'The bank have taken a huge part of our lives away from us' - families reveal devastation caused by tracker scandal
Harrowing testimony is given to Oireachtas about 'financial abuse' by banks, reports Charlie Weston
People have died by suicide because banks took their tracker mortgages away, forcing them to pay too much, it was claimed.
The stress and trauma imposed on people who had tracker mortgages taken off them was spelled out in harrowing detail to politicians in the Dáil.
TDs and senators heard from financial adviser Padraic Kissane that the eventual number of mortgage accounts where the holders were wrongly denied a cheap tracker could be 30,000 - double the current estimate.
Homeowner Thomas Ryan told the Oireachtas Finance Committee he suffered a stroke at the age of 47.
His wife had a nervous breakdown.
An emotional Mr Ryan claimed both events were a result of losing his Permanent TSB tracker rate.
"My family have suffered enormously. I myself suffered a stroke in 2013 with lasting consequences to my life, family and work. My wife Claire suffered a nervous breakdown in 2015, losing her ability to speak and being hospitalised," he said.
"This was a horrific experience, not only for Claire herself but also our children as she went through long periods nervously stuttering and stammering without uttering an understandable word."
Mr Ryan was one of four customers of various banks who waived their anonymity and appeared before the committee to outline the effects of the tracker mortgage scandal, where they were charged the wrong interest rates.
Mr Ryan, from Wexford, told the committee that Permanent TSB had withheld a tape recording of him asking the bank to have his tracker restored. The recording was only produced under a discovery order as part of a High Court case.
He said of banks: "They have destroyed lives all over the country. Some people have [died by suicide]. It is appalling and an absolute disgrace." He said the redress scheme the Central Bank has ordered 15 lenders to carry out was "a joke".
Teacher Niamh Byrne took out a tracker mortgage with Ulster Bank in 2006. Later that year she decided to fix her mortgage as she was a non-permanent teacher at the time.
- Read more: 'My wife had a nervous breakdown' - TDs told how tracker scandal led some customers to take their own lives
In 2008, when the fixed period ended, she contacted the bank and asked when she would be put onto her tracker and it said it was putting her on a variable rate.
She told committee chairman John McGuinness she argued for nine months until May 2009, when she was on a variable rate of 3.85pc with Ulster Bank.
AIB had a rate of 2.5pc at the time. She has a MA in economics and could see house prices were falling and knew that if she went into negative equity she would not be able to move her mortgage. So she moved the mortgage to AIB.
Ulster Bank would not allow her to move back to the tracker. In 2012, she realised Ulster Bank was allowing people to move with their tracker so she ended up in a lengthy dispute with Ulster Bank through the Financial Services Ombudsman.
She explained the difficulties she had with the bank: "Today, it's nine years, two months and 28 days since this happened.
"The whole of my 30s has been spent in this situation and it looks like there is no end to it. "It has been extremely stressful and had a huge impact on my finances.
"There was a suicide in my own family. If you have a direct link to that, the statistic is that your chances fall to one in 100 of it happening to yourself so I'm quite careful to look after my mental health.
"This situation does not in any way help that."
She got a €25,000 award from Ulster Bank, but the bank will not put her back on a tracker because she has since switched to another lender.
Another customer, Helen Grogan, who has a PhD in biology, said she would now end up repaying her mortgage into her retirement because of the overcharging.
She had hoped to have cleared the mortgage by the time she retires. She had switched from Permanent TSB to EBS.
Dr Grogan estimates she will have overpaid around €80,000 by the end of the mortgage term.
A mother and Permanent TSB customer, Hazel Melbourne, said the tracker loss had a huge affect on her and her husband.
"The consequences we have suffered purely at the hands of Permanent TSB are devastating, heart-breaking and totally unacceptable.
"Permanent TSB will never be able to compensate us as a family. They have taken a huge part of our lives away from us," said Ms Melbourne.
She said her family fought for six years to get the tracker dispute corrected.
"We are sick to the pit of our stomachs to think that all we had been through was avoidable. There was no need for our future to be changed," she told the committee.
The customers are represented by Mr Kissane.
He said the tracker scandal "was financial abuse on a grand scale".
He estimated that a total of 30,000 mortgage accounts could have been wrongly denied a tracker rate, double the present estimate.
Mr Kissane told the TDs and senators: "We have had enough of the banks saying 'we are looking to do right by our customers'. Enough of hollow apologies, enough of introducing rates that were never a tracker in the first place and most of all we have had enough of banks holding money that does not belong to them."
The Central Bank has ordered 15 lenders to review their books and restore people to trackers if they should not have lost them. At least 100 families have lost their homes due to the tracker overcharging scandal, it has been estimated.
- Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123.