It should be simpler…

You shouldn’t have to say ‘my mother has died’ that many times.

An article from The Times money editor James Coney (2nd May), reproduced with permission.

When a loved one dies the admin of sorting out their estate can sometimes make the grief even harder to bear.

It’s not so much dealing with the government – bereavement is one area where public sector service standards excels. All you need is one phone call to a government scheme called Tell Us Once, and all the official admin for the deceased is sorted out. It is a marvellous service.

Sadly, no such joined up thinking exists in the private sector. Despite huge advances in technology it can take dozens of phone calls to sort out an estate; there are quite likely to be several bank accounts, pensions, gas and electric, a phone company, a mobile phone company, an internet provider, TV companies, investment platforms and so on. Each time you pick up the phone you have to say: ‘I’m calling because my mum has died,’ possibly over and over again until you reach the right department. Anyone who has lost a loved one knows how hard those words are to say. All of this while there is a funeral to arrange. It doesn’t need to be that way.  Some companies insist on seeing an original death certificate, some will ask for copies.  Others want nothing.

Many, shamefully, ignore power of attorney instructions.  There needs to be much tougher action on this too. Few customers end up complaining about the shoddy service because, frankly, who wants more bother while you’re still grieving?

To their credit, the banks have already taken huge strides to resolve this, trialling a death notification service with Equiniti, a financial services company. 

The idea is that you tell a customer’s bank that they have died, and all other organisations in the scheme with which they have accounts are notified.  So far this year 8,754 people have used it, with a total of 23,686 companies notified.  Since its launch in 2018 the service has cut out the need for 50,000 phone calls. It’s time for this to be rolled out to all companies. Sadly, it is those that tend to have the worst service, such as telecoms and energy companies, that seem most reluctant to join.

Banks, credit reference agencies and Equiniti are trusted organisations – they are already used by the tax office to verify customers – so there can be no excuse that they are not trusted by other companies, and that includes smaller banks and building societies that are not yet signed up. Easing the administration won’t just benefit families, it will all companies too, effectively automating what can be an onerous service. The regulators Ofcom and Ofgem should insist that its members join this scheme. It’s time to automate and standardise a service to save bereaved families having to say those dreadful words over and over again.

James Coney
It should be simpler…
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