Ulster Bank fined €38m for 'serious failings' with tracker mortgages

Thursday, March 25

(Photo by PETER MUHLY/AFP via Getty Images)

Ulster Bank has been fined €38m for regulatory breaches in its handling of some mortgage customers.

The fine on Ulster Bank is the largest ever imposed by the Central Bank.

The Central Bank uncovered what it described as "serious failings" in the treatment of 5,940 customers over 16 years.

Earlier this year Nat West announced it was closing the Ulster Bank business in Ireland.

The investigation concerned customers who had tracker mortgages.

Very popular during the boom years, the tracker mortgages interest rate was fixed at a certain level above the European Central Bank (ECB) base rate, often for the lifetime of the mortgage.

Homeowners taking these mortgages were effectively betting that the ECB would keep rates low.

A gamble for consumers was a disaster for banks, as trackers were mostly loss-making as the interest charged was less than the banks' cost of funding.

At one point 65% of the Ulster Bank's total mortgage book in the Republic consisted of lifetime trackers.

The Central Bank found that Ulster Bank sought to implement a campaign to encourage some customers to convert their tracker rates to fixed rates during 2008, without telling them that they would not be entitled to return to their original rate if they moved.

Although no customers moved as a result of that campaign the investigation found a range of other failings.

These included a deliberate strategy not to provide certain customers with their correct tracker mortgage entitlement unless they complained.

The Central Bank said some customers suffered serious harm: 'At the most serious end 43 properties were lost, 29 of which were family homes, as a direct consequence of Ulster Bank's actions.'

 In a statement, Ulster Bank's chief executive Jane Howard said she was deeply sorry for the impact the bank's handling of the tracker mortgage issue had on customers and their families.

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Finance Pearse Doherty TD has said that breaches by Ulster Bank reveal an environment devoid of any accountability in the banking sector.

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Finance Pearse Doherty TD said that not a single individual in Ulster Bank has been held to account.

“The Central Bank found that Ulster Bank’s actions impacted 5,940 mortgage accounts and resulted in 29 families losing their homes.

“This involved taking mortgage customers off their tracker rates and failing to comply with the Tracker Mortgage Examination, among other breaches," said Deputy Doherty.

“Harm was carried out by Ulster Bank even during the Examination, with its failure to comply with the Central Bank’s Stop the Harm Principles.

“While families lost their homes as a result of decisions made and actions taken at Ulster Bank, not a single person at the Bank has lost their job or been held to account for their actions.

“This keeps happening again and again. Malpractice, customers damaged, corporate fines and zero accountability.

“Fine Gael could have changed this in 2015 when the Governor of the Central Bank warned them of a gap in the legislation that precluded them from holding senior bankers individually accountable.

“Over five years later and Fine Gael are still sitting on legislation that would hold senior executives individually accountable for such actions.

“For the thousands of borrowers who were harmed by Ulster Bank, today’s fine is too little, too late,” he concluded.