Tony Hetherington is the Financial Mail on Sunday’s investigator, battling readers’ corners, exposing the truth behind closed doors and winning victories for those who have been left behind. Find out how to contact him below.
Mystery: HSBC closed Reader’s Flats account
PH writes: I am a signatory to an account with HSBC, established decades ago to cover maintenance expenses for four apartments in the property where I live. I received a letter from HSBC informing me that they had to confirm some of our “business details” under a procedure called “Backup”.
I submitted the details online and was thanked, but then received another letter which 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, according to HSBC, I had not provided the required information.
Tony Hetherington replies: HSBC says its safeguard review is intended to protect customers from fraud, but time and again 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 throwing them out and closing their account. Small accounts belonging to clubs and community groups appear particularly vulnerable, with customers saying HSBC simply doesn’t want their business.
The results can be unfortunate. You told me that you called HSBC in an effort to keep your account open and were told you would receive a six digit code in the mail, but nothing happened. You then paid two bills by cheque, one to a contractor for £94 and one to the building’s insurer for £1,440. Both bounced back, as HSBC had closed the account. It has left you and other apartment owners uninsured and personally embarrassed because you are a local lawyer.
You opened a new account with NatWest, but HSBC refused to transfer the remaining £5,000 blocked into the closed account. Armed with your signed permission, I asked HSBC to comment, confirm the details of your call asking to keep the account and leave me a copy of the backup file so I can see what you don’t have answered.
It was in May. That’s right – May of 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 ‘as a pardon’. He claimed to have sent you the code to keep the account, but HSBC flatly refused to let me see the backup questions, for “security reasons”. However, the bank revealed that there had been a problem involving a business at your address.
I had to threaten HSBC with legal action to get their information about you, before they finally sent a copy of their backup questionnaire directly to you, but not to me. You then passed me the 11-page document and I scanned it to find out why the bank rejected your answers. And it wasn’t: a large space titled “Reason for Rejection HSBC” – completely blank.
This left the mystery of the business 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 “an unrelated separate company was found to have a similar address.” But what did that have to do with your apartment owner’s account?
While I was questioning HSBC, the Financial Ombudsman Service was also investigating and told HSBC to increase their apology payment to £300, which they did. But I have to look at what you said to me almost a year ago: “I feel like HSBC’s sole purpose was to close the account.” It’s hard to disagree.
Will takes years
Ms MR writes: My uncle left around £1.2m in his will, and I am one of the beneficiaries.
He died in February 2020 and W. Davies Solicitors, of Woking, took over the administration of the estate in April of the same year.
They later asked for information I provided, and they said it should be cleared up by December 2020, but they still say the domain is a “work in progress”.
Tony Hetherington replies: I got a copy of your uncle’s will from the Probate Registry, and I’ve come to sympathize with the lawyers as much as you do. The will made a few specific bequests, after which everything else – the residue – was bequeathed to his wife, your aunt.
However, she died a year before your uncle, her will stipulating that in this case, the remainder should be divided among your aunt’s siblings, and if they are deceased, their shares should revert to their children.
Your aunt had ten siblings, but your uncle’s will gave no details of any of them, which gave notaries the task of obtaining batches of birth, marriage and death certificates, and find everyone involved.
By the end of 2021, the lawyers had identified 28 beneficiaries, others to be confirmed. Since I first contacted them several months ago, they have agreed to pay half of all scheduled amounts and you have received over £22,000. Frustrating, yes, but executors would be unwise to empty the estate, only to face a claim from a previously unknown beneficiary.
Delay in payment tragic
Ms RM writes: My daughter passed away suddenly last April. Having found a personal pension statement from Sun Life Financial of Canada in his paperwork, I notified the company last June and provided a provisional death certificate since his death had been referred to the coroner.
In August, the company said it had a backlog of claims. In October, he asked for the final death certificate, which I sent.
In November I complained and was told I would be contacted in five days, but that didn’t happen.
Tony Hetherington replies: You contacted me after seeing that I had reported a similar issue last October. Then the company admitted it was to blame, saying that in 2021 it moved its policy administration services to a new system.
This transfer of 470,000 records was not entirely successful, which meant that some values had to be calculated manually, resulting in a backlog. However, this should not have blocked your payment.
He told me: “The example of Ms M is particularly unfortunate because we should have paid this debt in July 2022.” He has now paid you £31,571, plus £748 in interest, with another £700 as an apology. You are investing this for your daughter’s teenage son.
If you believe you have been the victim of financial wrongdoing, write to Tony Hetherington at the Financial Mail, 9 Derry Street, London W8 5HY or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to the high volume of inquiries, no personal response can be given. Please only send copies of original documents, which we regret cannot return.
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