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Ulster Bank topped the Financial Ombudsman's complaints table in 2020 for the second year in a row

The watchdog also received 492 new complaints about tracker mortgages in 2020.

Image: Sam Boal

ULSTER BANK TOPPED the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman’s (FSPO) complaints table for the second year in a row in 2020 after 19 complaints filed with the watchdog against the NatWest-owned lender were upheld.

Some 13 complaints against the bank — which was hit with a record €38 million fine by the Central Bank of Ireland last week over its role in the industry-wide tracker mortgage scandal — were upheld partially in 2020, four substantially and two in full, the FPSO said.

In 2019, 21 complaints about the bank were upheld: 11 fully, three substantially and seven partially.

Last month, NatWest announced plans to wind down Ulster Bank operations in the Republic of Ireland altogether over the coming years.

The watchdog also ran the rule over Permanent TSB in 2020, against which 18 complaints were upheld. Meanwhile, 12 complaints were upheld against Bank of Ireland, nine against Irish Life Assurance and eight against AIB.

The table of complaints is included in the FSPO’s annual overview of its activities for 2020, published this morning. According to the report, the watchdog closed out a total of 6,193 last year, up 35% from 2019 despite the impact of the pandemic.

Some 5,395 complaints were received last year alone, a slight increase from the 5,275 received in 2019.

In 600 of the cases, over half of which had been closed by the end of the calendar year,  the complainant identified Covid-19 as a contributing factor,

Over half of all complaints received by the FPSO in 2020, some 2,782, related to banking products — with mortgage complaints accounting for 1,389 — while 32% related to insurance products.

In total, complainants received compensation, redress and settlements to the value of €6.34 million.

Commenting on the report’s publication, Ombudsman Ger Deering praised his staff for their efforts during a difficult year.

“In 2020, my office significantly increased the volume of complaints managed and concluded, with an increase of 35% in the number of complaints closed in comparison to 2019.

“This increase was achieved through the commitment of our staff, an ongoing focus on improving our processes and by increasing our staff numbers,” he said.

“This increase in complaints concluded is particularly notable given the challenges posed in 2020. During the year, in anticipation of the receipt of a considerable number of complaints arising from the Covid-19 pandemic, we put in place a number of measures to ensure the efficient management of these new complaints, as well as ensuring that any increase in complaint volumes would have minimal impact on the management of existing complaints.”

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 Tracker mortgages

An additional 492 complaints relating to tracker mortgages were received last year, the FPSO said as the fallout from the scandal continued.

Another 582 tracker cases were closed out in 2020. “Of these,” said Deering, “273 were closed following mediation by the Dispute Resolution Service and 120 of these complaints were closed following investigation and the issuing of a legally binding decision.”

By the end of 2020, the FPSO had 1,200 tracker mortgage complaints on hand. 

“Therefore, tracker mortgage complaints will continue to comprise a considerable element of the work of this Office for some time to come,” Deering said.

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