Q&A: Dominic Coyle

Getting the run around from Bank of Ireland and ICS


In 2008, my husband and I took out a joint mortgage with ICS Building Society. We weren’t bothered by the closure of their Mortgage Store outlets shortly after that since we were meeting repayments and not thinking of moving. We are now thinking about trading up.

The last four months have been spent trying to find someone in either ICS or Bank of Ireland Mortgages, who will take responsibility for our account and answer some questions regarding our position should we sell in negative equity.

Having been advised to put our own proposals in writing (to the Arrears Support Unit no less), one month and two phone calls later we received a response advising us to speak with a member of Bank of Ireland mortgage staff.

However, staff in three separate branches have assured us that they cannot discuss an ICS mortgage, information completely at odds with what their colleagues in BoI Mortgages customer services are telling us.

I would imagine we are close to a dozen phone calls at this stage but have gotten no further in getting to speak to someone in person about our circumstances.

So, we cannot even think about selling, or buying, until we can clarify what our options are. Thus the bind in which we find ourselves, is making for a very frustrating and stressful situation.

At the moment, we are waiting on (yet another) promise of a returned phone call, so hopefully you may have some advice in the meantime. I would imagine stopping our repayments might finally get their attention but, regretfully, not for the right reasons.

Ms C O’B, Wicklow

You’re right, it would get their attention and at least you would more appropriately be dealing with the Arrears Support Unit. Your story has the making of an MBA case study in how not to run a customer services business. It’s disgraceful.

Even the fact that you were directed to the Arrears Support Unit speaks volumes about the bank’s sensitivity. At a time of austerity when everyone is struggling to meet their financial obligations, you and your husband have been making your mortgage payments in line with your contract. You’re looking to trade up and, on the basis of your payment record, your service with the bank and its professed interest in lending despite mixed evidence, you would appear to have a reasonable chance of securing a new mortgage from the bank . . . or the building society.

For those not in the know, ICS Building Society is owned (for now) by Bank of Ireland. I say for now because earlier this month the European Commission directed – as part of a renegotiation of Bank of Ireland’s restructuring supported by you the taxpayer – that it should sell or close the ICS as part of the price for being allowed to retain ownership of its New Ireland Assurance business.

I would be reluctant to deal any further in phone calls. Where this cannot be avoided, each call should be followed up with an email confirming the outcome of the call, the course of action agreed and the timeframe. If you have to proceed further, you will want evidence to back up your claim.

So where to proceed? Having spent four months on this futile and increasingly frustrating experience, you should ask specifically about the bank and the building society’s complaints procedure and you should follow this in parallel – if only to prevent them sending you from Billy to Jack. Insist on getting a written copy of the procedure.

Don’t let them delay. If they do not address your concerns, move up along the company and its procedure, making sure you follow the steps required. Ultimately, if still dissatisfied, you will need to approach the financial services ombudsman.

You and your husband have been good customers of ICS / Bank of Ireland; given their current enfeebled state, you are the sort of customers they should be looking after to have a long-term future. Clearly for all the harsh lessons the banks – and their staff – have learned in recent times, they have yet to grasp fully some of the lessons.

This column is a reader service and is not intended to replace professional advice. Please send your questions to Q&A, c/o Dominic Coyle, The Irish Times, 24-28 Tara Street, Dublin 2, or to dcoyle@irishtimes.com