Northern Ireland

Sammy Wilson criticises Ulster Bank delays

The finance minister has criticised the ongoing delay for Ulster Bank customers getting access to their money.

For the past 10 days, the bank has been trying to clear a huge backlog of transactions that was caused by a computer system problem.

Thousands of customers due to be paid on Friday are struggling to get their money because of the ongoing problems with the bank's computer system.

Sammy Wilson said uncertainty over sorting the problem was not helpful.

"Last week I was told it would be Monday, Monday I was told it would be Friday, yesterday I was told it would be some time next week," Mr Wilson said.

"But when you've had promises like that and the deadline keeps moving then you don't have a great deal of certainty.

"I hope that this has not been a cynical attempt by Ulster Bank just to give the story in dribs and drabs rather than give the whole bad news story."

On Friday, Ulster Bank said it had handled 70,000 calls in the past week.

It has updated its website with a series of questions and answers to help customers.

The Department of Finance is deferring customers rates payments due this weekend.

Up to 100,000 customers across Ireland are still experiencing difficulty in accessing money in their accounts.

Some will not receive their wages or benefits until early next week.

Bumper Graham from Northern Ireland's largest public sector union NIPSA, said many of its members had been hit by salaries not going into their Ulster Bank accounts.

"We have many members facing a further period of uncertainty with no pay and we also have retired public servants who haven't had their pensions," he said.

The Social Security Agency is advising benefit customers who are experiencing problems with their Ulster Bank account to go directly to their local bank branch where funds should be available to them, subject to a limit.

A spokesperson said: "Customers do not need a proof of benefit payment from their local Social Security Office and staff at the Ulster Bank will not require this information to make a payment over the counter.

"Benefit customers are requested to bring ID with them when visiting their local Ulster Bank branch."


Meanwhile, the Consumer Council has advised Ulster Bank customers not to use high interest loan companies to borrow money while the bank clears its backlog.

The chief executive of the Consumer Council, Antoinette McKeown, said: "The last option that people should be considering is the short-term, high interest loans because they will only stir up further problems.

"Pay day and other high interest short term loans will only give you the money until pay day but you have 28 days at extortionate interest rates and on top of that if you're actually lucky enough to be given a cheque you will be charged for cashing that cheque so you won't actually get the full amount," she added.

The initial problem was due to a failed software upgrade within the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) group, which includes Ulster Bank and Nat West.

It started to impact on transactions on 20 June and initially, millions of customers' accounts were affected across the UK and Ireland.

The software failure has since been resolved and RBS said service had been restored to 99% of its customers.

No guarantees

However, Ulster Bank staff are still working through a backlog of uncompleted transactions.

On Thursday, Ulster Bank's chief executive Jim Brown said he hoped normal service would resume next week but was unable to give any guarantees.

Almost a third of the Ulster Bank's 90 branches in Northern Ireland have extended their opening hours this weekend to deal with customer queries.

Twenty six branches will have extended Saturday opening from 10:00 to 15:00 BST, and 10 branches will open on Sunday from 10:00 to 13:00 BST.

The Consumer Council has advised those affected to persist with their bank rather than turning to loan companies.

"Please please, insist first and foremost as an Ulster Bank customer that you don't leave you branch without your cash," Ms McKeown said.

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