Tony Hetherington is Financial Mail on Sunday’s chief investigator. He battles the reader’s corner, reveals the truth that lies behind closed doors, and wins victories for those left out of pocket. Below you can read how to contact him.
Mystery: HSBC closed the reader’s flats account
PH writes: I am a signatory to an account with HSBC, which was set up decades ago to cover the costs of maintaining four flats in the property where I live. I received a letter from HSBC saying it had to confirm some of our ‘business records’ in a procedure called ‘Safeguard’.
I submitted the details online and was thanked, but then received another letter that seemed to duplicate the first.
Nevertheless, I filled in the details again, but the bank then told me that our account would be closed because, HSBC said, I had not provided the required information.
Tony Hetherington replies: HSBC claims the Safeguarding review is designed to protect customers from fraud, but time and time again readers have told me that no matter how hard they try to comply with the long list of questions asked and evidence demanded, HSBC eventually dumps them and their account. Small club and community group accounts seem particularly vulnerable, with customers claiming that HSBC just doesn’t want their business.
The results can be unfortunate. You told me you called HSBC to keep your account open, and you were going to get a six-digit code in the mail, but nothing came. You then paid two bills by check, one to a contractor for £94 and the other to the building’s insurer for £1,440. Both bounced, as HSBC closed the account. This left you and other flat owners uninsured and embarrassed you personally as you are a local lawyer.
You opened a new account with NatWest, but HSBC refused to transfer the £5,000 plus that was frozen in the closed account. Armed with your signed authorization, I asked HSBC for comment, to confirm the details of your call asking to keep the account, and to provide me with a copy of the Safeguarding file so I could see whatever it was that you have not answered.
That was in May. That’s right – May last year. Since then there has been a virtual wrestling match between me and HSBC. In a minor victory, HSBC released the account balance and even offered £200 ‘as an apology’. It claimed to have sent you the code to keep the account, but HSBC flatly refused to show me the Safeguarding questions, citing “security reasons.” However, the bank revealed that there was a problem with a company at your address.
I had to threaten HSBC with legal action to obtain its data on you before it finally sent a copy of its Safeguarding questionnaire directly to you, but not to me. Then you gave me the 11-page document and I scanned it to find out why the bank rejected your answers. And there it wasn’t: a large room labeled “HSBC Reason for Rejection”—completely empty.
This left the mystery of the company 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 unrelated company appeared to have a similar address.” But what did this have to do with your flat owners account?
While I was bashing questions to HSBC, the Financial Ombudsman Service also investigated and 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: “It seems to me that HSBC was just closing the account.” It’s hard to disagree.
Will takes years
Mrs MR writes: My uncle left about £1.2 million in his will, and I am one of the beneficiaries.
He died in February 2020 and W. Davies Solicitors, from Woking, took over management of the estate in April of that year.
Later they asked for some information which I provided, and they said it should be cleared by December 2020, but they still say the estate is ‘work in progress’.
By the end of 2021, the lawyers had identified 28 beneficiaries, with more to be confirmed
Tony Hetherington replies: I obtained a copy of your uncle’s will from the Probate Registry, and ended up sympathizing with the lawyers as much as I did with you. The will made a few specific bequests, after which everything else – the remainder – was left to his wife, your aunt.
However, she died a year before your uncle, with his will stating that in this case the remainder should be divided between your aunt’s siblings, and when they are dead their shares should go to their children.
Your aunt had ten siblings, but your uncle’s will didn’t list the details of any of them, leaving the lawyers with the task of obtaining many birth, marriage, and death certificates and tracking down everyone involved.
By the end of 2021, the lawyers 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 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. RM writes: My daughter passed away suddenly last April. After finding a personal pension statement from Sun Life Financial of Canada in her papers, I notified the company last June and provided an interim death certificate as her death had been referred to the coroner.
In August, the company reported a backlog of claims. In October it asked for the final death certificate, which I sent.
In November I complained and was told I would be contacted within five days but this did not happen.
The transfer of 470,000 records was not entirely successful, so some values had to be calculated manually
Tony Hetherington replies: You contacted me after discovering that I had reported a similar issue last October. Subsequently, the company admitted it was to blame, saying it moved its policy administration services to a new system in 2021.
This transfer of 470,000 records was not entirely successful, requiring some values to be calculated manually, leading to a backlog. However, this should not have blocked your payment.
It told me, “Ms. M’s example is particularly unfortunate as we should have paid this claim in July 2022.” It has now paid you £31,571, plus £748 interest, with a further £700 in apology. You are investing this for your daughter’s teenage son.
If you believe you have been the victim of financial misconduct, write to Tony Hetherington at Financial Mail, 9 Derry Street, London W8 5HY or email email@example.com. Due to the large number of questions, no personal answers can be given. Only send copies of original documents, which unfortunately cannot be returned.
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