Personal Finances
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15th May 2007

NORTHERN IRELAND CUSTOMERS START UK BANKING REVOLUTION

The Consumer Council said today that the Competition Commission’s final judgement on the £2 billion Northern Ireland personal current account market (PCA) will change the face of banking in Northern Ireland and right across the United Kingdom. As a result of the super-complaint issued by Which? and the Consumer Council, this package of final and binding decisions will fundamentally shift the power in this marketplace from the banks to their customers where it belongs.

Steve Costello, Chairman at the Consumer Council said: ”Today marks the start of a customer revolution in banking where consumers have the tools, information and confidence to take control of their bank account and seek out the best deal.  The market is being transformed from being cosy and complacent for banks to being competitive and customer-focused.   We believe that the outcome of our super-complaint and the subsequent investigation by the Competition Commission is arguably the single biggest consumer victory of our time.

“This process has been a wake-up call for both the banks and their customers who have paid more and got less for their hard earned money for too long.  In the run up to this investigation the customers of the Big Four[1] in effect “donated” some £120 million to their banks as if they were charities rather than switching to a better deal elsewhere.  This comprehensive package of remedies will ensure that switched-on consumers can and will drive a better deal in a more competitive market. “

A major outcome of this investigation is that it will have far-reaching implications for all banks operating in the UK.   The Banking Code’s Independent Reviewer has now indicated that he is minded to recommend that the NI package of remedies become a requirement for all banks across the UK.   It is also a major catalyst to the Office of Fair Trading’s recently announced national investigation into personal current accounts and penalty charges.

Steve Costello continued: “There has been more change in the banking market here in the last three years than in the last 30 years.  Consumers now have the power and the tools at hand to make sure that the change continues.  The Consumer Council will continue to strive to get a better deal.  We would like to acknowledge the support provided to us by Which?, and to thank all those who provided evidence to the Competition Commission including our local community and voluntary organisations and politicians.  Together, we have made sure that the consumer’s voice has been heard and counted.

 “The change has undoubtedly begun but more needs to be done particularly in relation to charges when customers go into the red without permission, often for a small amount for a short period of time. Customers are demonstrating that they can and will challenge unfair charges and banking practices.  We have focussed attention on penalty charges imposed on those who go into the red without permission.  This practice cost Northern Ireland consumers a shocking £35 million in one year alone[2], the vast majority of which we feel is unfair.  Nearly 10,000 consumers have downloaded our Stop Unfair Charges pack and people who challenge their unfair charges are getting average refunds of £1,000 back in their pockets  – some on the steps of the Small Claims Court.  Let consumer power continue”

  1. Consumer Council media contact: Telephone, 028 9067 2488
  2. The Consumer Council is an independent consumer organisation, working to bring about change to benefit Northern Ireland’s consumers. The Council campaigns for high standards of service and protection and a fair deal for all. It also carries out research, gives advice and publishes reports and other publications. It deals with individual complaints about electricity, natural gas, coal and passenger transport.
  3. For more information, visit our website at www.consumercouncil.org.uk



[1] First Trust Bank, Northern Bank, Ulster Bank and Bank of Ireland

[2] Competition Commission Provisional Findings, para 4.287, page 187