Virgin Money lacked empathy over my wife’s sudden death

My wife died suddenly of a heart attack three months ago. I was unaware she had a Virgin Money credit card until a statement arrived the following month. I immediately wrote to the bank with a copy of her death certificate and asked it to freeze all transactions and provide a final settlement figure.

After receiving no response, I phoned and, after negotiating layers of complex interactive voice recognition processes and a lengthy wait, I eventually got through to the bereavement team.

It confirmed the account had been frozen and gave me an email address to send another copy of the death certificate.

Subsequently, I received a further statement and a letter from Virgin Money, saying my wife was now two months in arrears and interest and a default charge had been applied.

I emailed the bereavement service on the address I’d been given, only to get an auto-response that the mailbox is no longer monitored and to use a web form to notify the bank of a bereavement.

Last month, I was sent a letter asking me to send the death certificate and proof I’m an executor, which I had already done twice. The lack of empathy on helping me settle my late wife’s estate is now causing me great distress.

RD, Crossford, Fife

The pain of having to battle an immutable corporation after such a loss is unimaginable, and Virgin Money’s incompetence is concerning.

Two days after I weighed in, you were told that the erroneous charges had been removed and were informed of the balance. The bank acknowledged that, due to a series of errors, your original letter notifying it of your wife’s death had not been actioned, then the bereavement team failed to refund the erroneous charges and update the account status when you rang.

It also admitted that its interactive voice recognition system on its customer service line requires updating. It has offered you £150 in goodwill to reflect the blunders.

It says: “Due to an administrative error late payment charges were wrongly applied to the late customer’s credit card. We have since removed the charges and offered our apologies.”

… and why the system needs looking at

RS has also suffered obstacles in his attempts to wind up the estate of his late father and reckons that bereavement handling needs an overhaul:

My two brothers and I are his executors. In order to apply for probate, we need to obtain details of the value of his estate, including the balances in his six bank accounts.

Each bank has a different process for dealing with bereavement, some needlessly complicated.

Top marks go to National Savings & Investments. I completed a simple form online and the balances were posted to me the next day.

Bottom of the league is Marcus bank, which insists my brothers and I complete its seven-page bereavement instruction form, including irrelevant declarations about beneficiaries and indemnity, and signatures of all three executors. I said that all I required at this stage was the account balances, but my formal complaint was rejected.

Surely banks should agree on a streamlined process for dealing with bereavement, and the regulator should step in and make sure the process is fit for purpose.

The “one size fits all” approach of Marcus is simply not good enough. If the government agencies can get their act together by offering the streamlined “Tell Us Once” service (that lets you report a death to most government organisations in one go), why can’t the banks so the same?

In fact, there is a financial equivalent to the Tell Us Once service, although banks don’t reliably flag this up. The Death Notification Service was launched in 2018 and allows a death to be communicated to relevant banks via a single online form. Banks then contact you regarding next steps. However, not all are signed up and the service wouldn’t have saved you from the varied form filling to obtain the account balances.

Marcus, part of Goldman Sachs, told me its voluminous paperwork was necessary to verify identities and gather, in one go, the data required to release funds and close accounts when probate is granted.

However, it immediately contacted you to provide the balance and offer £100 for your inconvenience, and it told you it would be looking to simplify its processes.

It says: “We’re sorry for the difficulty experienced. We seek to make the bereavement process as simple and secure as possible and are a member of the Death Notification Service. Our processes, documentation and staff training are under continuous review and we will take feedback from this case into consideration.”

The FCA said it does not require banks to standardise their procedures but expects bereaved customers to be treated fairly.

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