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Dublin: 7 °C Thursday 14 November, 2019
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Family in tracker mortgage error: 'My budget is €70 per week for food for four of us'

18 months since the Central Bank first announced an industry-wide investigation of tracker mortgage issues, I still haven’t been contacted by Ulster Bank, writes Caitriona Redmond.

Caitriona Redmond

IF A MORTGAGE customer misses a repayment on their loan, or doesn’t pay it in full, within 10 working days the bank gets in touch with the customer.

The first letter normally contains warnings about how their home is at risk if they do not keep up their mortgage repayments, but they’ll also get phone calls and texts until a payment is made, or the customer reaches an arrangement with the bank. The regulations surrounding how banks deal with customers in arrears are clear.

What happens when the bank gets it wrong?

What happens when the bank charges the customer the wrong amount on their mortgage despite them having a mortgage contract for “x% over the ECB for the life of the loan”?

This is precisely the situation my husband and I find ourselves in, along with thousands of other mortgage customers, across all the banks.

Earlier this year we exited the MARP (Mortgage Arrears Resolution Process) with Ulster Bank. Up until then we had been in an arrangement to pay less while we got back on our feet after a few rough years financially.

The frugal life

While we were in the MARP we got our household bills right down to a very small figure. We cleared the credit card every month, my husband learned how to service the car himself to save money, we grew our own food, learned to be more energy-efficient, and I managed to get the grocery bill down. That much is no secret.

When there were four of us living here full-time my budget was around €70 per week for food. I’ve since increased it to €80 for food with another €20 for cleaning materials and other items, because there are now five of us (my 17-year-old step daughter lives here full-time and we have two sons aged five and eight).

We’ve been charged the wrong rate

shutterstock_196963826 Source: Shutterstock/Dejan Stanisavljevic

At the same time as we left the arrangement we received professional advice that our mortgage with Ulster Bank was one of those mortgages that you might have heard about in the news last week. One of the mortgages that was being charged at the wrong rate of interest and should be on a tracker rate.

We wrote to the bank and have been writing to the bank since. A lot. The mortgage amount we’re paying at the moment is more than half of our net income and this makes life quite difficult, as you can imagine. If we were being charged the right rate of interest however, and the overcharge adjusted to the right level, our mortgage becomes completely affordable again.

Ulster Bank still haven’t contacted us

Nearly 18 months since the Central Bank first announced an industry-wide investigation into the tracker mortgage issue, to the best of my knowledge, Ulster Bank have yet to contact any of their affected customers with the outcome of their research.

According to Gerry Mallon, CEO of Ulster Bank DAC, speaking at the Oireachtas Finance Committee last week, in the region of 2,000 mortgages have been identified so far as mischarged, and they hope to contact the majority of them before Christmas. It appears they haven’t contacted any of those customers yet, and I don’t hold much confidence that they will despite their assertions last week.

I spend my days waiting for news

In the meantime, I start every morning by checking the bank account, then checking the budget to make sure we’re on track. I follow this up by a keyword search online to see if any other customers have received those magical letters that are due to arrive before Christmas. I check online chat forums and social media, for keywords and references to the same issues that we have.

I wait for the postman and pounce on the letters as they arrive in the hope that we get some positive news. The radio plays in the background all day and I listen out for any snippet of information that might indicate that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Last Thursday morning, for example, was spent watching the Oireachtas Finance Committee questioning Ulster Bank on an online stream. That led to a glimmer of hope that maybe we might get a letter before Christmas, but no certainty.

I’m determined that my children will have a Christmas

The stress is omnipresent. Especially at this time of the year. But we will not go without. The children will have an amazing Christmas. We will focus on what’s important to us as a family.

I just worry so much for the future at the moment because I have no idea when Ulster Bank will actually get back to us and fix this wrong. We need to get the car through the NCT in January and at some stage in the next year we need to replace it.

There’s a student who will be (hopefully) going to college next year and she will need all of our support for that, even with grant aid. Then another child will make their First Holy Communion. Let’s not even talk about pensions, what are they? The list goes on. All of this would be far more affordable if we weren’t being hammered by our mortgage every month.

‘No further update’

shutterstock_526812256 Source: Shutterstock/Rawpixel.com

Every 60 days or so we get the same letter from the bank, basically telling us they have no further update because they’re working so hard on the issue and they’ll be back in touch in another 60 days.

If we didn’t pay our mortgage in full for 60 days you can be darn sure that they would be sending us letters and making phone calls looking for their money. If we did this since May we could probably expect a solicitor’s letter or three and even a court date to add to the mix.

According to the Central Bank :

“The Examination framework provides that when impacted customers are identified in the first instance, lenders must stop charging the incorrect rate of interest on the customer’s account to ensure that any further customer detriment is stopped as early as possible and communicate this to the customer.​”

I don’t believe that 2,000 customers have suddenly materialised out of the blue. I find it even harder to understand why they all must be contacted in bulk. This “error” was industry-wide and happened in the majority of banks in this country who offered tracker mortgages to customers.

Families have lost their homes, families are stressing about money the whole year round, families have engaged with the mortgage arrears process, scraped the money together to pay their mortgages, and gone without to meet their financial obligations. Why can’t the banks?

It’s not the lack of money for groceries that gets me in the end

I don’t notice the difference. It’s the stress, the feeling of tightness in my chest when I think about the bills, the weird anxiety when I consider getting the car past the NCT, and the massive gulp when we pay the mortgage every month. Then the absolute screaming frustration when another niggly thing crops up that we have to pay for, that I have to fit into the budget.

Some days I feel like I’m wandering around in an empty house, in an empty town, in an empty country, with nobody to talk to about how it feels to be constantly worried about money.

Caitriona Redmond is an author, freelance writer, and recipe tester who can be found on  www.wholesomeireland.com.

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Caitriona Redmond

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