Tracker mortgage scandal: The lives destroyed by greedy banks

Business Reporter Pádraig Hoare talks to four people whose lives have been irreparably harmed by the mortgage scandal.

‘The bank fought us tooth and nail all the way’

Thomas and Claire Ryan, who were customers of Permanent TSB, have suffered enormous personal trauma since being caught up in the tracker mortgage scandal.

Mr Ryan told the Oireachtas Finance Committee the toll has been so great on his family that it can never be repaired.

The family, who are from Co Wexford, challenged the fact the wrong rate was applied in 2010 and were rejected by PTSB.

The Ryans then brought the case to the Financial Ombudsman and it was again rejected.

They then took it to the High Court and won. But despite a High Court victory against the lender, the Ryans remain on the wrong rate and the fight goes on for the proper restoration and resolution to the position it should have been in, according to the financial advisor who broke the scandal to the public, Padraic Kissane.

Mr Ryan said: “My family has suffered enormously due to the stress involved. I suffered a stroke in 2013 with lasting consequences to my life, family, and work.

“My wife Claire had a nervous breakdown in 2015, losing her ability to speak.

It was a horrific experience, not only for Claire, but also our children as she went through long periods nervously stuttering and stammering without uttering an understandable word.”

Mr Ryan said the trauma is irreversible.

“These life-changing traumas are etched on our memories forever. Claire can no longer attend large gatherings and gets extremely stressed over minor issues.

"She still goes through regular periods of speech and cognitive impairments even if mildly stressed. As her husband, I find it pitiful and so unjust to see my wife’s previous confident and bubbly nature stripped away from her.”

The impact on the couple’s children is a source of even more sorrow, Mr Ryan said.

“It is of the utmost sadness to witness this change that causes her and us untold anguish.

Whatever about the trauma inflicted on us as a couple, the extreme stress on our teenage children is absolutely heartbreaking. We cannot begin to convey in words.”

Mr Ryan said despite eventually admitting wrongdoing, Permanent TSB have put obstacle after obstacle in the family’s way since it was discovered they were on the wrong tracker rate.

“Incredibly, the bank was found to have deliberately and repeatedly covered up, lied and misled us,” he said. “They fought tooth and nail every inch of the way.

“Rip-off rates leave many people in this country with unsustainable and inflated mortgages. The deceit was only uncovered in the High Court in 2011. The position they put us and countless others could have been prevented if they had shown a shred of honesty and human decency.”

‘The whole of my 30s has been spent in this situation’

For Niamh Byrne, the past decade has been a lost one in many ways as she continues to battle with Ulster Bank after being put on an incorrect mortgage rate.

The teacher from Dublin, who has a masters degree in economics, held a tracker mortgage with Ulster Bank at European Central Bank rates plus 0.85%.

“I drew down a mortgage with Ulster Bank in April 2006,” she said. “In July 2006 ,with interest rates going up, I decided to go fixed. In 2008, when the fixed period ended, I contacted the bank and asked when I could be put back on my tracker.

“They said I would be put on a variable rate. I argued with them over nine months. In May 2009, I was on a 3.85% variable rate with Ulster Bank and AIB had a 2.5% variable rate. If I went into negative equity,
I would not be able to move my mortgage, my hours were severely decreased in work, so I felt I had no choice but to move to AIB.”

She had been guaranteed by the mortgage wording of the agreement, the mortgage broker and Ulster Bank mortgage centre that this rate would be returned after her fixed rate period.

Instead, there began a nightmarish battle with the lender that remains unresolved, with Ulster Bank saying it is more complicated now she is with AIB, Niamh told the Oireachtas Finance Committee.

“Today it is nine years, two months, and 28 days since this happened,” she said.

“The whole of my 30s has been spent in this situation and it looks like there is no end to it.

"It is extremely stressful, it has had a huge impact on my finances. I’m quite careful to look after my mental health but this kind of situation does not help that.”

Ms Byrne says she has been fobbed off by the lender on many occasions. An award of €25,000 for wrongdoing by Ulster Bank does not even come close to resolving it, she added.

“In the end I had a victory and I was awarded €25,000 but they didn’t return the tracker,” she said. “In the amount I would have overpaid in the life of the mortgage, €25,000 isn’t adequate. I was absolutely exhausted.

“I started to write to the bank more than 40 times last year. A subsequent meeting I had with them was to tell me to stop writing to them. It was extremely distressing and upsetting.

“I get letters saying it is complex. Technically the bank is engaging with me because they write back every so often. But they tell you nothing — that is not engagement.

"Last week we heard from Ulster Bank saying there are 1,000 customers in my situation who have not been contacted. I have been contacted, purely because I have hounded them. What about those 1,000 customers?”

‘Rage and anger that I was ripped off and duped’

Helen Grogan, who has a PhD in Biology, never envisioned a retirement where she would have years more to pay off her mortgage.

Ms Grogan came back to work in Ireland in 2005, partly to look after her elderly father.

At the time she had a 1% tracker mortgage with EBS to buy a small terraced house to be near her father.

In 2007-08, she set about switching to PTSB for a 0.8% tracker, discounted for the first year to 0.6% to help reduce the payments on her big mortgage.

At the end of the discount period, PTSB instead increased the tracker rate to 2.25% above ECB rates, but also offered a cheaper variable rate which she took to lower her costs.

The increased payments caused untold distress because, at the time, she had to reduce her work to four days a week because her father needed care.

She told the Oireachtas Finance Committee: “I decided I was going to switch from EBS 1% lifetime tracker to the Permanent TSB product of 0.8% tracker.

"I went into the office and the mortgage adviser, to whom I told my case — I had a big mortgage, I wanted to reduce my payments as much as I could, get good value, and this product seemed to answer that for me.

“She said that 0.8% tracker had been discounted for a year and it was now even better value at 0.6%. I thought it was great, I had an extra little bit of money for the year.

"I went through the process of switching my mortgage from EBS for that one-year discounted tracker, as it was called. At the end of that one-year period, when I was expected to get my 0.8% tracker rate back, all of a sudden I am told ‘your tracker rate is 2.25%’.”

Under duress, Ms Grogan said, she changed to a variable rate less than the 2.25% tracker and has been trying to get that 0.8% rate restored.

“I’ve moved bank now because the variable rate went so high,” she said.

“Over the nine years I’ve been on that variable rate, I’ve paid over €40,000 extra in interest rates. To the end of the mortgage, it will probably be in the region of €80,000. That’s €80,000 I cannot afford. I’m an older person,

“I’m coming up for retirement soon and I’m going to have a mortgage when I retire, and that was something I was trying to avoid. I’d always planned to pay back a little bit extra so that when my retirement age came, I wouldn’t have a mortgage. But now, my mortgage is up to the age of 68 or 69.”

Ms Grogan said she is just looking for justice.

“The one thing is the rage, frustration, and anger that I was ripped off and duped by the bank into thinking I had a product I could count on.

“When I heard about Padraic Kissane’s success in cases in 2015, I saw I wasn’t alone.”

‘Someone needs to stand up to bullies in the bank’

For Hazel Melbourne, the impact of the tracker mortgage scandal on her family has been “devastating, heartbreaking, and totally unacceptable”.

The Permanent TSB customer said no compensation can ever adequately address the heartache caused by being put on the wrong rate.

They are being charged the incorrect rate since 2008 and it’s still continuing, Ms Melbourne said.

She told the Oireachtas Finance Committee: “I am overcharged eight years, as of today. I don’t even know where to start.

"There is one major consequence of which I don’t want to disclose in public, probably to the
delight of Permanent TSB.

“There has been a catastrophic effect as a result of these actions as a family. We have had to change our expectations for our own future, and not for the good. The consequences suffered purely at the hands of Permanent TSB are devastating, heartbreaking and totally unacceptable.

“I’m literally begging you not to help just my family, but all who have suffered horrifically at the hands of the bank. We need someone to stand up to bullies in the bank.”

Ms Melbourne said “a huge part” of her family’s life had been snatched away.

“For six years, we had no control over our true finances, our destiny, and we are still suffering the consequences of this,” she said.

“To think, month after month, we were overcharged an extortionate amount and struggling to manage what was left of our finances, blaming ourselves and suffering horrific stress.

“Then to find out by letter, six years later, that it was all down to a so-called error made by our bank — it was inconceivable, and still is.”

The stress has all been for nothing, she said.

“We are sick to the pit of our stomachs to think all we had been through was avoidable,” said Ms Melbourne. “There was no need for our future to have been changed and it now has. We did nothing to deserve this and yet we still find ourselves in turmoil, trying to get the matter resolved.”

The bar was set too high by the authorities to prove bank wrongdoing, she said.

“We were unsuccessful in our appeal on the basis we had not shown the financial and non-financial damages were caused by the bank, and that it was foreseeable or anticipated that we could have suffered the financial losses suffered by the bank’s failure.

"We need to clarify where there are certain situations where conclusive evidential proof is impractical and impossible.

“Any human being would acknowledge that each of our issues claimed for were undoubtedly caused by Permanent TSB.

“I cannot understandm how they can carry out the appeals process.”


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