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Banks apologise for 'teething problems' with mortgage break, say customers don't need savings to qualify

Some customers who have lost their jobs because of the outbreak were told they needed months of savings in order to qualify for the break.

Brian Hayes, CEO of the BPFI, speaking outside the Department of Finance last week.
Brian Hayes, CEO of the BPFI, speaking outside the Department of Finance last week.
Image: Aine McMahon/PA

THE REPRESENTATIVE BODY for Ireland’s main banks has apologised for confusion in relation to the Covid-19 mortgage break, as customers report being told by bank staff at the end of last week that they do not qualify for the deferral.

Customers have reported being told that in order to qualify for the break they need 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 her bank 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. Another woman said her bank was not offering the mortgage break at all, but instead was offering interest-only payments.

“It’s not an affordable option,” she said.

Several customers also called RTÉ’s Liveline today to express their concern about not being able to avail of the break.

Brian Hayes, CEO of the Banking & Payments Federation Ireland (BPFI), the representative body for the five main banks in Ireland, told TheJournal.ie that “misunderstandings were clearly there”, particularly among frontline bank staff last week.

He said a lot of work had been done by the banks over the weekend to put systems in place and get their staff up to speed.

“We are getting there, there was confusion at the start and apologies for that,” he said.

He said there had been an “explosion of calls” to banks, that the financial institutions themselves had workers out sick and that they were changing their own working operations to follow public health advice. 

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

“That’s one of those teething problems,” he said.

A spokesperson for AIB clarified the situation today:

Customers impacted by Covid-19 who contact us are entitled to a three month payment break or moratorium today, regardless of savings. The simplest way to avail of this is to fill in the form on our website. Some calls may have taken place while we were putting our system in place for Covid-19.

Hayes said most of the banks have now made a short online application like this available to customers, but added that it will take time for the banks to get back to people.

He also said there is potential for a refund back into a customer’s account if the mortgage payment has been taken out in the meantime. 

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Hayes said he wanted to apologise to customers who were given the wrong information last week and advised them to go back into the process, using these online applications. 

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