Angry customers of Ulster Bank have threatened to close their accounts after a technical glitch left 100,000 out of pocket in a crisis which is entering its third day.
Millions of NatWest, RBS and Ulster Bank clients across the UK reported wages and benefits not being paid in, direct debits not going in or out and not being able to view transactions online at a time of the month when many people are paid.
Parents, pensioners, small businesses, farmers, holidaymakers and the unemployed have all been affected by the bungle, which bank officials say may be sorted at some stage today.
Some Ulster Bank ATMs were not working yesterday, while others experienced problems lodging cheques. Computers and other electronic equipment in many branches have not been operating since Wednesday.
Thousands of angry customers took to social networking sites to vent their anger at the delays in payment and an alleged lack of communication from Ulster Bank.
Others claimed that their debit or credit cards were rejected in shops, petrol pumps and over the phone.
While there were reports of frayed tempers at some Ulster Bank branches yesterday, outside the main Donegall Square office in Belfast, there was a mood of bewilderment. Customers said staff were unable to tell them when the situation would be rectified.
A number of Ulster Bank branches in bigger cities and towns remained open until 7pm last night to deal with customers’ concerns.
The bank, which is 82% owned by the UK taxpayer, trades as Ulster Bank in Ireland.
A spokesman for Ulster Bank said that investigations were under way. “Ulster Bank can confirm that we continue to experience a major technical issue which is resulting in a one-day delay in processing certain payments and we apologise unreservedly for this,” he said.
“We have been working throughout the day to minimise the impact for our customers and customers of other banks. We continue to work to resolve this issue and to minimise the impact. We will ensure that those who are affected do not suffer any financial loss.”
“We will be keeping approximately 80 Ulster Bank branches open today until 7pm in major towns and cities to assist customers who are unable to get to their branch during working hours and our 60 Saturday opening branches will open as usual this weekend. ATM and anytime internet and mobile banking services are available but are reflecting the one-day delay in customers’ balances.
“We will continue to publish regular updates on our websites.”
Alliance party MLA Stewart Dickson said the fault has created major disruption for Northern Ireland’s small and medium businesses.
And Antoinette McKeown, chief executive of the Consumer Council, said that it is working with many people who have been severely inconvenienced due to the processing error.
“People may be relying on this money to pay for vital items such as transport and food,” she said.
“The Consumer Council strongly recommends that anyone who needs to either access cash today, is worried about going overdrawn, or meeting agreed payments, visit or telephone their nearest Ulster Bank branch to put special arrangements in place until the error is resolved.
“The Consumer Council acknowledges the commitment given by Ulster Bank but intends to monitor this situation so that the bank ensures no customer loses out as a result of this error.”
QWhat is the problem and how did it happen?
AThe main problem Ulster Bank customers are experiencing is that when people have had money go into their accounts overnight, there may be a delay in it showing up on their balance.
QI think I have not been paid, what should I do?
AIf you've not been paid , speak to your bank to see if it can help, and to your employer.
QWill I be penalised because of late payments?
AIf you have fees added to your account, due solely to the technical fault, the bank should refund them. The bigger issue is with third party transactions such as you missing a payment elsewhere. If you think that is likely, notify the third party soon and explain, and hopefully it will wipe any charges. If it doesn't, speak to the bank under the ‘treating customers fairly' Financial Services Authority principle.
QWho should I call if I still have a problem?
AIf you are unhappy with service from your bank, you should complain directly to them in the first instance. If you are not satisfied with their response you can take your complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS). The FOS helps settle individual disputes between banks and their customers and it is completely impartial and free. Call 0800 0234 567 or go to www.|financial-ombudsman.org.uk.
QDoes this mean that the bank is in trouble? Should I withdraw my cash?
AUlster Bank has assured customers that the problem is purely a technical error and that it will be resolved as soon as possible.