Fairer bank charges for Northern Ireland consumersCompetition inquiry finds practices too complex

16 May 2007

Northern Ireland consumers are set to get fairer bank charges after a Competition Commission (CC) investigation prompted by Which?.

After a two year investigation the CC agreed with Which? and found a lack of competition in the Northern Ireland banking market.

The inquiry into the big four NI banks found unduly complex charging structures and practices and a failure to adequately to explain them to customers.

Consumer benefit

Which? Principal Economist Alena Kozakova said: ‘This inquiry has given the Northern Irish current account market the push it needed and we hope that, as a result, consumers will benefit and competition will increase in this market.

‘We now need to be confident that the good intentions and hard work put into the report will deliver and we will be keeping an eye on this market to ensure that banking customers are getting a fair deal.’

Banks in Northern Ireland must now provide clearer information to customers to help them understand the banks’ charges and interest rates.

They must also give customers at least 14 days’ notice before deducting charges and interest from their accounts and make it easier for customers to switch banks.

Clearer information

The CC has called on the banks to remind customers annually of their right to close their account or switch to another bank.

The new measures will come into force in Northern Ireland by April 2008.

Christopher Clarke, Chairman of the Inquiry Group and a CC Deputy Chairman, said: ‘Our measures will ensure a better deal for personal current account customers in Northern Ireland. By enabling them to understand the costs of operating their personal current account (PCA), they will be much better placed to take decisions on the use of their existing account.

‘Customers will also be in a much better position to choose which PCA and which bank best suits their own personal circumstances. ‘

Personal needs

The Ulster Bank said in a statement: ‘Ulster Bank has always maintained that the PCA market in Northern Ireland is very competitive.

‘We agree with the Competition Commission that customers must be encouraged to seek out the best PCA to match their own personal needs and Ulster Bank remains committed to providing clear information to help them do so.

‘Our current campaign offers £150 to customers who switch to Ulster Bank and we are confident that the range of services we offer will continue to attract growing numbers of new account holders.’