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Westpac should wipe overdrafts of customers hit by banking glitch – budgeting expert

Scores of Westpac customers are facing a financial shock after pre-Christmas MasterCard purchases were not correctly processed.

Westpac should wipe the debts of customers plunged into overdraft by a banking blunder where transactions weren’t processed for a fortnight, a budgeting expert says.

The bank apologized on Saturday for a technology glitch where credit and debit payments made on December 22 and 23 — some of the busiest shopping days of the year — didn’t go through properly. Customers were instead charged for those purchases on Thursday night, Westpac said.

Furious Westpac customers reported being suddenly left unexpectedly hundreds of dollars in overdraft, some saying they have barely enough money to pay for groceries. Many say they will take months to get back into the black and a terrible way to start 2023.

One customer said they were now nearly $810 overdrawn.

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“I don’t know how to pay for food, as whatever funds are coming in will be soaked up by this $800. An apology is not going to put food on the table for our four children.”

One single mother on a benefit told the Herald she discovered her account was unexpectedly overdrawn by $133.

“My family will suffer for the remainder of the school holidays,” she said.

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“It’s only $133 but that’s all I had to get me through until Tuesday when I get my tax credits. That won’t even cover it, still leaving me overdrawn by $10 until my benefit payment on Thursday to get me out of the overdraft.

“There’s just no way I can ever make up that money.”

Budgeting expert Natalie Vincent told NZME that Westpac needs to wipe the overdrafts, because it was cruel to force low-income New Zealanders to start the year in this position.

“To wake up in the morning and find out you don’t have a dime to go out and get your groceries will be extremely distressing for people,” said Vincent, who is chief executive of Ngā Tāngata — a non-profit organization focused on helping financially vulnerable New Zealanders get ahead with money.

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Massey University banking expert Claire Matthews said the biggest issue centered on what she believed was a lack of communication from Westpac given it had two weeks to alert customers.

The bank should also provide assistance to those with immediate needs given there was no advance warning, she said.

“I think Westpac should be … providing assistance perhaps with additional increase in their overdraft facility beyond what has been created by the transactions so that if people have an immediate need for funds they’ve got an ability to spend what they need to. “

Matthews said the situation would have been a shock to many.

Westpac was unable to respond to specific questions on its communication but invited customers who would like to talk about their individual circumstances to visit one of its branches or call its contact center.

Here’s how the glitch is hitting some customers.

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‘Made families go into hardship’

BJ Hemana told the Herald she had to borrow money from her children to pay for food and petrol as the processing problem had left her out of pocket until her next payday on Thursday.

“It really sucks as I have three growing children aged between 12 and 15 that eat a lot,” she said.

“It’s going to take a while before we get back in the safe zone financially.”

She claimed this was the third time processing problems with Westpac had caused her financial stress.

She told the Herald the bank’s apology wasn’t good enough, saying Westpac didn’t adequately communicate what had happened and better repayment options should have been made available.

“Why couldn’t Westpac just take so much a week back instead of taking money in one lump sum? Why didn’t Westpac let customers know what had happened? Financially they have made a lot of families go into hardship for 2023.”

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‘If you have to buy groceries, you’ll be in trouble’

Rensia van Wyk woke up this morning to find her account had an overdraft of almost $300 “even though I work carefully with my money,” she told the Herald.

“You really, especially these days with money being so tight, you really have to budget for everything but you certainly don’t budget for something like this,” van Wyk said.

“If you have to buy groceries, you’ll be in trouble. Luckily I won’t face this problem as I have a bit saved I can use, but it’s suddenly a lot of money to be owed.”

‘I don’t know how to pay for food’

Another customer showed the Herald a nearly $810 overdraft on their account.

“I don’t know how to pay for food, as whatever funds are coming in will be soaked up by this $800.

“An apology is not going to put food on the table for our four children.”

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Many other customers told the Herald about missing or delayed transactions on top of the sudden debt, with most in similar financial hardship due to the error.

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