Watchdog finds 24 new cases of overcharging by banks, insurers
Published 06/04/2010 | 05:00
A RAFT of banks and insurance companies are at the centre of more than 24 new overcharging investigations, the Irish Independent has learned.
All of the cases -- none of which have yet been made public -- are currently being pursued by the Financial Regulator.
The two largest domestic banks, AIB and Bank of Ireland, are understood to be part of the probe.
The number of investigations will further undermine consumer confidence in banks and insurance companies.
Overcharging blunders have ranged from incorrect interest rates on mortgages to wrong transactions on current accounts and double-charging on debit cards. There is every reason to suspect the current spate will embrace many, if not all, of these elements.
The new Financial Regulator, Matthew Elderfield, who has come under fire for his clampdown on Quinn Insurance, warned banks and insurers he would come down hard on them for overcharging.
He has also ordered them to immediately refund their customers. It is understood the customers have been overcharged tens of millions of euro.
"We are working on a number of overcharging cases that firms have notified to us under the statutory consumer protection code requirements," a spokeswoman for Mr Elderfield confirmed.
"The majority of issues are legacy overcharging issues. However, some are more recent and have been identified as part of ongoing reviews."
The spokeswoman said that 60pc of the more than two dozen cases being probed related to banks. The rest involved insurance companies.
Companies have been warned to "speedily correct" their errors. Overcharging banks and insurance companies have been given deadlines to resolve the problems and refund customers.
Consumer watchdogs last night said customers' trust and confidence was being severely undermined by financial institutions, many of which are already being bailed out by taxpayers.
"Consumers are paying far more than they need to or should have to," said Consumers' Association of Ireland chief executive Dermott Jewell.
AIB, MBNA, Bank of Ireland and Ulster Bank are among those institutions that have had to own up to wrongly charging customers in the past.
AIB refused to comment directly last night when asked if it had again overcharged its customers. "AIB continually reviews its products and procedures," a spokesperson said.
The bank is still in the process of refunding 40,000 customers, the latest in a long list of charging blunders.
In February it was forced to admit it mistakenly charged business account rates to personal account customers.
Bank of Ireland also declined to say if it had any new overcharging issues. But a spokesperson said: "If and when we find we have overcharged, we contact customers and whatever regulatory authority we have to contact."
The bank was embroiled in controversy last October when it emerged that on two separate occasions a technical error at the bank led to 120,000 customers being charged twice on certain Laser card transactions. The blunder sent thousands of customers into the red in error.
In December credit card company MBNA admitted it would refund around €18m after mistakenly overcharging an estimated 500,000 customers. Mr Elderfield is understood to be concerned at the number of overcharging cases. In a recent speech, he said: "It is clear from recent cases that change is needed in how firms handle charging and pricing issues."
Charlie Weston's analysis