A Dunedin mother has turned to rationing her family’s food after a Westpac Bank “technology glitch” unexpectedly left her more than $230 in overdraft.
Shanese Samson said she checked her account on Saturday morning, expecting to find at least $20, and found it was overdrawn by $234.
She was one of many Westpac Bank customers across they country whose accounts went into overdraft at the weekend.
The bank yesterday apologised for leaving customers out of pocket after transactions made on the busiest shopping days before Christmas were not processed correctly and only put through a fortnight later.
A technology glitch is being blamed for MasterCard credit and debit payments made on December 22 and 23 not going through properly.
The bank has since authorised staff to refund customers up to $800 each, but customers had to contact the bank to get refunds.
Samson said she had been trying to phone the bank, but was unable to get through.
She was “outraged” and “worried sick” about how she would deal with the situation.
She has a son with medical conditions and he is due to attend a doctor’s appointment today, but she has epilepsy and is unable to drive.
“That’s why I had the $20 left in my account. It was to get a taxi to the doctor’s appointment.”
She was expecting some money to go into her account today, but if the issue was not resolved, she would still be in overdraft.
“I haven’t been able to get any groceries and I won’t if it’s not sorted.
“I’ve started rationing food in case it’s not. We can’t even get milk or bread or anything.
“I’ve also got to pay the power bill this week — $130. It’s freaking me out.”
She said she was estranged from family and was not able to ask anyone for help.
“We’re a one-income family and every cent counts.
“I watch my bank every single day. I watched the transaction get taken out, I saw the money disappear and it never bounced back in, and then I was charged again.
“It’s not my fault and I’m really worried. I don’t know how I’m going to pay for anything this week,” she said.
An email provided to The New Zealand Herald, reportedly sent to Westpac staff, authorises employees to refund some customers up to $800.
“A small group of customers may be in financial difficulties as a result of this issue,” the email said.
“In these cases you are able to refund the amount of the relevant transaction(s) (up to $800) to themto alleviate their situation, following your normal business process.
“For amounts in excess of this amount, please escalate to your people leader,” the email said.
A Westpac spokesman did not confirm the $800 figure to the Herald, but said some reimbursements might be made, and all overdraft fees and interest incurred were being automatically waived.
“We’re aware some customers have been financially challenged by this payments issue.
“We’re really sorry people have been put in this position.
“Our team has been given discretion to work with customers to understand the financial impact, with a view to making reimbursements to those in need on a case-by-case basis,” he said.
Another affected customer, Alan Robinson, told the Herald he was also in overdraft by $200.
“They had two weeks to give us a heads-up or warning, so the sudden shock of waking up with my bank [balance] being in overdraft was quite the shock and all they do is waive the fees.
“How about waive the overdrafts of every single Westpac customer for your mistake?
“The bank should take it on the chin and issue an apology to their customers.”
Robinson said he did not know how he was going to afford to live this week.
“I’m always careful with my money and always check my account after transactions. Everything was normal until Westpac dropped this bomb on New Zealand customers.”
But not everybody agreed. One affected customer said going $800 into overdraft showed a lack of financial awareness.
She said the incident highlighted how many people were living week to week and also did not read their bank statements regularly, could not manage their finances, or were unaware of their own financial situations.
“I would certainly have questioned why I had extra money in my account if I had spent this amount pre-Christmas.”
Banking Ombudsman Nicola Sladden said her office was aware of the blunder.
“We would expect a bank to promptly notify its customers of any systemic issues and promptly put the matter right.”
Any customers concerned about the way the bank had handled the matter were welcome to contact the Banking Ombudsman Scheme, which would help people work through their concerns, she said.
— Additional reporting The New Zealand Herald