Belfast Telegraph

No guarantee on deadline to fix disrupted Ulster Bank accounts

By Claire McNeilly

Ulster Bank cannot guarantee that all customer accounts will be fixed by mid-July following a computer meltdown that has left thousands of Northern Ireland consumers furious.

Anger is now being directed at the bosses of RBS, Ulster Bank’s parent company, for the frozen cash scandal which Prime Minister David Cameron has branded unacceptable.

Ulster Bank yesterday stated that next week would be the final week of significant delays with normal service restored by July 16.

But in an interview with The Belfast Telegraph, the bank’s chief executive officer Jim Brown conceded that this did not guarantee that all customer accounts would be fixed.

He said: “We’re hoping that the vast majority should be cleared by July 16, but there may be customers who have got the odd issue with individual payments.”

Mr Brown added the bank had not ruled out opening branches on the Twelfth to clear the backlog.

He also said that he had seen no evidence that significant numbers of customers were prepared to leave Ulster Bank.

“We’ve had incredible support from our customers. I’ve been into many of the branches to experience that first-hand and to date we have not seen a significant outflow of customers at all.”

But dozens of its customers have told this newspaper of their anger over ongoing problems relating to accessing their accounts, with several stating that they would consider switching banks.

Ulster Bank is understood to be suspending its voluntary severance programme as it battles through the crisis.

A delegation of Northern Ireland MPs met senior management at RBS HQ yesterday to discuss the crisis. They want RBS to send more staff to Northern Ireland to help clear up the backlog.

The DUP’s Gregory Campbell said that senior RBS management must consider their positions if the failure isn’t resolved quickly.

“Senior RBS personnel have got to step up and take some responsibility for what has happened,” said the East Londonderry MP.

“Now that the Prime Minister has weighed in I would like to think that — given the scale of the pressure — things would start to happen.

“If there isn’t a massive improvement by this Friday, senior people must consider their positions because the timescale is absolutely unacceptable.”

North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds said the RBS delegation had been left in no doubt about the anger of Northern Ireland customers.

“We told them it was totally unacceptable and that is something we rammed home again and again.”

East Belfast MP Naomi Long also said that RBS bosses were the ones who had to take responsibility for the fiasco.

“Ultimately, the people who take home the big salaries have to carry responsibility for how the bank is managed.”

South Down MP Margaret Ritchie, who was also part of yesterday’s delegation in London, said that RBS bosses “hadn’t covered themselves in glory”.

Ulster Bank customers are still affected by a computer glitch that hit the bank's parent company RBS on June 19, leaving tens of thousands of people without proper access to their accounts.

Service was quickly restored to clients of sister companies RBS and NatWest, provoking anger and accusations that Northern Ireland people are being treated like “third class citizens”.

RBS said it now expects “the vast majority of customers” to be up to date by the week starting July 16, adding that next week customers would see the last of any “significant delays”.

Prime Minister David Cameron said he had received assurances that RBS would reimburse Ulster Bank customers for penalty charges or overdraft fees, or anything else that was incurred because of the difficulties.

NIO Minister Hugo Swire told Mr Dodds he would have his support and that of the Secretary of State in ensuring that no-one loses out as a result of this IT failure.

The Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA), along with colleagues from other business organisations, met senior management of Ulster Bank yesterday.

Its boss Glyn Roberts called for an independent inquiry into how the problem started so that it may be avoided in future.

“We remain very concerned at the considerable backlog in the system which is having a negative impact on our members’ businesses,” he said.

A banking union has warned that customers are now taking out their anger on the staff working on the front line in branches.

IBOA also said that Ulster Bank must have stand-alone IT capability, so that it will not suffer as a result of incidents many hundreds of miles away and that it will not be last in the queue for clean-ups.

Questions & Answers

When will a full banking service resume?

Ulster Bank has said that for the vast majority of people — but not everyone — normal service should have resumed by July 16.

What about compensation beyond bank charges (ie. people missing holidays etc)?

Chief Jim Brown has conceded that Ulster Bank may have to pay compensation to customers over and above refunding costs. He has said it will make sure customers are not out of pocket and that the bank is looking at how compensation should work.

If someone overspends unwittingly, will there be an amnesty?

Ulster Bank has said it will work through individual customers’ issues as they occur.

What caused the computer failure in the first place?

The RBS group said the problem occurred when maintenance on internal systems caused an error. This error caused the automated processing to fail on June 19. Processing delays built up and staff had to intervene manually.

They were unable to access the record of transactions that had been processed up to the point of failure. Finding out at what point processing had stopped delayed subsequent processing and created a backlog. As a result, a number of customer account balances did not update as they should have from June 19.

Contrite chairman endures barrage of criticism from MPs

By Tom Moseley|

Angry MPs have vented the fury of Northern Ireland customers on the bosses of RBS.

RBS chairman Sir Philip Hampton was described as “deeply sorry”, and “restrained” during the meeting with DUP, SDLP and independent MPs.

Nigel Dodds, the DUP’s Westminster leader, said: “It was useful to get across the anger that our constituents are feeling.”

The MPs asked why there could be no guarantee that the problems would be sorted by next week, asked how a repeat occurrence could be prevented and slammed the way the company has handled the episode.

Mr Dodds added: “We made it very clear that we were appalled at the lack of communication, not just for customers but for anyone who might be affected.”

As well as compensating customers in full, the bank would sit down with people who were indirectly affected and “work through it on a case by case basis”, the MPs were told.

They were assured of RBS’s commitment to Ulster Bank and Northern Ireland, Mr Dodds said, and he told Sir Philip it would be “totally wrong” for the financial institution to close over next week’s bank holidays.

He added: “He knows this is a total disaster for the bank.”

Sir Philip was reported to have told the MPs that a software upgrade had gone wrong, and damage had been caused when staff tried to undo the operation.

SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell said: “He was apologetic and accepted full responsibility.

“It was a major software upgrade, and it didn’t work.”

South Down MP Margaret Ritchie said it had been a “very robust” meeting, while the DUP’s Jim Shannon told Sir Philip he had been receiving a string of complaints from his constituents for the past 15 days.

Independent MP Sylvia Hermon was also at the meeting.

Other issues raised included the disparity of response between the Ulster Bank crisis and the recent problems at NatWest, which were solved within days.



PM is urged to ensure customers don’t lose out

By Tom Moseley

The Ulster Bank debacle reached the top of the Westminster Government as ministers came under pressure to intervene.

Labour branded the coalition “complacent” while Ulster MPs demanded action from Prime Minister David Cameron, Chancellor George Osborne and Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson.

Mr Cameron was asked twice about the crisis during Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons yesterday.

Jim Shannon, the DUP MP for Strangford, reminded the House of the public’s share in RBS, and demanded “direct input” from the Government to end the “absolute chaos” at Ulster Bank.

The PM replied: “What happened isn’t acceptable. Clearly it’s an operational matter for the bank, but the Financial Standards Authority has been monitoring this very closely.”

Ministers had spoken to the chairman of RBS, he said, adding: “The lessons must be learned, but I can tell him that RBS has said it will reimburse any customer, for penalty charges or overdraft fees — anything that’s incurred because of these difficulties.”

North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds urged him to go further and meet the tax authorities to ensure that people did not lose out because of cash flow problems.

Mr Cameron replied: “I will certainly look at what he says and I will discuss it with the Chancellor.”

Earlier, Mr Paterson had been in the hotseat alongside his deputy, Hugo Swire.

Asked about the fiasco by Margaret Ritchie of the SDLP, he acknowledged there were “very real problems that people both in work and out of work are suffering due to this IT breakdown”, saying he had raised it with Chancellor George Osborne and Business Secretary Vince Cable.

There were fiery clashes with Labour spokesman Vernon Coaker who hit out at the Government’s “complacent” attitude to the crisis.

Mr Coaker called for an “urgent summit” of the Treasury, the Department of Finance and senior management from RBS and Ulster Bank to find a solution.

He said: “This is, frankly, a crisis. Many families can’t pay their mortgage, their rent, get their groceries or put petrol in their car. And older people can’t access their pensions. The minister has told us what he’s done, what’s he doing to try to sort this mess out?”

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