Tony Hetherington is Financial Mail on Sunday’s ace investigator, fighting readers corners, revealing the truth that lies behind closed doors and winning victories for those who have been left out-of-pocket. Find out how to contact him below.
Mystery: HSBC shut reader’s flats account
P.H. writes: I am the signatory to an account with HSBC, established decades ago to cover expenses in the maintenance of four flats in the property where I live. I received a letter from HSBC saying it needed to confirm some of our ‘business details’ in a procedure called ‘Safeguard’.
I submitted the details online and was thanked, but then received a further letter which appeared to duplicate the first one.
Nonetheless, I completed the details again but the bank then told me our account would be closed because, HSBC said, I had failed to give the information it required.
Tony Hetherington replies: HSBC claims its Safeguarding review is intended to protect customers from fraud, but time after time, readers have told me that no matter how hard they try to cooperate with the long list of questions asked and evidence demanded, HSBC ends up dumping them and shutting their account. Small accounts belonging to clubs and community groups seem particularly vulnerable, with customers claiming HSBC simply doesn’t want their business.
The results can be unfortunate. You told me that you rang HSBC in a bid to keep your account open, and were told you would be sent a six-digit code by post, but nothing arrived. You then paid two bills by cheque, one to a contractor for £94 and the other to the building’s insurer for £1,440. Both bounced, because HSBC had closed the account. This left you and other flat owners uninsured, and caused some embarrassment to you personally as you are a local solicitor.
You opened a new account with NatWest, but HSBC refused to transfer the £5,000-plus left frozen in the closed account. Armed with your signed authority, I asked HSBC to comment, to confirm the details of your call asking to keep the account, and to let me have a copy of the Safeguarding record so I could see whatever it was you failed to answer.
That was in May. That’s right – May last year. Since then, there has been a virtual wrestling match between me and HSBC. A minor victory was that HSBC released the account balance and even offered £200 ‘by way of saying sorry’. It claimed to have sent you the code to keep the account, but HSBC refused point blank to let me see the Safeguarding questions, for ‘security reasons’. However, the bank did reveal there had been a problem involving a company at your address.
I had to threaten HSBC with legal action to obtain its records about you, before it finally sent a copy of its Safeguarding questionnaire directly to you but not to me. You then passed the 11-page document to me and I scanned it to find out why the bank rejected your answers. And there it wasn’t: a big space headed ‘HSBC Reason for rejection’ – completely blank.
This left the mystery of the company based at your address. What was this company? And did HSBC mean your home address or the address of your law firm? HSBC told me that ‘a separate non-related company was found to have a similar address’. But what did this have to do with your flat owners’ account?
While I was bashing on with questions to HSBC, the Financial Ombudsman Service was also investigating and has told HSBC to increase its apology payment to £300, which it has done. But I have to look at what you told me almost a year ago: ‘I have the impression HSBC’s sole focus was to close the account.’ It is hard to disagree.
Will is taking years
Ms M.R. writes: My uncle left approximately £1.2 million in his will, and I am one of the beneficiaries.
He died in February 2020 and W. Davies Solicitors, of Woking, took on the administration of the estate in April that year.
Later, they asked for some information which I supplied, and they said it should be cleared up by December 2020, but they still say the estate is ‘work in progress’.
Tony Hetherington replies: I obtained a copy of your uncle’s will from the Probate Registry, and actually ended up sympathising with the solicitors as much as with you. The will made a few specific bequests, after which everything else – the residue – was left to his wife, your aunt.
However, she died a year before your uncle, with his will saying that in this case, the residue should be shared between your aunt’s brothers and sisters, and if they were dead then their shares should go to their children.
Your aunt had ten brothers and sisters, but your uncle’s will did not give the details of any of them, which landed the solicitors with the task of obtaining lots of birth, marriage and death certificates, and tracing everyone involved.
By the end of 2021, the solicitors had identified 28 beneficiaries, with more to be confirmed. Since I first contacted them several months ago, they have agreed to pay out half of all the predicted amounts, and you have received over £22,000. Frustrating, yes, but executors would be reckless to empty the estate, only to face a claim from a previously unknown beneficiary.
Delay in tragic payout
Ms R.M. writes: My daughter died suddenly last April. Having found a Sun Life Financial of Canada personal pension statement in her papers, I notified the company last June and supplied an interim death certificate as her death had been referred to the Coroner.
In August, the company said it had a claims backlog. In October, it asked for the final death certificate, which I sent.
In November, I complained and was told I would be contacted in five days, but this did not happen.
Tony Hetherington replies: You contacted me after finding I reported a similar problem last October. Then, the company admitted it was to blame, saying in 2021 it had transferred its policy administration services to a new system.
This transfer of 470,000 records was not completely successful, meaning some values had to be calculated manually, which led to a backlog. However, this should not have blocked your payment.
It told me: ‘The example of Ms M is particularly unfortunate as we should have paid this claim in July 2022.’ It has now paid you the £31,571, plus £748 interest, with a further £700 as an apology. You are investing this for your daughter’s teenage son.
If you believe you are the victim of financial wrongdoing, write to Tony Hetherington at Financial Mail, 9 Derry Street, London W8 5HY or email email@example.com. Because of the high volume of enquiries, personal replies cannot be given. Please send only copies of original documents, which we regret cannot be returned.
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