Northern Ireland’s Consumer Council has voiced concerns over the length of time it is taking to resolve problems for Ulster Bank customers compared with other account holders.
The watchdog’s chief executive was speaking after it emerged that banking services will not be fully operational here until at least next week.
Her comments follow a statement from the Royal Bank of Scotland Group which said that RBS and NatWest customer account balances had cleared overnight, with the exception of a few specific sets of transactions.
A Financial Services Authority spokesman said the regulator expects a “full explanation” from the banking group once it has sorted out customers' problems.
The Consumer Council’s Antoinette McKeown has also demanded an explanation for the computer meltdown and ongoing chaos, which she said was unacceptable.
“We are questioning why Ulster Bank account holders in Northern Ireland will endure another week of disruption to their current accounts, yet services for account holders at sister bank NatWest are almost fully back to normal,” she said.
“It is simply unacceptable that, seven days into this crisis, RBS Group is quoted as saying they will only now turn their full attention to solving the issue for Ulster Bank customers. The Consumer Council wants to know why Ulster Bank customers are not getting the same priority from RBS as NatWest customers and we are demanding a full explanation.”
Ulster Bank has estimated that some 100,000 people have been caught up in the chaos during which customer balances have not been updating properly and wages have not shown up in their accounts, although the money is “in the system”. Thirty-two branches will be open until 7pm every evening for the rest of the week.
Stephen Cruise, Ulster Bank’s managing director of branch banking here, again apologised as the crisis continued for a second week.
“We continue to work around the clock to clear the backlog of payments caused by the recent RBS Group-wide technical issue with a view to completing this by the weekend and we are confident that this will help us restore a full service for the start of next week,” he said.
Ulster Bank has come under heavy criticism over the delays in processing the transactions as it had previously said the problems would be sorted by Monday.
Joseph May (29), a microscopy technician from Derriaghy, was left stranded at a Spanish airport for three days with no access to money. His wages — due last Friday — still haven’t been paid into his account and he said he blamed Ulster Bank for ruining his only holiday this year.
“The day before I left for Alicante I contacted the bank because my salary was due in and I knew there were problems,” the Co Antrim man said. “I advised them I was going abroad the following day and they told me the money would be in my account.
“But when I arrived at the airport and checked my account my salary hadn’t been paid in — leaving me with just €20.”
Despite numerous phonecalls, Joseph said that Ulster Bank refused to increase his overdraft or put up the limit on his credit card.
“I had a car rental pre-booked — which I then had no money to pay for — because my accommodation was 100km away and I couldn’t even contact my friend who was already in Spain because his mobile phone was not working,” he said.
The bank finally agreed to increase his credit card limit on Monday — three days into a six-day holiday.
“I ended up being stuck in the airport for three days with no food, no water and I was using the toilets to clean myself which was very, very humiliating.”
Ulster Bank has said that there are flexible arrangements in place for elderly and vulnerable customers. “Should they be unable to get to their local branch through the usual methods, we would urge them to contact their branch or call us centrally on 0800 231232 and we will provide assistance,” said local boss Stephen Cruise. Extended branch opening hours will continue for the remainder of this week with 32 branches open daily until 7pm to help those who cannot make it into a branch during working hours. In branch, there will be assistance for customers who have experienced delays in receiving salary or social welfare benefits. Customers can also take out cash on credit cards, interest free.
Q How can I gain access to my cash?
A In the first instance use an ATM. If this does not reflect any payments due into your account, go to a branch with your photographic ID and account details. Ulster Bank credit card holders can also access cash using the cash advance service. There will be no fee for using this service provided funds are repaid within one month.
Q What is the situation with lodgements due to be made to my account?
A Lodgements at branches from June 20 are yet to be credited. If your salary, pension or welfare payment was due to be paid before June 20, it should have appeared in your account yesterday. If you were due to receive your salary between June 20 and 25, it may not yet be in your account.
Q What is the situation with payments due to be made from my account?
A Any bill payments made in branch from June 20 have not yet been processed. If you experience any fees or interest as a result, you should contact your branch. If you have a payment you need to make soon, you should use an alternative means such as paying at another bank or in a post office.
Q Can I use the bank’s ATM machines
A Yes. Ulster Bank’s ATM network is fully operational and you can use other banks’ ATMs.
Q What do I do if I can't go into a branch?
A Call the Ulster Bank helpline on 0800 231 232 which is open from 8am-10pm. If you are calling from abroad, call +4428 90843556.
Q Do I need to go to my account holding branch to access cash?
A No. You can go to any Ulster Bank branch.
Q Is internet and mobile banking operational?
A Yes. However, you may not be able to make payments and your balance will reflect the delay to Ulster Bank’s transactions.