The country's banks have seen a 400% increase in calls seeking financial support since the middle of March, new figures from Banking & Payments Federation Ireland show today, as thousands of people have been laid off from their jobs.

Banking & Payments Federation Ireland said the banks were seeing about 7,000 calls a day regarding mortgage payment breaks.

The calls are a mixture of queries about the future and requests for actual payment breaks.

It noted that the biggest surge in calls came last Thursday after the banks jointly announced a payment break, adding that in some cases payment break instructions have gone from 10-15 a week to about 800-900 a day.

Questions coming in from customers include:

1. A lot of people not in arrears but just planning for drop in income ahead, asking if they could qualify?

2. When will payment break be applied?

3. What are my options long term as I may be out of work longer than the three months?

4.  Customers asking about their next repayment.

The BPFI figures also reveal that SME call volumes are now easily exceeding 1,000 a day, with banks seeing an estimated increase in credit applications of between 300% and 400%.

Banks are reporting an overall five-fold increase in calls to their SME lines, with a huge surge evident since the second week of March.

BPFI also said that where online application firms were available, banks were seeing large numbers of customers using those online facilities.

It also said that footfall in bank branches has reduced by up to 24% and people are using branches less and less as customers increasingly turn to digital channels for their banking needs.

Banks are seeing above average levels of usage with millions of logins across mobile and internet banking.

To deal with the changing situation, banks are reallocating staff from customer facing roles to roles supporting customers seeking mortgage breaks, as well as improving processes for those affected by Covid-19. 

Banks have also relocated staff across a multiple of buildings to lessen the spread of the virus with some staff remote working from home where practical.

BPFI said that the banks' customer facing staff are seeing between 15% and 25% absence levels due to sick leave, self-isolation, having partners in health care jobs and caring for children or older relatives.

However, bank workers are cancelling holidays to support the call centres and workers on part-time contracts are also offering to extend their hours.

BPFI's CEO Brian Hayes said that banks have made it their urgent priority to help those who are financially impacted as quickly as possible and to put their payment break in place, whether the customer is an individual, a family or a business. 

Mr Hayes said that all banks have dedicated Covid-19 website pages, with banks offering a combination of dedicated phone lines and online applications. 

"All bank systems have been simplified and are running live since Monday morning. Banks worked 24 hours a day over the weekend to make sure new easy to follow application systems were put in place for customers impacted by Covid-19 and the staff helping them to make their application," he added. 

He also said the banks have implemented monumental changes to manage the flow of calls and applications with customer facing staff working around the clock to help those most impacted.