Bank glitch delays house moves

Damian Clarkson
Home movers to have balances protected
Home movers to have balances protected

Thousands of property purchases were thrown into turmoil yesterday as the Bank of England system used to transfer hundreds of billions of payments between lenders was hit by a technical glitch.

Home buyers and sellers were left in limbo, unable to complete transactions until the computer problem was fixed yesterday afternoon.

The Bank and the operators of the Clearing House Automated Payment System (CHAPS) extended opening hours into the evening to help ensure payments could be processed today.

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The Bank said that governor Mark Carney has launched a thorough, independent review of the causes of today's disruption.

A spokesman said: "The review will cover the causes of the incident, the effectiveness of the Bank's response and the lessons learned for future contingency plans."

The Bank said it had paused computerised payments under its Real Time Gross Settlement (RTGS) payment system after identifying a "technical issue". The system normally operates from 6am to 4pm on weekdays.

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It comes just over a year after the Bank was forced to operate back-up systems when RTGS suffered a hardware failure.

Today's glitch came after the system was re-started in the early hours of this morning following routine maintenance. It is reported to have followed a new bank being added to the system.

Payments settling balances between commercial banks worth billions of pounds - key to financial stability - were processed manually during the outage.

But house purchase payments using CHAPS were not among them, so homebuyers and sellers were forced to wait until this afternoon for the computers to be up and running again for their purchases or sales to go through.

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The National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA) said there are roughly 19,000 transactions a week on average. This was likely to be higher for the current half-term holiday, though Monday tends to be a less busy day.

NAEA managing director Mark Hayward said the outage would have a "cascading effect", delaying those hoping to move and causing frustration.

"The one part of a sale which is fixed is the completion date," he said.

"With payments not being able to be processed today, this will not only have an effect in terms of the completion date moving, but also accompanying arrangements which may have been scheduled, such as moving support or van hire and the transfer of utilities to the new address."

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Concerns reported by estate agents included an 88-year-old woman who was ready to move, with the contents of her house packed up on her driveway, when the payment problem hit, according to the Guardian.

The Bank confirmed shortly after 4pm that RTGS was once again processing payments as normal and that its opening hours would be extended until 8pm.

CHAPS, which handles £277 billion of payments a day, said it was processing today's backlog and would extend its opening time to 7.40pm.

The Bank of England said its CREST system, which settles securities; Bacs, which processes direct debts; and Faster Payments Service, which handles online banking, were not affected by the outage.

Andrew Tyrie, chairman of the Commons Treasury Select Committee, said: "A crucial part of the UK's financial infrastructure failed for several hours today. I will be writing to the Bank of England to find out why.

"The whole economy depends on a reliable payment system. We need to have confidence that the cause has been found and addressed."

The Bank said later that RTGS had closed at 8pm.

A spokesman said: "All 142,759 payments submitted to RTGS today before the extended deadline have now been processed. The Bank has put in place extra steps to monitor the system at the start of the day tomorrow when RTGS will open at 0600 hrs (BST) as usual. The Bank apologises for any problems caused by the delays to the settlement of payments today and has launched a thorough, independent review of the incident."

Phil Kenworthy, managing director of CHAPS Co said: "Following the operational incident at the Bank of England earlier today, CHAPS would like to apologise for any delays any customers may have experienced with their payments and would ask that anyone impacted by this contact their bank or building society for assistance.

"Today, CHAPS' payments were held up for several hours due to technical issues in the Bank of England Real Time Settlement Central System. We are pleased to report that the problem was resolved mid-afternoon and, following an extension to the CHAPS processing day, just under 143,000 payments were settled - in line with the normal average day's volumes."

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