Changing mortgage at the end of a fixed rate

We took out a fixed-rate mortgage for our home around 3 years ago, and that fixed-rate period is about to come to an end.

If we had done nothing and left the mortgage as it is then it would have transferred automatically from the fixed rate onto the bank’s current variable interest rate, which is higher. We’d have ended up paying about €200 more a month!

Instead we approached Ulster Bank a few months ago to ask them about our options for transferring onto another fixed-rate deal. The process has been somewhat frustrating and slow. The bank seems to obfuscate the process in order to dissuade people from making the effort to move to a better deal.

In order to change our mortgage to another fixed-rate we had to request two things from the bank which were sent out in the post:

  • a list of all current mortgage products, which includes all the fixed and variable rate deals, and a form to select which offer we want to move onto
  • a letter detailing the break-out cost because we are quitting our existing fixed-rate deal a few months early

Moving to another mortgage rate

We received the details from Ulster Bank a few months ago, and when we did our sums there was an obvious advantage for us to change our mortgage to another – cheaper – fixed-rate deal. The break-out fee to get out of our current fixed-rate was less than the savings we could make in a single month by moving.

Unfortunately the Ulster Bank process isn’t communicated well in the correspondence sent out to customers. They don’t actually mention how the break-out fee is to be paid, so we assumed that they would just take it from our current account, or add it to our mortgage balance. But no. You have to phone them (within a set period of time of receiving the break-out offer) and pay the fee over the phone. Only then will they move you onto the new interest rate.

And because we didn’t know we were meant to call the bank to pay the break-out fee, they ignored our written instructions, and didn’t move us to the new cheaper interest rate.

I would have thought that a simple phone call from Ulster Bank saying “We’ve received your application to move to a new fixed rate. Would you like to pay the break-out fee now?” might have moved things along. But instead they chose to do nothing, and our form requesting the reduced interest rate was ignored for more than 2 months – losing us hundreds of euros in potential savings in the process!

When we recently chased it up we were told we’d have to start the process all over again as our break-out fee would have to be recalculated. So we had to wait another week for the paperwork to come, phone Ulster Bank and pay the break-out fee, and then return our form for the new mortgage deal (which they say takes them 5-10 business days to process!).

Was it worth the hassle?

It’s definitely worth switching to a new fixed-rate deal if your current one is about to run out. The interest rates today are lower than they were a few years ago, and you could end up saving a lot on your monthly payments.

All the fixed-rate deals are cheaper than the variable interest rate, so unless you’re planning to pay off your mortgage early (which can incur penalties if you’re in a fixed-rate deal) it’s definitely worth exploring.

Under new regulations the banks are meant to make more of an effort to reach out to customers nearing the end of fixed-rate deals to inform them of their options – but I suspect banks are only going to do the bare minimum on this, as it’s not in their interest to promote their cheapest mortgages to existing customers.

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.

Will there ever be a contactless debit card from Ulster Bank?

If you bank with AIB, KBC or the Bank of Ireland you’ll have been able to use their contactless debit cards for the last couple of years.

However Ulster Bank in the Republic of Ireland do not offer a contactless debit card. They have contactless on their ROI credit card, and they have it on their Northern Ireland debit card, but the bank have given no indication when it will be available on ROI debit cards.

It’s annoying for Ulster Bank customers, who can’t take advantage of the convenience of contactless payments.

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