Banks are failing bereaved families

A new report by consumer group, Which? has revealed that some banks are failing bereaved families by losing death certificates, failing to close the accounts of people who have died and continuing to communicate with customers following their death. The study also found that the coronavirus pandemic has made the problems worse.  

Which? surveyed 1,600 members who had acted as an executor within the past two years. One in six (17 per cent) 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 per cent for those who started probate before March 2020 and carried on afterwards. 

Only three per cent of people said it was very difficult to contact the provider before the first lockdown, but the figure increased to one in six (16 per cent) 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. 

Other executors said they had to chase banks repeatedly to get them to close accounts. Whilst others were sent letters addressed to the deceased such as one HSBC customer who said that the bank continued writing regularly to her late husband about his stocks and shares Isa, despite her having informed 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.” 

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.” 

Mortascreen helps organisations to ensure that they do not communicate with customers that are deceased. Clearly, mistakes are made, but when mistakes happen time and time again, causing distress to the bereaved, putting into place a cost effective, but efficient solution such as screening customer data against deceased suppression files should be a priority.