Report uncovers bereaved families facing detrimental financial delays

Bereaved people are facing severe delays and administrative errors while trying to close their loved ones’ financial accounts, according to recent research.

This week, Which? released their findings that found that the pandemic has put tremendous pressure on banks’ bereavement services, making it harder for grieving families to settle the finances of loved ones who have died.

The coronavirus have seriously impacted on the services that bereaved people are facing severe delays and administrative errors while trying to close their loved ones’ accounts.

Which? says that a survey of 1600 members reveals that dozens of people experienced banks losing death certificates after they registered a death. And more than a third of people who needed to close accounts after a death experienced delays of longer than 3 months. One in 10 people who were responsible for closing a deceased person’s account after the March 2020 lockdown said they were dissatisfied with the skill and knowledge of bank staff during the process.

The pandemic also appears to have made the problem 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 three per cent of people said it was very difficult to contact the provider before the first lockdown, but the figure shot up to one in six (16%) for those who settled their loved one’s finances during and after lockdown.

Nick Cousins, CEO and founder of Exizent said:

“Sadly, the probate process has not been fit for purpose for some time, and our own research shows that even the legal professionals working in the area agree, with the vast majority saying they feel the process does not work as it should, admitting the time it takes to complete probate is unacceptable.

“Like the Which? research, we also found that the main issue is the administration involved, with most legal professionals saying the time it takes for financial institutions to get back to them with the information they need is the main cause of delays.

“But it needn’t be this way – there is a huge opportunity to harness the technology and data already available to create a better system, so that loved ones are not faced with huge delays at what is already a hugely difficult time.”

Tremayne Carew Pole, Founder of Life Ledger said:

“I’m not surprised about the findings of the Which? survey. We have found that while there is an appetite to transform the bereavement journey for customers the change process within banks is incredibly slow. We provide a simple platform for the bereaved to send notifications to multiple companies in multiple sectors and we deal with most of the major banks on a daily basis. There does seem to be a lack of consistency in how they approach dealing with a death. However, backing up the Which? survey some have been absolutely amazing – Nationwide has been extremely proactive and easy to work with and have been willing to adapt how they work to make life and death easier for vulnerable and bereaved customers. Often companies fall into the trap of examining how they deal with an issue, rather than looking at the wider landscape and the new bereavement ecosystem that is emerging around dealing with a death.”

With the Which? report uncovering glaring failures in treatment of bereaved customers and highlighting the urgent need for digital death certificates, Bereavement Standard campaigners have demanded ministers act urgently to help grieving families.

Vicky Wilson, co-founder of the Bereavement Standard campaign and CEO of account closure service Settld, said:

“This report exposes the urgent need for a much better system. We need all service providers, including banks, to adhere to better standards. We need digital death certificates introduced by the government as a matter of priority, to ensure that bereaved customers are not left in limbo if their documents aren’t treated with care, as so many of those in the Which survey experienced.

“Bereaved customers deserve so much better. Ministers insisted in parliament recently that this is a priority area for them, but we want action not warm words.”

Steven Wibberley, CEO of Cruse Bereavement Care, joint founders of the Bereavement Standard campaign, said:

“The poor treatment which bereaved customers receive can often be shocking, and this report highlights a glaring gap in the training of staff. A new Bereavement Standard would oblige companies to properly train their staff how to engage with bereaved customers sensitively and appropriately.

“Grieving customers should be allowed proper time to grieve, and not be put under additional distress by service providers at what is already an incredibly difficult time.”

Today's Wills and Probate