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Ireland's Ulster Bank extends majority of COVID-19 loan breaks

DUBLIN, July 31 (Reuters) - Ulster Bank has extended repayment breaks for the majority of the 12,000 mortgage customers who sought an initial three-month break due to the COVID-19 crisis, the chief executive of NatWest Group’s Irish unit said on Friday.

Ireland’s banks offered the three-month breaks in March and agreed to extend them to six months for customers in need of further temporary relief as the Irish economy emerges from lockdown at a slower pace than most of Europe.

Ulster Bank had extended 4,000 repayment breaks for mortgage customers by the end of June and CEO Jane Howard said that became a majority in July.

“What we’re seeing at the end of three months is that some customers are going back to paying and then we have got some customers who are knocking it on, that’s a majority, for six months because they are not fully back at work yet,” Howard said. “We’re probably where we thought we’d be.”

Ireland’s central bank has estimated that at the end of May there were almost 200,000 active breaks across Ireland’s five main domestic retail banks, including business customers.

Ulster Bank, the country’s third-largest mortgage lender, was the first Irish bank to provide details of how many repayment breaks have been extended. Its four rivals report first half results next week.

Ulster, which said it had also provided payment breaks for around 3,000 commercial customers, reported a 276 million euro ($328 million) operating loss in the first half year, contributing to NatWest Group’s 770 million pound ($1 billion) pretax loss.

That was primarily due to a net impairment charge of 278 million euros, part of 2.1 billion pounds in provisions at the recently rebranded NatWest. ($1 = 0.8410 euros) ($1 = 0.7618 pounds) (Reporting by Padraic Halpin Editing by David Holmes)