Banks are failing bereaved families with unacceptable mistakes, says Which?

Vicky Shaw, PA Personal Finance Correspondent

Banks are failing bereaved families with unacceptable mistakes and delays, according to Which?

Some banks have lost death certificates or failed to close the accounts of people who have died, the consumer group found.

The coronavirus pandemic has made problems worse, its findings suggest.

Which? surveyed 1,600 members who had acted as an executor within the past two years.

One in six (17%) people said they had laboured over the process of closing their loved one’s accounts for more than three months before the first lockdown, but that proportion doubled to 37% for those who started probate before March 2020 and carried on afterwards.

Only 3% of people said it was very difficult to contact the provider before the first lockdown, but the figure increased to one in six (16%) for those who settled their loved one’s finances after the lockdowns started.

Which? said dozens of executors told it that their bank lost the death certificate after they first registered the death.

One bereaved daughter paid £4,000 in funeral fees herself after HSBC lost her late father’s death certificate, the consumer group said.

The bank’s bereavement team also failed to send her important forms to close her father’s stocks and shares Isa.

She was offered compensation, flowers and a backdated payment of investment, including interest lost.

Other executors said they had to chase banks repeatedly to get them to close accounts.

Another HSBC customer was sent a letter addressed to her late husband about his stocks and shares Isa, despite informing the bank that he had died several months earlier.

When she complained, the bank said it was a mistake and that its records had been updated. But several weeks later her late husband received a new credit card through the post.

HSBC said the mistake was down to “human error”, and has since apologised to the bereaved wife and offered compensation.

A statement from HSBC, given to Which?, said: “We sincerely apologise that in these cases we have fallen short of the high standards we set ourselves and have taken steps to help ensure the experience with us going forward is a better one.

“Customers can now report a bereavement to us via our website and submit required documentation electronically, and we have recruited at pace to bolster our dedicated bereavement team. We are working hard to make sure that our customers have the support they need.”

And a Barclays customer told Which? that his bank set up an executor’s account that could not be managed online – a big inconvenience during the pandemic.

He wrote a letter of complaint but received no response. Barclays said it has since been in touch to resolve the issue and has apologised for the confusion.

Barclays told Which?: “We understand handling financial matters after a bereavement can be a complex and emotional process. We strive to make that experience as easy as possible for our customers’ loved ones.”

The survey also revealed big differences in the levels of satisfaction with staff skill and knowledge during the probate process across different providers.

The providers with the lowest levels of overall satisfaction among executors were Barclays (58%) and HSBC (67%).

The providers with the most satisfied customers during the probate process were Post Office Money (86%), Nationwide (80%) and Santander (80%).

Jenny Ross, Which? Money editor, said: “Our research has exposed unacceptable mistakes by banks cropping up again and again during the probate process, leaving bereaved customers even more distressed and potentially out of pocket because of avoidable errors and delays.

“Banks must ensure they treat executors with compassion by communicating sensitively and making sure their processes are as efficient as possible.”

Here are some probate tips from Which?

– Try to gather the details of your loved one’s accounts when they are still alive.

– Order multiple copies of the death certificate.

– Consider getting professional help to accurately value the estate.

– Keep detailed records as you will be dealing with lots of different organisations.

– Keep beneficiaries updated.

– Complain if things go wrong. You can escalate issues to the Financial Ombudsman Service.

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