COVID bereaved families hit with delays, errors when dealing with banks

Saleha Riaz
·3 min read
Dozens of executors said their bank lost the death certificate after they first registered the death. Photo: Getty Images
Dozens of executors said their bank lost the death certificate after they first registered the death. Photo: Getty Images

Bereaved families settling their loved ones’ finances are facing severe delays and costly admin errors during the pandemic when dealing with banks such as HSBC (HSBA.L) and Barclays (BARC.L), a new report revealed.

Consumer group Which? surveyed 1,600 members about their experience of acting as an executor and found that issues included some banks losing death certificates and failing to close accounts of people who have passed away.

The report said this is “making an already stressful task even more difficult.”

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

Those with the most satisfied customers were Post Office Money (86%), Nationwide (NBS.L) (80%) and Santander (BNC.L) (80%).

HSBC 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.”

It said customers can now report a bereavement via its website and submit required documentation electronically, to make things simpler.

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Meanwhile Barclays said: “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 pandemic appears to have exacerbated the issue. One in six (17%) people said they laboured over the process of closing their loved one’s accounts for more than three months before the first lockdown, but that number rose to four in 10 (37%) for those who began probate before March 2020.

Only 3% of people said it was very difficult to contact the provider before the first lockdown, but the figure rose to 16% for those who settled their loved one’s finances during and after lockdown.

The survey also found 11% of people were dissatisfied with the skill and knowledge demonstrated by bank staff during the process after the lockdown in March 2020.

Dozens of executors said their bank lost the death certificate after they first registered the death.

Others said they had to chase banks repeatedly to get them to close their loved ones’ accounts.

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,” she added.

Among Which?’s tip on how to deal with the process is to gather details of loved ones’ accounts before they pass away, and to always order multiple copies of death certificate.

It might be worth getting professional help to accurately value the estate, it suggested, as is complaining to the financial ombudsman should things go wrong.

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