Four weeks without my Ulster Bank debit card

My wife lost her debit card for our joint current account just over 3 weeks ago, and she used the online banking facility to report it lost and request a new one.

New bank cards are meant to take around 4 working days to arrive. However around 10 days later there was no sign of it, and my debit card had also stopped working. It seems that Ulster Bank had cancelled both cards on our joint account.

So my wife phoned Ulster Bank to tell them that she had not received the replacement card, and asks for replacement cards to be sent for both of us. The customer service agent confirmed that cards would be sent out for both of us.

One week later (3 weeks after first reporting the card loss) my wife’s new debit card finally arrived in the post. But there’s no sign of my card, so I rang up Ulster Bank again, and found out that:

  • My debit card should not have been cancelled in the first place
  • There were two active cards on the account – both in my wife’s name – the one ordered online 3 weeks ago and a second one ordered on the phone a week ago
  • There were no active cards in my name listed on the account

So it seems there were some serious failings in process within Ulster Bank:

  1. They wrongly cancelled my debit card – possibly a problem with their online card loss process
  2. They failed to cancel the first replacement card that was reported lost – leaving it active on the account – a problem related to the customer care agent on the phone who order the replacement
  3. They failed to issue a new card to me – leaving me without a card for 3 weeks – they didn’t send a new card when they originally cancelled my card, and again didn’t send a new card when asked 10 days later

I tried to point out these failings to the customer service agent, but she seemed unable or unwilling to capture the feedback. I asked if she could log a complaint or record my comments against our account, and get someone in authority to review them, and she said nobody reviews the account comments.

So it seems that Ulster Bank has no mechanism in place to learn from their mistakes and to correct them in the future. The biggest problem seems to be around the person that my wife spoke to after 10 days, who told her a number of things that turned out not to be true. That person clearly needs some training in order to perform their role correctly, but our feedback about their performance is clearly not going to be followed up.

I guess this is why people get so frustrated with call centres.

Anyway, it seems that a new debit card has eventually been ordered for me, and will arrive in 3-5 working days. So by the time it gets here, I’ll have been without a working card for a total of four weeks! The bank also insists that they need to send me a new PIN for the card, because I’ve been without an active card for so long!

I did ask if there’s any way that they could expedite the issue of the new card – based on the fact that they’ve made so many mistakes – and the answer to that was also no.

Cancelling Direct Debits with N26

I wanted to cancel a Direct Debit from my N26 account, and couldn’t find any reference to it in the app, so I contacted customer care.

Here’s the process they explained to me to cancel a Direct Debit:

  1. Download the form https://docs.n26.com/cs/N26DirectDebitBlockEN.pdf form their site, and fill in the details the Creditor ID or Merchant Reference
  2. Ensure the form has your physical handwritten signature on it
  3. Scan the form, and email to support(Replace this with the @ sign)n26.com
  4. N26 will then cancel the Direct Debit for you

There’s no help within the app or website that tells you the Creditor ID or Merchant Reference for an existing Direct Debit. Neither of these values are listed against a transaction, so you need to find them elsewhere.

I checked the website of the company that I was paying my Direct Debit to, and their Creditor ID was listed – so I was able to the get the value fairly easily.

The Creditor ID is a unique reference that identifies an organisation collecting payments through a  SEPA Direct Debit, and is usually issued by the organisation’s bank. It reads a bit like an IBAN, but may be shorter, with a mixture of letters and numbers. The Direct Debit Mandate form – whether electronic or paper – should show the Creditor ID on it.

Here’s an extract from the Bank of Ireland SEPA Direct Debit Creditor’s Guide that explains the Creditor ID format:

I’m not sure how you find out the Merchant Reference! If you find out, let me know!

Reversing Direct Debits already paid

If you want to initiate a refund on a Direct Debit that has already been paid, you can do this from within the mobile app:

  1. Tap on the Direct Debit transaction to view the details
  2. Scroll to the bottom and select the option “Initiate refund”
  3. Send the request

N26 state that the money will be returned to your account within 2 banking days.

Screenshot of N26 app, with “Initiate refund” option highlighted

Non-Irish banks and eir

I was on the phone earlier to the telecoms operator eir to change something related to do with my mobile phone contract, and for some reason they requested that I give them my payment details again.

I gave them my details – both the 16 digit number from my debit card and the IBAN for my account – but their system wouldn’t accept either. The problem? They’re for an account run by the German-based mobile bank N26.

eir don’t seem able to accept payment instructions over the phone from non-Irish banks. Instead their direct debit instructions indicate that you have fill in a paper-based mandate form and either post it or fax it (but not email – they don’t accept email) to their office in Clonakilty in Co. Cork.

The Single European Payment Area (SEPA) regulations that came in around 10 years ago are meant to allow customers to make cashless payment in Euros to anyone located in any of the Eurozone counties. So, you should be able to receive your salary into any Eurozone bank account, and may payments to any company around Europe using your IBAN.

It’s entirely possible for business to accept verbal instructions for SEPA direct debits over the telephone and electronically, but for some reason eir doesn’t support this.

To resolve the matter today my customer care agent suggested that I get a friend to volunteer the use of their Irish bank card to set up payment on my account, and then arrange to switch over to my German bank over the next few days.

I asked whether he could guarantee that my friend would not be inadvertently charged for my mobile service, and he said yes. I then asked, if that was the case, whether the agent himself would be willing to use his own personal bank card to set me up. Unsurprisingly, he wasn’t keen!

Lack of price transparency in veterinary care

Think of the last time you took your cat or dog to the vet. Did you know what it was going to cost before you went? Did you shop around?

Caring for a much-loved family pet can be very expensive. The ITV program Pets: The True Cost – Tonight was on last night, and revealed that the an average dog can cost its owners £33,000 (€38,000) over the course of its life, and a cat costs around £24,000 (€27,500).

Vet bills can quickly mount up, especially if your pet has a serious illness or accident. And people don't always realise that their pet insurance may not cover all the treatment costs.

I checked our pet insurance last night, and it only covers the first €4,000 of treatment in a year. And while that may seem like a decent amount of cover, an MRI scan for your dog costs €1,000, before you've even get to the cost of surgery and after-care. And do you really want to deny your pet some treatment because you can't afford it?

No published prices

Part of the problem that contributes towards surprising vet bills is that vets themselves don't publish their prices. Go on, do a search online (I'll wait), and see if you can find any prices listed on a vet's website. I couldn't find any.

The only way (besides bringing your animal in for treatment) is ring around a few vets and get a quote for a specific procedure or treatment – that's if you even know what your pet needs. And even then the people on the phone can be a bit evasive about what is or isn't included in that price – which makes it hard to compare costs.

My wife was trying recently to get prices for routine booster inoculations and for a scale/polish of our dog's teeth, and called three vets to get a quote. The prices varied hugely between the different vets, and there didn't seem to be any pricing consistency within any single veterinary practice. One vet would be the cheapest for one procedure, but also the most expensive for another.

So the only way to get the cheapest treatment, if you're concerned about costs, is to take your animal to different vets for different treatments. But if you do, where's the continuity of care? What happens if a new vet doesn't have access to historical medical records?

It's little wonder that pet owners often pick one vet – often based on location, or a personal recommendation – and stick with them for everything their pet needs, even though they often have no idea what any of the treatment might end up costing. 

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