Ulster Bank tops list for complaints upheld by financial ombudsman

Watchdog either partly, mostly or fully upheld 19 complaints against lender last year

Ulster Bank topped the list of financial institutions taken to task by the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman (FSPO) last year.

The watchdog’s annual complaints report shows Ombudsman Ger Deering upheld 19 complaints against Ulster Bank – 13 partially, four substantially and two fully.

This was the second year in a row the lender topped the list of upheld complaints.

Ulster Bank was last week fined a record €38 million by the Central Bank for regulatory breaches relating to the ongoing tracker mortgage scandal. The bank, which is owned by UK lender NatWest, has signalled its plan to exit the Republic's market and is winding down its operation here.


The next financial institutions on the Ombudsman's list were Permanent TSB with 18 upheld complaints, Bank of Ireland (12), Irish Life Assurance (9) and AIB (8). Insurers Allianz, Aviva and FBD had five upheld complaints each.

Overall, the Ombudsman received 5,395 new complaints in 2020 and closed a total of 6,193, up 35 per cent on the previous year despite the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In 600 cases, complainants identified Covid-19 as an element of their complaint, “including complaints around business interruption insurance which were given priority”, the report said.

More than half of the overall complaints (2,782) related to banking products, with mortgage complaints accounting for 1,389 complaints while 32 per cent of complaints (1,579) received related to insurance products.

Complainants benefited from compensation, redress and settlements to the value of €6.34 million.

In its report, it noted that in August last year FBD Insurance secured a legal order, requiring the Ombudsman to cease its formal investigation of a complaint made against it by a publican policyholder for business interruption-related losses. Pending the determination of these issues by the High Court, the office said it reached an agreement with FBD to "vacate the court order preventing the investigation of the complaint".

This meant it continued to investigate the complaint, but agreed not to issue a preliminary decision before the matter was dealt with by the High Court.

In February this year, the High Court struck out the legal proceedings.

“The FSPO welcomed the striking out of the case, which enabled the FSPO to continue with the adjudication of the complaint,” it said in its report.

Outstanding complaints

The Ombudsman also noted that the office received an additional 492 tracker mortgage complaints in 2020 and that more than 1,200 tracker mortgage complaints were outstanding.

"In 2020, my office significantly increased the volume of complaints managed and concluded, with an increase of 35 per cent in the number of complaints closed in comparison to 2019," Mr Deering said.

“This increase in complaints concluded is particularly notable given the challenges posed in 2020.

“During the year, in anticipation of the receipt of a considerable number of complaints arising from the Covid-19 pandemic, we put in place a number of measures to ensure the efficient management of these new complaints, as well as ensuring that any increase in complaint volumes would have minimal impact on the management of existing complaints.”

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy is Economics Correspondent of The Irish Times