The banking crisis that has brought financial turmoil to thousands of people has dragged into a second week with customers facing further frustration after Ulster Bank said it will take until Friday to clear the backlog.
Bosses have said that they are not exactly sure how fast the build-up in unprocessed payments will be cleared, but that it is likely to take the rest of the week.
Ulster Bank's customers across the province and those of other banks are continuing to face difficulties with their accounts due to a technical problem.
Eight of its branches opened in Northern Ireland yesterday — for the first time on a Sunday — to deal with clients whose accounts had stopped working.
The massive fault has disrupted payments in to and out of thousands of accounts since Tuesday, with the bank admitting that the problem is taking “significantly longer than expected to sort”.
It says the source of the software glitch at parent company RBS, which has also hit NatWest and Ulster Bank systems, has been fixed, but it is struggling to clear the backlog of payments hit, which it has described as “unprecedented”.
Some 100,000 people have not received wages, pensions and child support payments. Monthly insurance and mortgage repayments, direct debits and other automated payments have also been affected.
The computer meltdown has also left around 27,000 vulnerable people without benefit payments since Wednesday.
Ulster Bank’s chief operating officer Ellvena Graham has apologised to customers for the “mayhem” and “chaos” caused and she pledged that all fees and charges incurred will be reimbursed.
In a statement the bank said that opening hours will be extended to 6pm today in approximately 80 of its branches.
“Ulster Bank customers and customers of other banks continue to be affected by our ongoing technical issue,” it read.
“The scale of the backlog is unprecedented and across the group we are working around the clock to get this resolved.
“However, in Ulster Bank’s case we have encountered a significant number of minor issues which require manual intervention. This has delayed us being able to move forward as quickly as we would have liked, to automatically process payments from subsequent days.
“The result is that it will be towards the end of this week before we will be operating back at real time for all our customers.”
There was criticism of the bank among customers yesterday after it opened just eight of its branches between 10am and 1pm.
Tracey Brown (40), a primary school teacher from Belfast, said that not being able to withdraw money had been a “nightmare”.
“I have had to physically go into the bank to get cash today and it has been horrific with so many people finding themselves in the same situation,” Mrs Brown said.
“I’ve just joined Ulster Bank, having been with another provider for 20 years, and this has been a baptism of fire for me.”
Meanwhile, an Ulster Bank account holder contacted the Belfast Telegraph to say ATMs in Armagh were issuing extra cash to people making withdrawals using Ulster Bank cards.
“The accounts weren’t being updated, so if your balance was £20, you could take £20 out over and over again,” he said. “Some people were lifting thousands of pounds out of cash machines.”
Regular updates will also be posted on the bank’s website www.ulsterbank.co.uk/help
100,000: The number of Ulster Bank customers affected in Northern Ireland
27,000: The number of people on benefits who are affected
6: Days since the banking crisis started
8: The number of Ulster Bank branches that opened in Northern Ireland yesterday
20: The total number of Ulster Bank branches that opened in Northern Ireland and Ireland
5.4m: The number of NatWest, RBS and Ulster Bank customers affected across the UK and Ireland
Disgruntled customers thronging branches vow to vote with their feet
It certainly wasn’t for the faint-hearted. Or the impatient. Ulster Bank at Donegall Square East, Belfast — one of only eight branches open in Northern Ireland yesterday — was thronged with scores of disgruntled customers trying to access their money.
On an otherwise sleepy-feeling Sunday, the bank was a hotbed of activity as cash-squeezed crowds converged in earnest to withdraw funds after an IT glitch threw the banking system into disarray.
Everyone knew their chance to make withdrawals in person was limited to between 10am and 1pm, and the rush began shortly after 12pm.
There were women with prams, men with children and lone crusaders all trying to sort out whatever problems the computer meltdown had caused them.
A lengthy queue snaked its way from the entrance right through the building where staff were doing their best to help clients.
Some people raced up to the building, frantically pushing at one set of doors at the front, then the next, for fear they were locked out.
“Chaotic”, “horrendous” and “inconvenient” were words that cropped up again and again. “Unbelievable”, “disastrous” and “you wouldn’t think something like this could happen in this day and age” were also frequent utterances. Although most people looked completely fed up as they waited to be served, there were no ugly scenes or signs of tempers flaring.
There were managers on site who appeared to be helping to meet and greet clients and that seemed to calm nerves.
The majority of customers said they were thinking about changing banks after the debacle, although others were more understanding.
A lot of people also said that all banks should open on Sundays as a rule rather than — as in this case — an exception.
And almost everyone thought that opening for just three hours yesterday was far from good enough.
Salary blunders and holiday horrors: customers who were left high and dry
As the IT fiasco affecting NatWest, RBS and Ulster Bank dragged into a sixth day, consumer correspondent Claire McNeilly spoke to some of the customers outside the Ulster Bank branch at Belfast’s Donegall Square East, which opened from 10am until 1pm yesterday.
Belfast plumber Alan Mearns (32) and his partner found themselves with no money during a holiday in Spain.
“We were left high and dry because we couldn’t get any money out of the cash machine abroad. We ended up having to borrow money from people that had been on the plane with us. It completely ruined our holiday. In addition, we spent a fortune ringing up to try and find out what was going on. I’m thinking about changing banks.”
Belfast man Karl Gray (21), who works for Royal Mail, said the glitch was a massive inconvenience.
He said: “I got my pay slip on Friday but nothing went into my account. This is just not acceptable. The problem will still be here this week. It’s too much effort to have to physically go into the bank to get money. If this happens again I’m going to move to another bank because this is just not good enough.”
Hotel worker Chris Campbell (23), from Belfast, was unable to go away for the weekend because of the IT fiasco.
He said: “My pay didn’t go into
the bank. I didn’t know it had happened until I tried to book a flight to Liverpool and apparently didn’t have the money to cover it. It’s a real hassle to have to go to the bank. I’ll probably stick with Ulster Bank, as long as this is a one-off.”
Youth Action worker Robert Gorman (18), from Belfast, said it was taking too long to resolve the situation.
“I came here today to take some money out because nobody seems to know when things will be up and running properly again. It’s bad that it has taken so long to fix the problem and it makes me feel a bit like changing banks. You don’t expect something like this to happen in this day and age.”
Belfast man Damien Longley (26), who works in the Premier Inn Hotel, said he has had several problems with the bank.
“I have had an ongoing issue with Ulster Bank. My former employer accidentally told the bank that I had died and since then I haven’t been able to get my wages without going in manually. The issue about the computer going down is the easiest thing I’ve had to deal with this year, their customer service is horrendous.”
Daniel Ward (22), an electrician from Belfast, said he had lost his bank card on holiday.
“I came in to cancel my card and get out some money. They can’t give me an answer as to when my money is going to be credited to my current account, but this is the only problem I’ve had with them since I’ve been a customer so I’ll stay with them.”
Belfast couple Fred (63) and Alison (60) McMullan, a retired engineer and checkout operator respectively, said they have had to lend their daughter money.
“Our daughter Helen, who is a shop assistant, didn’t get her pay on Friday so we’ve been helping her out. This type of thing could happen to any of the banks, but it does make you consider changing”
Emma Hussey (32), a stay-at-home mum from Belfast, couldn’t make withdrawals from bank machines.
“I haven’t had any money to do anything so it has been quite tough for the last few days. I had to go in to the bank to make a withdrawal, but the bank has been very good and they paid for a taxi to take me to the branch and back home. However, I would certainly think about changing banks.”