Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

Ulster Bank’s computer chaos may enter a third week

No guarantees Friday will herald return to normal

Customers at the Ulster Bank branch in Donegall Square East, Belfast. A computer glitch has meant that around 100,000 people in Northern Ireland have had trouble accessing the money in their accounts

Chaos caused by Northern Ireland’s longest runing bank computer failure is set to continue into a third week, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

Around 100,000 Ulster Bank customers here have been unable to pay bills or move money since a routine software update went wrong last Tuesday night.

The bank said the scale of the backlog created by the technical glitch was “unprecedented”, but it had been hoped that it would be business as usual by Friday.

However, Stephen Cruise, managing director of retail banking in Northern Ireland, told this newspaper that there were no guarantees that all operations would return to normal.

“It was an RBS Group problem and we have all been working round the clock since last Wednesday to meet the specific needs of the customers affected by it,” said Mr Cruise.

“Ulster Bank has encountered a significant number of minor issues which require manual intervention, which is why we have taken longer to get fixed.

“We cannot guarantee that we will have customers’ balances back to where they should be given the unprecedented nature of what happened, but we are working night and day to try and get us to as good a position as we can on Friday,” he added.

Mr Cruise also said that all interest and fees on credit cards had been waived, provided the money was repaid within 30 days.

He added: “There are 135,000 Ulster Bank credit cards in Northern Ireland.

“That’s another avenue for the public to get through these days until we get things fixed.”

So far, the RBS Group — NatWest, RBS and Ulster Bank —has refused to give a detailed explanation of the cause of the meltdown, despite customers demanding answers.

The ensuing crisis, which has now entered a second week, has provoked fury and fear among account holders who are running out of money.

Marketing officer Claire McQuillan, who said that she was supposed to have been paid on Monday, is not convinced that everything will be back to normal by Friday.

“The more I think about it, the more I panic and worry,” said Mrs McQuillan.

“I rang (the bank) to see if my wages were in and I got through to a call centre.

“The lady I spoke to didn’t take my details, or account number, but she advised me the money should be in my account by the end of the week, although she said she couldn’t be sure.

“She couldn’t tell me where my money is right now.

“I then asked about my direct debits — as all mine come out this week — and she said they won’t be paid, but I have to go back to the bank and let them know if I get charged.”

On Sunday eight branches of the Ulster Bank opened in Northern Ireland for the first time in the bank’s history to help customers.

On Monday, opening hours were also extended from 8am until 6pm to deal with the bank’s ongoing crisis and 32 local branches will stay open until 7pm for the rest of the week.

Nicky Williams (31), an IT expert from Bangor, said he was unable to withdraw any money from cash machines on a night out.

“We went to a restaurant in Belfast and afterwards found that we couldn’t pay for the meal because my card wasn’t working,” Mr Williams said.

“I had to borrow money from a friend in our group, but we then had to abandon our plans of going out afterwards because we had no money.”

He added: “I’m thinking of changing banks. A week to clear the backlog seems ridiculous to me; it should definitely not take them that long.”

Citizens Advice Bureaux chief executive Derek Alcorn said the service was available to help anyone having difficulties because of the bank failure.

Meanwhile, the Northern Bank said a technical fault that caused problems for some customers has been fixed.

It said it was working to re-establish all of its systems as quickly as possible.

Customers can find answers to questions linked to the technical backlog, as well as details of the branches offering extended opening hours, on the Ulster Bank website.

Queuing in the hope of some money... and some answers

By Adrian Rutherford

It should have been closing time for the staff working at Ulster Bank’s city centre branch on Monday afternoon.

But as the clock ticked past 4.30pm, a queue of exasperated customers still snaked its way through the building.

The Donegall Square East branch was among 30 which stayed open for an extra 90 minutes on Monday to facilitate people affected by the computer glitch.

A sign on the front doors informed people that the branch would be open to 6pm.

Most customers leaving the building spoke of their frustration and uncertainty.

Among the worst affected was Angela Phillips from Belfast.

Ms Phillips relies on child tax credits, which are paid into her account every week, and was left desperately short of money for the weekend.

“I’ve had to wait four days for money I should have got last Thursday,” she said. “That is money which I depend on for the family — it was all I had for the weekend.

“I needed it for gas and electric. I had none. I had to go and stay at my father’s place, otherwise I’d have been sitting in the cold and dark and I couldn’t do that.

“I’d no money for food either. It was a very bad situation.”

Geri Hanna and Susan Reid, who work at Victim Support Northern Ireland, did not get their wages, while volunteers at the charity have been left waiting on expenses.

“It has been difficult to get information on what is happening,” said Geri.

“The staff are pleasant enough but they don’t seem to have all that much information.”

Susan added: “What you want is information, and when there aren’t any answers it makes people a bit suspicious.”

Martin Haughey had ordered US dollars before going on holiday but was unable to collect them, and was left rushing between branches for his cash.

“I’ve been to three branches so far today and I still haven’t got all I need,” he said. “I’m supposed to be going away on Wednesday so this is the last thing I need.”

Frank McDonald, from Bangor, was concerned about direct debits. “My wages haven’t appeared yet but direct debits are still going out,” he said.

“It has been widely reported so you hope financial institutions will take note, but it’s concerning as you’re left relying on other people being understanding.”

One woman, who declined to be named, was panicking after losing her purse. Because of the fault she found it difficult to cancel her banker’s cards. “It is very concerning,” she said.

Darren Cowan, a floor layer from Belfast, said that his wages had not appeared.

“The lack of money has been a problem,” he said. “I had to borrow from friends and my family.

“I finally got it today, but when I asked the cashier would my wages go in okay this Thursday, she said probably not.”

James Young was left without his wages because the money didn’t transfer from Ulster Bank to his Northern Bank account.

“I could be doing without it but I’m fortunate because I do have some money,” he said.

“I have some savings but I know of other people who are relying on their wages.”

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