Saturday 22 September 2018

Couple 'embarrassed, down thousands of euro' after current account is shut down without their knowledge

  • Couple's current account closed without their knowledge
  • Account was used over last 25 years for both of their wages, all their direct debits and for making online payments
  • 'I left the bank in floods of tears' - Margaret O'Halloran says she was 'embarrassed' by the situation
Stock photo: PA
Stock photo: PA
Louise Kelly

Louise Kelly

A couple were left "embarrassed, in floods of tears, and down thousands of euro" when their PTSB current account was closed without their knowledge.

Margaret O'Halloran (52) first opened the joint current account with the bank, formerly Irish Permanent, in 1993 with her husband Michael.

Over the last 25 years, she has used the account for both of their wages, for all of their direct debits - and for making online payments.

The Athenry-based couple have four children, two of whom are not dependent, one who is attending college and a 15-year-old still attending school.

They first became aware of an issue with their account when Margaret attempted to access her online banking last December.

"I contacted the customer care centre and after three calls - two of which told me that my PIN needed to be changed - I spoke to a girl who said we had been locked out of our account," Margaret told Independent.ie.

The mum-of-four was told that the bank was acting on the instruction from the Central Bank advising that customers update their anti-money laundering (AML) documentation.

Requesting this documentation - proof of ID and current address - is usual for banks who do not have the appropriate documents for accounts that were opened prior to these requirements.

"I confirmed my date of birth and my address were still the same and my husband’s were also, that we had the same address for 22 years and that our mortgage was previously with PTSB," said Margaret.

"It took three more calls re-setting pins and passwords but eventually I had my access control back to my account."

In early January, another problem arose when Margaret's husband attempted to take funds out of the ATM while travelling in Poland.

"His card was taken by machine and he rang me to tell me. I tried to log in to my online account worried that the card was scammed but couldn’t.

"My husband was so embarrassed among his friends to have to borrow money off them. When I rang PTSB, I was told that Michael had to wait until Monday to see if he can get the card back from the bank in Poland."

When this action was attempted without success, Margaret tried to call her bank "a few times" with a view to re-ordering a card for her account.

"I was informed I couldn’t as the account was closed and the balance was zero. Have you any idea how panicked I was being told this? I felt sure the card had been scammed in Poland," she said.

Margaret said she questioned why the account was closed, where her wages were gone to and how she would get access to the money that was in her account. She said she had a large overdraft on her account that she relied upon for her direct debits.

"I wasn't getting any answers so then I spoke to her supervisor who also didn't know where the wages were," she said.

"He said he didn’t know where the wages were but eventually said they would probably bounce back [to the originator].

"He told me I could go to the PTSB, withdraw any money available and open a new account. I asked what about the direct debits and who would pay the referral charges and he said I was responsible for them.

"When I asked to speak to his manager he said 'no' as he would only tell me the same thing."

After the call Margaret said she felt "absolutely mesmerised" by what had just happened, considering how active her account was with weekly lodgements of wages, direct debits, children’s allowance, life cover, children’s allowance, mortgage.

She said she then went to her local branch in Eyre Square in Galway, 20 miles from her home, and said that when she addressed the issue with the bank teller, it was acknowledged that "thousands" of customers were affected.

"Before me and after me in the queue were elderly customers with the same problem," said Margaret.

"I left the bank in floods of tears. I had a working overdraft of €2,500 for 20 years, I was depending on part of this to pay all my monthly bills, some of these are 20 years in place."

Mrs O'Halloran maintains that she did not receive notification by post or by phone, despite the bank having her correct details on file.

PTSB said that they cannot discuss the business of individual customers, but can confirm that, throughout 2017, the bank undertook a "comprehensive exercise to ensure that it holds up-to-date proof of identify and address documentation for all named account holders as required under AML legislation".

"There was a comprehensive communications programme with impacted customers and the exercise was completed with minimal disruption for individual customers. 

"Where the bank did not have up-to-date proof of ID and address, we wrote on a number of occasions to account holders requesting the same and, where possible, we also tried to phone account holders. 

"Ultimately, where the documentation required was not provided after a prolonged period, the bank has had no option but to close the relevant accounts. 

"The vast majority of customers were able to provide the required documentation and their accounts continue to operate as normal.  We will work with any impacted customer to resolve individual issues urgently."

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