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Joan Burton lashes Ulster Bank over cash chaos

A GOVERNMENT minister has hit out over the amount of grief caused by banks as she attacked Ulster Bank for an IT meltdown which left thousands of customers without cash.

Joan Burton, Minister for Social Protection, warned that 30,000 people on benefits could be left unable to buy food and groceries this weekend.

"Given all of the grief that banks have caused to people in Ireland, I really think that the bank needs to address this particular situation with absolute urgency," she said.

"They have to look at the situation of people over the weekend, particularly older people, who spend all their social welfare income.

"For some of the people at the top of the banks, €100e might not seem a lot but it is to a pensioner."

Ulster Bank has revealed it is a two-day delay in processing some wage cheques and welfare payments. The Central Bank says it is monitoring the situation.

The bank apologised unreservedly to customers for what it called a major IT issue. It was initially believed that it was only one day behind with processing cheques, direct debits and standing orders.

Some 80 Ulster Bank branches will open today until 7pm in major towns and cities and another 60 Saturday-opening branches will do so as usual this weekend.

NatWest, the Royal Bank of Scotland and Ulster Bank were all affected by the IT meltdown.

The bank is offering to refund and pay any charges or loss of interest to customers.

"We have been working to minimise the impact for our customers and customers of other banks. We continue to work to resolve this issue and to minimise the impact. We will ensure that those Ulster Bank customers who are affected do not suffer any financial loss," Ulster Bank said on its website.

Ambulance drivers, nurses and home helps were among 40,000 staff in the Health Services Executive (HSE) who were left without wages because the health body uses Ulster Bank to distribute salaries. Workers in private-sector firms were also affected.

Furious care workers jammed the phone lines in the HSE wages department after they were left facing the weekend without funds.

Anyone who gets paid weekly or fortnightly from the HSE was due to get their money yesterday but this did not happen.

And thousands more people due to be paid today also face being left without funds.

The Department of Social Protection has also confirmed that 29,100 payments it makes every week have been impacted by the IT crash.

The fault means that any credits or debits to customer accounts have not been recorded since Tuesday night.

The bank said 100,000 people had been affected by the collapse, but banking experts said far more were left unable to use their bank accounts. Una Dillon of the Irish Payments Services Organisation, which arranges payments between banks, said it could be next week before the problems are rectified.

The Irish Banking Federation insisted other banks would accommodate customers who end up overdrawn because their employers use Ulster Bank to pay them.

Those hit by the IT breakdown include:

- Those who do not bank with Ulster Bank but whose employer uses an Ulster account to distribute wages to the workers' own bank accounts.

- People who bank with Ulster Bank and use their online bank account to pay bills.

- Irish people who work abroad but were unable to get access to their accounts.

- Ulster Bank customers may not be able to use their Laser or debit cards if the bank thinks they have no money in their account.

Now, thousands are set to go into arrears on mortgages and not have direct debits and standing orders paid.

Chairman of the Consumers Association Michael Kilcoyne called yesterday on Ulster Bank not to impose penalties and charges on anyone who ends up overdrawn or in mortgage arrears because the IT systems crash meant records were not being updated.

The bank said: "If a customer received a charge in error as a result of this issue they will not be financially disadvantaged."

And if a mortgage repayment can't be made, the bank said it would make allowances for this.

Ulster Bank said its automated teller machine (ATM) services will be fully operational over the weekend, and 80 branches will open until 7pm tonight to assist customers. It will have 60 branches open tomorrow morning.

If you have been affected by the breakdown we would like to hear from you. Please contact bheffernan@independent.ie

Irish Independent