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VICTORIA BISCHOFF: Firms must stop betraying the bereaved

Betrayal of the bereaved: Firms must make it easy to close family members’ accounts after they pass away, says VICTORIA BISCHOFF

There is a deeply troubling example of the appalling way some firms treat bereaved customers doing the rounds on Twitter this week.

Four months after writer George Monbiot’s mother died, Vodafone still hadn’t cancelled her account.

He and his sister hold power of attorney for his elderly father, but Vodafone insisted on speaking to his dad. It demanded he provide his late wife’s mobile phone number and the date the contract started.

Hardest time: A recent report by consumer group Fairer Finance found that many firms are still making it nigh on impossible for people to wrap up their loved ones' affairs

Hardest time: A recent report by consumer group Fairer Finance found that many firms are still making it nigh on impossible for people to wrap up their loved ones’ affairs

He didn’t know this information and became extremely distressed. But without these details, the telecoms giant refused to help.

When the family finally cancelled the direct debit instead, Vodafone appointed a debt recovery agent to chase money they didn’t owe.

‘At no time, even in the first phone call, was there any expression of commiseration or sympathy, just outright hostility and aggression,’ said Mr Monbiot. He has nearly half a million followers on Twitter, so you can imagine how quickly the firm’s social media team leapt into action to solve his case. 

But what’s telling is the number of people who have posted similar tales on the site in response. One wrote: ‘It was the threat of a debt recovery letter that broke me after my husband’s death.’ 

Another shared: ‘When my father-in-law passed away last year, I called up a network only to be asked if I wanted to upgrade.’

And it beggars belief how many people claimed firms had repeatedly asked to speak to the deceased account holder.

Money Mail has long campaigned for better treatment of the bereaved. We’ve made some good progress, with the launch of the Death Notification Service, which allows families to notify several companies with just one alert. 

But we are still waiting for utility firms and insurers to sign up — which we were told would happen years ago.

A recent report by consumer group Fairer Finance found that many firms are still making it nigh on impossible for people to wrap up their loved ones’ affairs.

Some companies still do not have dedicated bereavement helplines; others won’t allow you to close an account online. And a number of investment firms even charge hundreds to pay out benefits.

Fairer Finance is calling on the Government and regulators to outlaw ongoing charges for customers when they die. It is also asking that firms provide quicker, easier ways for the bereaved to close family members’ accounts.

It is surely not too much to ask.

Time for action

Thank you for all your emails and letters about rip-off tax rebate firms. As we reveal, the evidence you’ve provided is absolutely damning. It seems there really is no limit to the depths these companies will sink in order to prey on unassuming taxpayers.

So while I’m relieved HMRC has launched a consultation aimed at stamping out unscrupulous practices, as your experiences demonstrate, we can’t afford to wait any longer for action. 

Internet giants (namely social media) and the advertising watchdog must intervene — and fast.

If we can clamp down on misleading adverts, it will help stop these firms once and for all. In the meantime, keep your letters coming so we can continue to build a powerful dossier for the taxman.

It pays to fight

Finally, a good reminder of why you should always challenge banks if they refuse to refund money stolen by fraudsters.

One 90-year-old reader from Kent lost £2,000 after scammers convinced her she was helping to catch a crook at her building society. 

She was instructed to make a series of withdrawals at her local branch. On her second visit, staff smelled a rat and called the police.

But she was denied a refund because she had withdrawn the cash herself. It was only after reading an article in this newspaper that she discovered she could complain to the Financial Ombudsman — which promptly ordered the building society to pay up.

She says: ‘I feel fortunate, but it was because of the Daily Mail’s advice and my persistence. I wish to thank you for all the work being done by reporters to clear this plague confronting everyone — especially the elderly.’

Thank you for your kind words.

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