health, with their relationships and their well-being and had been forced by banks to carry a burden of “shame” as a result of getting into financial difficulties despite the fact that they were all “good hard-working, decent, brave people”.

He accused the 15 banks who have been caught up in the scandal to one degree or another of having “a collective lack of empathy” and consistently displaying a “condescending” attitude to the customers they had wronged.

Mr Kissane said banks had “assumed customers would roll over” and he referred to “hollow apologies and continued trickery” and asked what – if any – “moral compass do they possess”?

Thomas Ryan and his wife Claire were customers of Permanent TSB and in early 2009 he contacted the bank with a view to breaking out of “fixed-rate” interest terms on mortgages of more than €1 million on their family home in Wexford and a property in Dublin.

He believed he had secured agreement on cheaper interest rates for a time after which he could revert to an earlier tracker rate. The bank’s later insistence he could not revert to the tracker rate meant interest charges of €4,290 a month, rather than €2,090, from December 2009.

The issue was referred to the ombudsman but their complaint was rejected and it was only when the case went before the High Court that a “highly relevant” transcript of the recorded phone conversation between PTSB and Thomas Ryan on the renegotiation of interest rates was uncovered.

But the struggle continued and has yet to be fully resolved. “I suffered a stroke in 2013 and my wife suffered a nervous breakdown into 2015,” Mr Ryan told the committee. His wife lost her speech for a period and still struggles. “The conditions are medically attributable to enormous stress,” he said. “We are begging you to please sort this out for once and for all.”

He said the “life changing traumas are etched on our lives forever” and he highlighted the impact of the distress and the illness on his teenage children, describing it as heartbreaking.

Mr Ryan said the banks had “destroyed lives” and added that “all over the country there are people who are no longer with us, they have committed suicide over this but the banks don’t care”.

Hazel Melborne was with PTSB said being forced off a tracker by her bank and her attempts to have it restored over a period of six years had been “devastating” and “heartbreaking”. She said that a huge part of their lives had been taken away and the control her family had once had over their financial destiny had been “robbed”.

She said she and her husband had spent years “blaming ourselves” and highlighted the “huge stress” it placed on them as a couple. “We did nothing to deserve this; we still find ourselves in turmoil,” she said. “Where is the justice?”

Niamh Byrne said she was wrongly forced off a tracker by Ulster Bank and she pointed out that this problem has now been going on for “nine years, two months and 28 days”. She said she “had lost her 30s to this” and had been completely priced out of the current housing market as a result.

Helen Grogan switched to PTSB from the EBS as it was offering a 0.8 per cent tracker which was slightly less than the 1 per cent tracker she had been on with EBS. She told the committee that she moved because he had a large mortgage and the slightly reduced rate would have led to some savings.

She was then told the 0.8 per cent rate would be discounted to 0.6 per cent for the first year. But after the first 12 months she was told by PTSB that her tracker mortgage would climb to 2.25 per cent. She was given the option to switch to a variable rate which initially was cheaper than the tracker that had been on the table, so she went for that.

Then it started to climb. She told the committee she had paid over €40,000 in unnecessary additional payments as a result and she estimated that over the course of the life of the mortgage the overpayments could amount to as much as €80,000.

She pointed out that she was coming up to retirement and had hoped to have cleared her mortgage by that stage, but it would be hanging over her until she was close to 70. She spoke of the “rage and frustration and anger that I was ripped off and duped by the bank”.