Ruth Blakemore wasn’t used to seeing her father cry, so when she found him with tears rolling down his cheeks one afternoon, her heart broke.
It had been three days since his wife, Pat – Ruth’s mother – had died, and the recently bereaved Ken was sitting at the kitchen table with piles of paperwork in front of him.
‘It’s not about Mum,’ the then 85-year-old wept. ‘It just feels like no one wants to talk to me any more.’
Heartache: Ruth Blakemore co-founded Life Ledger after watching her father struggle following her mother’s death
In front of him were the details of around 30 companies with whom Pat had held an account. They all needed to be informed of her death.
Ken had been trying in vain to contact the various firms concerned, but was repeatedly facing stumbling blocks.
Some left him on hold for hours, others didn’t answer the phone and, when he queued up at one building society branch, he was turned away and told to make an appointment.
Ruth, 62, from North London, says: ‘There couldn’t have been a worse time for my old dad to climb this complex mountain of administration.’
The Blakemore family is far from alone. A new report by campaign group Fairer Finance found that money firms are still making it difficult for bereaved relatives to close their loved ones’ accounts.
Many keep taking platform and fund management fees from customers long after they have passed away.
Some investment firms even charge hundreds of pounds to pay out the benefits when their customer dies.
Broker A.J. Bell demands at least £250 to release the funds from one of its You Invest accounts when the owner dies. .
Similarly, both Halifax and the Bank of Scotland charge on average between £250 and £500 to release funds from a self-invested personal pension (Sipp), according to the Costs and Bureaucracy of Dying report.
Barclays also applies a charge to close one of its pension accounts when its customer dies. This is also calculated on a time and cost basis.
Spokesmen for A.J. Bell and Charles Stanley say the fees cover various administrative costs, including liaising with solicitors and family members.
Lloyds, Barclays and Best Invest all say they appoint third-party pension administrators who set the costs. Best Invest says its fees depend on the complexity of the case, and that the client is charged at cost.
But the complexity and admin involved in handling these affairs means many give up. As a result, billions of pounds goes unclaimed every year, according to the report.
Campaign group Fairer Finance found that money firms are still making it difficult for bereaved relatives to close their loved ones’ accounts
The research also found that 22 of the 49 largest savings providers offer no way for the bereaved to close their accounts online.
And the issue has only been compounded by the pandemic.
Research by consumer group Which? found that one in six consumers reported account closures taking more than three months after a relative had died.
But this figure rose to more than one in three for those who had been through the process after the start of the pandemic in 2020.
Money Mail has long campaigned to make firms reform the way they treat bereaved customers and make it easier for them to close their relatives’ accounts.
Some progress has been made since we launched the ‘Looking after your legacy’ campaign.
The Death Notification Service was set up to streamline the process. It means bereaved families can send out one alert notifying several companies at once.
To date, 31 financial brands are signed up — though many are owned by the same major banks.
Still, Fairer Finance’s report is proof that those grieving are being hit with unfair charges and endless bureaucracy.
At the worst end of the scale, it says, some firms still demand physical paperwork to close down accounts — with many even asking for the original death certificate.
Fairer Finance is now calling on the Government and regulators to outlaw ongoing charges for customers when they die.
It is also asking that companies provide quicker and easier ways for the bereaved to close their family members’ accounts.
James Daley, director of Fairer Finance, says: ‘Managing a loved one’s affairs when they die shouldn’t be a bureaucratic and traumatic nightmare.
‘In the 21st century, we should be making better use of technology to simplify the process and to remove some of the burden on families who are grieving.’
For Ruth, these measures would have saved her family unnecessary heartache at a difficult time.
She says: ‘What people need to understand is that when you are grieving, you’re in no state of mind to be fighting these big firms.’
Ruth has since co-founded Life Ledger — a free service which allows families to inform businesses of a death all at once.
It has so far partnered with 900 companies in the UK — including banks, pension providers, utilities companies and streaming services.
Life Ledger sponsored Fairer Finance to produce the Cost and Bureaucracy of Dying report.
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