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HSBC and Barclays ‘failing bereaved families’

Written by: Emma Lunn
Bereaved families settling their loved ones’ finances are facing severe delays and costly admin errors during the pandemic, according to Which?

Some banks have lost death certificates and failed to close the accounts of people who have passed away.

Which? surveyed 1,600 members about their experience of acting as an executor and found that many shared stories of delays, administrative errors and poor knowledge when dealing with banks. HSBC and Barclays scored particularly poorly in the survey.

The pandemic appears to have made the problem of dealing with bereavement worse. 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 and carried on afterwards.

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

Lack of skill and knowledge

The survey also exposed a catalogue of mistakes by banks when dealing with the bereaved, with one in 10 (11%) people dissatisfied with the skill and knowledge demonstrated by bank staff during the process after the lockdown in March 2020.

Worryingly, dozens of executors said their bank lost the death certificate after they first registered the death. One bereaved daughter had to fork out £4,000 in funeral fees herself after HSBC lost her late father’s death certificate.

The bank’s bereavement team also failed to send her important forms to close her father’s stocks and shares ISA. As a result, she was offered compensation, flowers and a backdated payment of investment, including the interest lost.

Another HSBC customer was sent a letter addressed to her late husband about his stocks and shares ISA, despite her notifying the bank that he had passed away several months earlier. When she complained, the bank said it was a mistake and that its records had now been updated, but several weeks later her late husband received a new credit card through the post.

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. 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.”

One Barclays customer told Which? that his bank misinterpreted his instructions and set up an executor’s account that couldn’t be managed online – a big inconvenience during the pandemic.

He wrote a letter of complaint to which Barclays failed to respond. Barclays says it has since been in touch to resolve the issue and has apologised for the confusion.

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 best and worst banks for dealing with bereavement

The Which? 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%).

Meanwhile, 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.”

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