‘You’re going to need a Ouija board to speak to Dad’: finance firms fail grieving families

Demands for an email from a deceased person, a mishmash of requests for paperwork and a sense that “we were the first people ever” to report a death. These are among the distressing experiences faced by ­Telegraph Money readers.

A report, “The Cost and Bureaucracy of Dying”, from campaign group Fairer Finance, has found consumers faced numerous obstacles when dealing with dead relatives’ financial affairs. Utility companies and insurers took weeks to close accounts. Almost half of savings firms offered no way to report a death online.

This has left grieving relatives clueless as to how to deal with the 15 to 20 different companies they typically need to contact when someone dies.

Alison MacColl found it distressing dealing with BT when she lost her father in December. She tried to cancel his sports channels and broadband but keep his landline. The bereavement team said she would have to take over his package until the contract ran out. It has now apologised, refunded some charges and released her from the contract. “On this occasion we didn’t get it right,” BT said.

Juliet Landau-Pope said the hardest thing for her when dealing with her parents’ estate was the lack of consistency between banks and building societies. “Some were willing to speak on the phone, others insisted on letters; some accepted photocopies of death certificates, others demanded originals; some had clear instructions, others gave the impression we were the first people to ever talk about these issues,” she said.

Fairer Finance has urged the Government to create digital death certificates to help smooth the process. Relatives complained they cannot get through to bereavement teams or found poorly trained call handlers frustrating. 

When Barclays lost track of £167,000 in her late father’s account, Gabrielle Teare spent months trying to find it but could never get through on the phone and waited weeks for replies to letters. The delays meant she could not pay for the funeral, and the tax office added penalties onto her father’s inheritance tax bill. After this newspaper contacted Barclays it apologised, covered her costs, offered compensation and released the £167,000.

When Murad Alam tried to inform E.On of his uncle’s death, he could not pass security because he was not the account holder. The call handler said the death had been noted, but it kept sending bills for almost a year. When he called E.On again it would not escalate his complaint because he was not a customer. The energy firm said it had no record of the first contact and had dealt with Mr Alam’s complaint “in line with our usual procedures”.

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