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Alarming letters and hoop jumping over paltry sum not actually owed to PTSB

Dublin couple told by mortgage lender their home was at risk over sum of €20.33 it claimed was owed

A couple from Dublin were shocked when they were contacted out of the blue by PTSB, first over the telephone and then by letter – and told their home was at risk because they had partially defaulted on their home loan.

Then the couple were left almost entirely bewildered when they found out that the money the bank claimed was owning on the property they had be assiduously been paying off every month for 30 years was the princely sum of €20.33.

And then they ended up being understandably furious when it emerged that they didn’t owe the €20.33 through any fault of their own at all but were still made to jump through all manner of hoops to clear their financial good name.

But, despite all the heartache and the stress, Michael Keegan still characterises the story he wants to tell as a good news one.

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“In late February 2023, my wife Marie received a cold call from PTSB stating that we had defaulted partially on that month’s mortgage repayment,” his mail begins.

The money apparently outstanding was – as we have mentioned – €20.33. “Marie was most concerned and unnerved by the thrust of the call and asked PTSB to phone me instead, as I deal with such matters,” Michael says.

PTSB never made the call and instead, a couple of days later, a letter arrived, addressed to both Michael and Marie.

She opened the letter and read that “the monthly repayment due on 20th February, 2023, has not been paid”.

Marie was “shocked by the letter’s explicit threats that our ‘HOME IS AT RISK‘(yes, that was stated in upper case, bold), etc, while the letter also feigned concern at our possible ‘mortgage repayment difficulties’, which certainly was news to my wife,” Michael says.

He says that “to cut a very long story short, the €20.33 was the mortgage protection component of the monthly instalment, which PTSB had failed to execute correctly (following our move from Ulster Bank to Bank of Ireland in January 2023 – the correct new bank details which we supplied in timely fashion were handled erroneously internally by PTSB). It had been left to me of course to uncover the reason for the alleged o/s €20.33 by liaising direct with Irish Life,” he says.

He stresses that the error “was 100 per cent PTSB’s” and they admitted this “after three months of harassing us, threatening us, initiating legal action they said, alleging we needed help with repaying the €20.33, treating us as a mortgage arrears resolution process case (MARP), claiming we risked being ineligible for a personal insolvency arrangement (PIA), warning us that the payment they said we had missed would be reported to the Central Credit Register.”

He pauses to remind us that “we are talking about €20.33 which wasn’t even owing to them”.

He says that on ‘innumerable occasions I was forced to phone a generic number and to wait for very lengthy periods before having to recite the entire history to a new customer service representative’

He says that “throughout the process up to the point of PTSB’s admission of its error, and after, I dealt with so many different PTSB personnel that I eventually lost count. They continually insisted on communication by hard-copy letter, with no email address or relevant phone number supplied to me, despite many requests for same. They made communication and, therefore, problem-solving as difficult as possible, of course, placing the responsibility for same with us.”

He says that on “innumerable occasions I was forced to phone a generic number and to wait for very lengthy periods before having to recite the entire history to a new customer service representative”.

Michael then gets to the reason this is a good news story.

“On and on it went, attempts to reason with the PTSB met by extraordinary levels of incompetence, disinterest and detachment, again and again, ad nauseam. Though eventually admitting the problem was all of its own making, and apologising, the PTSB remained most reluctant to engage meaningfully on remedying the damage and the defamation it had perpetrated on two customers, whose mortgage repayments over 30 years had not been even a day late, let alone ever unpaid,” he continues.

“Having repeatedly showed the incapacity to accept the possibility of their own shortcomings and inadequacies, PTSB eventually admitted the failing was all of their doing, and offered to let us off the €20.33 in question. Yes, they did, believe it or not, after months of written threats to our home, defamatory commentary about our financial status, threats of legal action and references to MARP, PIA and the credit register. Yes sir, let us off the €20.33, an act of charity of such proportions that, while it caused us just a moment’s mirth, that was soon followed by more anger and aggravation.”

He says that it “wasn’t for months thereafter that PTSB actually brought itself to confirm that our credit rating was not compromised and their own legal hounds were called off by them and there would be no litigation. Eventually the PTSB offered an enhanced, but still token, sum in resolution. The sum, in dispute-resolution parlance, was no more than “f...-off” money,” Michael says.

The couple rejected the offer and Michael says he was left with the impression that the PTSB “actually seemed to have no interest in resolving the problem of its own making, repeatedly expressing its preference for shifting the matter to a third party”.

Now, you might be wondering, like Pricewatch was, how this could possibly be a good news story.

“Because, following further lengthy and laborious engagements, we resigned ourselves to referring the matter to the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman [FSPO], as a consequence of whose helpful intervention resolution was ultimately reached, in May 2024, 15 months after the commencement of the debacle.”

Now, it strikes us that this is exactly the sort of problem that should never reach Pricewatch, never mind the office of the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman. It could – and should – have been resolved with a single phone call, perhaps the very first phone call

He says he cannot reveal details of the settlement that was finally reached under a confidentiality agreement between all the parties but says he was offered “substantially more than had been originally offered”.

Mind you, the original offer from PTSB was just over €20 so it would not take a lot for it to be substantially more than that.

“At one stage before the matter was dealt with by the FSPO, I had asked that the PTSB merely send Mrs Keegan a bunch of flowers, with an apology, as a gesture of goodwill. That suggestion was rejected,” Michael says.

“After the financial settlement was agreed, I again asked for that gesture to my wife, to show that when they said they were sorry they really meant it. The PTSB, obviously, feeling the pain of the settlement, couldn’t find it within its corporate heart to execute such a small act of kindness,” he says.

He concludes his main by suggesting the “damage inflicted on us and on our reputation by the PTSB will live long with us. However, the pain is somewhat salved by the ultimate outcome. Good news. Further, we are in the fortunate position too that we were able to pay off the remaining balance on the mortgage, which we did this week, unfettering us from that uncaring financial institution and its appalling customer service. More good news. All that good news is underscored by the fact that we have resolved never, ever again to have any dealings with the PTSB, a callous organisation. All’s well that ends well.”

Now, it strikes us that this is exactly the sort of problem that should never reach Pricewatch, never mind the office of the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman. It could – and should – have been resolved with a single phone call, perhaps the very first phone call. The amount of money owed was by any measure small, verging on the inconsequential and the reason it was showing up on the system should have been easy to identify.

But it is what happens when branch networks are diminished, if not dismantled and everything is centralised with barriers put in the way of easy and effective human interactions – and PTSB is by no means the only bank that is found wanting in this regard.

So, we sent them Michael’s story and in response this is what came back.

“Firstly, we sincerely apologise to this customer for the service they experienced,” a spokeswoman said. “By May 2023 we had taken steps to ensure the account was put back into the position it would have been in had the error not occurred. It is important to know that we have reached a mutually agreeable settlement with these customers.”

She said that in “this instance an error was made whereby the incorrect direct debit amount was requested which resulted in a repayment shortfall. As a regulated entity, PTSB is required under the code of conduct on mortgage arrears [CCMA] to communicate promptly with a customer as soon as a repayment shortfall occurs, whether by a full or partial repayment amount.

“As a result of this error, the CCMA process was initiated, which included the issuance of two letters. While these letters should never have been issued to the customer in the first instance, the ‘warning statements’ which are included in these types of letters are a regulatory requirement and are also included on all other mortgage correspondence that customers receive.

The spokeswoman said that these “regulatory requirements stipulate details about the format and font size that must be used, and in some cases, the specific wording that must be quoted; the upper case, bold font reference to a home being at risk, for example, is an explicit requirement under section 128 of the Consumer Credit Act 1995.”

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