Ulster Bank wrongly told customers they were not entitled to Covid-19 mortgage payment break extensions after initially informing them that they had qualified for the concession.
Banks have allowed workers hit by coronavirus restrictions to take breaks on their mortgage repayments. These three-month “payment holidays” can be extended by up to three more months if customers’ incomes remain affected by the crisis.
Ulster Bank recently told a number of customers by text that they were entitled to the extension. It then texted them to say they were not entitled to the extension, although the bank never actually withdrew the payment break.
One person who complained to the lender about the issue in recent weeks received €150 compensation for the error.
According to the customer, the bank staff member to whom they spoke confirmed that Ulster had made the mistake with “a number of customers”, and observed that those affected were understandably annoyed with the lender.
Ulster Bank initially offered this person €50, but upped this sum to €150 when the customer told staff the figure was not enough.
The customer confirmed that the bank had not withdrawn either their payment break or its extension despite having wrongly told them they did not qualify.
David Hall, chief executive of the Irish Mortgage Holders' Organisation, confirmed that three other Ulster Bank clients had complained to the consumer rights' group about the same problem.
In all cases Ulster Bank told clients they had qualified for the mortgage payment break extension, then told them they had failed to qualify. But at no point in any of the cases had the bank withdrawn either the payment break or the extension itself.
A spokeswoman for the lender stressed that no Ulster Bank customer who was entitled to a payment break, or a payment break extension, had it withdrawn from them, “and we have provided over 12,000 payment breaks”.
The spokeswoman said the bank knew of an “unacceptable administrative failure” in relation to one customer, which it could not discuss due to client confidentiality.
Regarding the issue of texting customers, the spokeswoman said this had been done to communicate with them quickly, and was supported by phone calls, emails and letters.
Mr Hall dismissed suggestions that the problems encountered by the Ulster Bank customers could happen only to one person.
“Nothing in banks is isolated; their systems won’t allow it. If it happens to one customer it happens to at least a batch of customers in that pile.”
Mr Hall noted that in the experience of his group Ulster Bank’s communication with its customers was poorer than that of other lenders in the Republic.
Consumer advocate Brendan Burgess, of Askaboutmoney. com, pointed out that Ulster Bank last year topped the league for complaints upheld by the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman.
Those figures, published earlier this year, show that the ombudsman fully upheld 11 complaints against Ulster Bank, substantially upheld three and partially upheld seven, for a total of 21.
The next nearest was Irish Life with 20 upheld complaints, five of which were fully upheld.
Mr Burgess pointed out that Ulster Bank offered its customers good mortgages “but sometimes it just does not seem to be able to deal with customers efficiently”.