Thursday 14 November 2019

'Tracker rip-off cost me €40,000, and bank hasn't seen last of me'

Helen Grogan. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Helen Grogan. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Charlie Weston

Scientist Helen Grogan is one of thousands of Permanent TSB customers still fighting to be compensated for losing a tracker mortgage.

This is despite the lender being fined a record €21m this week by the Central Bank for the "unacceptable harm" it caused 2,000 customers.

If the bank thought this would draw a line under the controversy, it has not reckoned with biologist Dr Grogan.

She estimates the failure of the bank to put her back on a tracker has cost her €40,000, and she is determined to keep fighting her case.

There are another 2,500 cases of customers still claiming they have been wrongly denied a tracker by Permanent TSB - more than double the number of cases the bank has conceded.

And there are thousands more unresolved cases at other banks, including 200 staff and former staff at Bank of Ireland who claim they are entitled to trackers.

So far banks have admitted to almost 40,000 cases, but the total could be nearer 50,000.

Dr Grogan was one of four people who sparked the push to sort out the scandal when they appeared before the Oireachtas Finance Committee two years ago.

The four told committee members their lives have been irreparably harmed by the mortgage scandal, and their testimony was so strong it prompted a massive drive to sort out the debacle, which had been going nowhere up to then.

Despite appearing before the committee, Dr Grogan is still waiting for satisfaction.

She originally took out a mortgage to buy her Dublin home in 2006 with EBS. A Permanent TSB advert for a lower tracker rate then prompted her to switch lenders.

The bank was advertising a tracker set at 0.8pc over the European Central Bank rate.

When she sat down to sign the contracts she was told the bank was offering a one-year tracker discount rate of 0.6pc over the ECB rate.

But at the end of the one-year discount period she was told the margin would be 2.25pc over the ECB. Dr Grogan says Permanent TSB had inserted a clause in the mortgage contracts allowing it to decide what rate it charges.

She appealed her case to the Financial Services Ombudsman, but lost.

However, she is hopeful her case will be revisited now that the current ombudsman is looking afresh at tracker mortgage cases.

She told the Oireachtas Committee: "The one thing is the rage, frustration, and anger that I was ripped off and duped by the bank into thinking I had a product I could count on."

Yesterday, she revealed that the higher mortgage rate is costing her €300 to €400 a month, adding up to a total loss of about €40,000.

She intends to keep fighting. "Permanent TSB just changed the name and said I no longer had a tracker. It did not look after my interests," she said.

Financial adviser Padraic Kissane, who represents Dr Grogan, said the tracker issue was far from over at Permanent TSB.

"This is still not sorted," he said. "People did not sign up for a discounted tracker rate for a year, and then see what happens after that.

"The banks and Central Bank would like this tracker controversy to be over, but it is up to them to finish it properly."

Mr Kissane added that a tracker mortgage case settled out of court by Permanent TSB this week will likely be a key test case in relation to the tracker margin and discount rate affecting 2,500 customers.

After receiving compensation of some €30,000 for having been part of the original redress scheme at the bank, the couple involved in the case questioned if it was "appropriate" to be put on a rate of 2.25pc above the ECB rate.

It was argued that they were entitled to a tracker rate margin of 1.1pc above the ECB rate, and should be entitled to further compensation.

The terms of the settlement are not known.

Permanent TSB insisted it has dealt with all tracker cases.

Asked if customers would end up footing the bill for the tracker fine, the Permanent TSB spokesman would only say that the bank had made provisions for the costs of the tracker scandal.

Asked if any individual bankers will be held responsible for the tracker theft, a Central Bank spokesperson said it was "considering all possible angles, including individual culpability".

Irish Independent

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