Pricewatch: Readers’ queries

Consumer concerns this week include Permanent TSB’s ‘significant failures’, car-hire companies and mobile phone charges

Bank does itself permanent damage over tracker fiasco
Last week, Permanent TSB made headlines after an enforcement investigation by the Central Bank identified "significant failures" by both PTSB and its subsidiary company, Springboard Mortgages, connected to tracker mortgage options and rates.

The bank mismanaged the accounts of nearly 1,400 mortgage customers – at least 22 of whom lost their homes as a result of its multiple failures.

Among the issues identified by the investigation was PTSB’s failure to inform certain customers of the consequences of their decisions to break early from a fixed rate or discounted tracker period.

The result of breaking early was that they lost their contractual right to be offered a tracker rate when their fixed rate or discounted tracker period would have ended.

The bank also failed to inform other customers of their right to be offered a tracker rate at the end of any fixed rate period.

Ombudsman cases

The issue came to light only after two couples who held mortgages took a case to the Financial Services Ombudsman. Both couples had been on tracker mortgages and moved to fixed rates.

They then broke the term of their fixed rates early in a bid to revert to a tracker mortgage in a period between 2009 and 2010.

Their contracts allowed for this at the expiry of the fixed term. However, as they broke their fixed terms early, PTSB would not allow them to revert.

The Financial Services Ombudsman, William Prasifka, ruled in their favour and found the bank had erred by not providing them with sufficient information about the consequences of breaking their fixed rate early. The bank went to the High Court, which upheld the FSO's findings in August 2012.

PTSB then appealed to the Supreme Court. The case was listed for earlier this year, but the bank dropped it before the court hearing.

A reader contacted us to “make people aware of the traumatic effect of this so-called error”. He asked us to withhold his name, but he says he is “enraged knowing that no one person in the bank will be held accountable. And they think they can insult the customers affected by offering a disgraceful compensation package.”

PTSB has said it will pay a maximum of €50,000 to an owner-occupier affected by its failures and said if its failure was a “key factor” in ownership of the property being lost, any money still owed would be written-off. It has also apologised.

Few, if any, of those affected are likely to be mollified by the apology. And does anyone think that a €50,000 payoff for losing a home as a result of a bank’s failure really is adequate compensation?

Rest insured, car hire firms will get you
We received a mail from Turlough Kinane about car hire.

“Just dropping you a note in regard to car rental companies,” it starts. “I often rent cars for business trips in the UK and feel they are difficult to deal with, and a lot of the blurb is very confusing in relation to the insurance. I ordered a car online for a trip in the UK last week. I got charged for damage to the car, which was not my doing, and I have not received satisfaction of my complaint.

“Is there a consumer body who represents who I can make a complaint to?”

The problem is the companies can hit consumers with charges and then stonewall all complaints. This is made easier due to the cross-border nature of the queries. If anyone has any issues related to car hire, the best starting point is the European Consumer Centre. It has repeatedly said that car rental leads to complaints as people struggle to find redress using traditional channels, so it is accustomed to dealing with the issue.

The centre can be reached through eccireland.ie.

Mobile firm makes every minute count
Last week, we carried an item on the "unlimited" packages offered by mobile phone companies. Alongside the text was a chart detailing the offerings of the companies doing business here. Something in that chart caught Sean O Kiersey's eye.

He wrote to us to say there were “16 lines of charges, of which 10 give charge allowances for 1,450 call minutes per day. Interesting, isn’t it, that a 24-hour day has only 1,440 minutes? No wonder these companies get their bills wrong!

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor and cohost of the In the News podcast

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