AS the Ulster Bank computer crash crisis seemed set to drag well into next week, the furious reaction at Lisburn’s main Bow Street branch on Friday typified the frustration of the thousands of customers affected by the shut-down of the India-based system.
The line of irate customers stretched into the street, with many having to wait for the best part of an hour, although the ratio of the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ in drawing out their money was around 50-50.
And while the Ulster’s associated banks on the mainland – the NatWest and the RBS – were reporting that 99 per cent of their customers’ problems had been resolved, the backlog with the Northern Ireland-based establishment was well behind its counterparts.
Typical of the anger was the reaction of single parent Natasha Jamieson, whose benefits are so firmly jammed in the Ulster system that she has switched her account to the Halifax and instructed the DHSS to redirect them there.
“I receive income support, child benefits and tax credit,” she said.
“They were being sent via the Ulster and I simply didn’t have the funds to run the house and support my two children. I don’t blame the staff at the Ulster – they are doing their utmost to cope – but this is the only way I can manage.”
More conciliatory was pensioner Robert Kelly whose money was filtering through as he had ID and proof that it was being paid.
“No problems whatever,” he said. “And thank goodness, as I couldn’t manage otherwise.”
A pay slip and ID also did the needful for Susan Warnock who works at Friends School in Lisburn.
“These things happen and the staff couldn’t be more helpful,” she said.
“People can be very unreasonable. It isn’t the staff’s fault. But I do hope it’s sorted out soon as it is causing a lot of hardship.”
Pat O’Hagan fervently hopes that it is sorted out soon, as a dream cruise he and his wife Carol are planning for a couple of weeks hence is at stake.
“I was medically retired as a tax inspector 16 years ago, and Carol is a benefits officer and neither my pension nor her salary are coming through,” he said.
“We’re having to draw on our cruise savings and are hoping against hope that the whole thing is sorted.”
Such was the long wait at Bow Street in the centre of the city, that many were making the 10-minute walk up to the Longstone branch where things were less hectic – and customers much more satisfied.
One man was there simply to change sterling to euro, another had collected his pension – “no problems” – and a young mother had collected benefits. “Just a matter of showing my ID,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Northern Bank has swooped with a Thinking of Switching Accounts? campaign as the Ulster crisis drifted into another week. A spokesman said it was gathering momentum, adding: “It has been a very busy week as we are continuing to see a significant increase in the number of people inquiring about opening accounts with us.”
But Craigavon businessman Jonathan Bushe, who tried to have his business and personal accounts switched, insisted that the Ulster couldn’t even access his details, “and I’m stuck with them until this is all sorted”.
Yesterday, Antoinette McKeown of the Consumer Council weighed in with a scathing statement, accusing the Ulster Bank of misleading customers.
She said: “Since this crisis started, the Consumer Council has repeatedly been told by Ulster Bank that customers will have no problems accessing their own money at an Ulster Bank branch. However, it appears that some customers are having difficulty getting hold of cash at an Ulster Bank branch. We’ve heard cases where customers have been set a limit on how much they could withdraw, been refused cash from their savings account, or simply told they couldn’t withdraw any cash at all. This is completely unacceptable.”
And Ulster Bank issued another public apology, adding that customers can have access to additional banking hours and that staff would do all in their power to tide customers over the hump.
It said: “To assist our customers who cannot get to a branch during working hours, 32 of our branches have extended opening hours for the remainder of the week until 7pm.
“We are also extending the opening hours of our 26 Saturday opening branches from 10am to 3pm. On Sunday we will also open 10 of our branches from 10am to 1pm.
“Footfall through our branches on Thursday was approximately 15,500 and we handled 15,000 calls via our call centre. Customers can call us over the weekend from 8am-10pm on Freefone 0800 231232.”