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Internal bank documents reveal AIB mortgage break did require savings before meeting with minister

At the end of last week and over the weekend customers complained of issues they had accessing this payment deferral.

Image: PA

INTERNAL BANK DOCUMENTS reveal AIB’s Covid-19 mortgage break originally required customers to have two months of savings to qualify – and this was only changed after bank officials met with the Finance Minister.

However, bank staff had been given information and frontline workers their scripts for the initial plan on Wednesday 18 March, before the meeting with Paschal Donohoe on Thursday, 19 March. 

In the script, agents were directed to ask customers if they had access to funds or savings to cover two months of their mortgage. If there was a positive response, they could continue through the process. If there was no confirmation of such access, then the customer would be told they did not qualify for the Covid-19 scheme. 

The representative body for Ireland’s main banks had to apologise on Monday after customers reported being told they were not eligible because of a lack of savings. In his statements, the Banking & Payments Federation (BPFI) CEO Brian Hayes said this was a result of “misunderstandings” as details of the scheme were worked out. He singled out frontline bank staff as being unclear on the processes. 

One AIB worker said staff felt they were blamed for the confusion around the break when, in fact, they had flagged the possible problems this requirement could pose.

It “didn’t make any sense”, they told TheJournal.ie

As the Covid-19 economic situation escalated, Donohoe met with the heads of the five main banks as well as the BPFI to discuss supports for mortgage customers whose incomes were impacted by the coronavirus outbreak.

After the meeting, the minister confirmed all five banks would offer a three-month mortgage break to these customers. 

The next day and over the weekend, customers of AIB, in particular, began to raise issues with the new mortgage break scheme. 

Customers reported being told that in order to qualify for the break they needed a certain level of savings, some were told they were only entitled to an interest-only arrangement and others said they were asked by bank staff whether they could guarantee they would get their job back after the three months.

One customer told TheJournal.ie that AIB told her she would only qualify if she had enough savings to pay for the next two months. 

“Most people live paycheck to paycheck. This is crazy,” she said.

Several customers also called RTÉ’s Liveline to express their concern about not being able to avail of the break for these reasons – a number named AIB as their bank.

In response to the public complaints, AIB said on Monday that customers impacted by the outbreak were “entitled to a three-month break or moratorium today”. 

“Some calls may have taken place while we were putting our system in place for Covid-19,” a statement said. 

Hayes also told TheJournal.ie on Monday that there were “misunderstandings”, particularly among frontline bank staff last week. 

In relation to the requirement for a customer to have savings to qualify for the break, Hayes said “that is absolutely untrue”.

He said he believed this came mainly from one bank and its subsidiary and that the CEO of that organisation told him it was “completely untrue and everyone was annoyed that was said”. 

Briefing material sent to bank staff on Wednesday 18 March, and seen by TheJournal.ie, revealed that staff at AIB were, in fact, told that customers needed savings in order to qualify for the break. This was before the meeting with the minister. 

The briefing material outlined the criteria customers had to meet in order to qualify for the payment break:

  • The first was that they had to be experiencing a short-term impact on their income as a result of the outbreak. Short-term was defined as “customer expects three month moratorium/interest only to be sufficient support with information known today”.
  • The second requirement was that the customer had access to funds to meet a minimum of two monthly mortgage repayments.

The briefing document makes it clear that customers who did not have these savings were to be referred to the arrears support unit to go through the bank’s pre-existing process for customers in financial difficulty.

The agents’ script noted that verbal confirmation of access to savings would be sufficient to move onto the next process in the Covid-19 scheme. 

It read: ”Review account activity – check customer accounts (current account/deposits) to see if customer has access to a minimum of 2 months mortgage repayments. If savings account not visible, verbal confirmation sufficient.”

For EBS customers (a subsidiary of AIB), the only option that was to be offered at that point was an interest-only solution.

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These requirements were repeatedly raised by customers in the public domain at the end of that week.

One AIB staff member who spoke to TheJournal.ie explained that savings would usually be required for a six-month payment-break.

“With this, it’s completely different circumstances. Even if people did have the funds to make a repayment or two, they were going to want to keep those savings just in case.

“And even customers who were continuing to get paid might not have two months of savings, not everyone can afford to save. 

We have a WhatsApp group and people [other staff members] straight away in it were saying ‘what’s up with this two-month thing?’.

“We flagged it straight away, it didn’t make any sense to us on the frontline.”

He said as far as staff were concerned, when customers were calling on Wednesday and Thursday, this was the only deal on offer. 

After the meeting the bank chiefs had with the minister on Thursday, he said some staff were told that if customers called them on Friday for information, they should advise them to call back after the weekend to allow for time to put new processes in place. 

“I’m not sure everyone would have got that message, so when people called you can see why staff were [still] saying that was the process on Friday. The fact that they seem to be blaming frontline staff really got under people’s noses.”

In response to a query about this briefing document and whether AIB would have continued with this requirement for savings without government intervention, a bank spokesperson said:

“The three-month mortgage moratorium is available to impacted customers of AIB, EBS and Haven.  

Customers are not required to have savings to avail of this payment break. We have simplified the process for customers, allowing them to access the break online, and the form can be found at www.aib.ie/covid19.  

“We are committed to supporting our customers and our intent can be seen in our focus on keeping our branches open as customers come to term with the challenges Covid-19 brings and how we can support them locally through this critical period. Our online and mobile app services remain open.”

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