If you’ve ever had to deal with financial companies or service providers after you’ve been bereaved the chances are that at least one company made a stressful time far worse. That was the experience of Ingrid Facius, whose husband died in 2008. Ingrid contacted me after she spent almost a year trying to get her late husband’s ISA company to pay up. Despite repeated letters and telephone calls from Ingrid and her solicitor, the ISA administrator, Equiniti, still hadn’t transferred £20,000 from her late husband’s account. And it seems Ingrid is not alone in facing problems.
Problems and delays
The problems Ingrid experienced included telephone calls to Equiniti not being returned and letters she received from the company not giving her clear information. When her solicitor – who was the executor of the estate – got in touch, the response was no better. Ingrid says the whole experience was very stressful. “I was frustrated and upset that every time I rang or wrote, nothing happened.”
It was only after I contacted Equiniti that they agreed to transfer the money to Ingrid. They also apologised to her, explained that the delay was due to a combination of human error and a processing fault and said they would look at their systems to ensure that this did not happen again. Although I was happy to get involved, the fact is that the transfer of money from Ingrid’s late husband’s account to her own should have been relatively straightforward.
When companies get it wrong
The WAY Foundation is a support group for people under the age of 50 who have been widowed. It believes that thousands of people could be affected by financial companies that are either inefficient or – at times – deliberately obstructive. Caroline Doughty, chairman of the WAY Foundation, says firms need to do better: “There needs to be some consistency across the board so that everyone who takes calls knows what the procedure is.”
Problems can range from:
- Companies losing copies of death certificates (which means that additional copies have to be sent).
- Companies forcing callers to repeat the details of the fact they’ve been bereaved over and over again.
- Companies telling callers they can only deal with the account holder. Despite just being told that the account holder is dead.
- Companies dragging their heels over payouts from policies and accounts.
Letter to the FSA
Now, John McFall MP, chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, has taken up the cause. He has written a letter to Hector Sants, the chief executive of the Financial Services Authority. (Now The Financial Conduct Authority or FCA).
John McFall wants the FSA to:
- Look into the issue of how financial companies treat people who are bereaved.
- Encourage the industry to introduce standard procedures that all firms follow.
If you’ve been bereaved
If you’ve been bereaved and have to deal with your husband, partner or relative’s financial affairs, be prepared for the fact that some companies have better procedures than others. And the way you’re treated may come down to the person who picks up the phone.
- Get multiple copies of death certificates: Do this when you register the death as you will have to pay more if you ask for extra copies later.
- Ask for the probate or bereavement department: A number of banks and insurance companies have specialist departments designed to deal with those who are bereaved. The problem is that call centre staff aren’t always aware of this.
- Make a note of all telephone calls: You may need to refer to them later. If possible, send emails or letters so there is a record of correspondence.
- Get advice and support: Contact support groups such as the WAY Foundation and Cruse Bereavement Care. There’s information about what to do when someone dies on the government’s Gov.uk website and elsewhere in this section.
- Consider making a complaint: If you’re not treated properly by financial companies, complain – in writing – about what’s gone wrong.
Useful Links: Find a list of independent funeral directors on the SavvyWoman directory.
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