Tony Hetherington is the star investigator for the Financial Mail on Sunday, fighting readers’ corners, revealing the truth behind closed doors and winning victories for those who have run out of money. Find out how to contact him below.
Mystery: HSBC closes readers’ apartment account
PH writes: I am a signatory to an account with HSBC, established decades ago to cover the maintenance costs of four apartments on the property where I live. I received a letter from HSBC saying they needed to confirm some of our ‘business details’ in a procedure called ‘Safeguard’.
I submitted the details online and they thanked me, but then I received another letter that seemed to duplicate the first one.
However, I filled in the details again, but the bank told me that they would close our account because, HSBC said, I had not provided the required information.
Tony Hetherington replies: HSBC claims its Safeguard review is meant to protect customers from fraud, but time and time again, readers have told me that no matter how hard they try to cooperate with the long list of questions and tests required, HSBC ends up getting rid of them and closing your business. account. Small accounts owned by clubs and community groups appear particularly vulnerable, with customers saying HSBC simply doesn’t want their business.
The results can be unfortunate. He told me that he called HSBC in an attempt to keep his account open and they said they would send him a six-digit code in the mail, but nothing came. He then paid two invoices by check, 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 apartment owners without insurance, and caused him some personal embarrassment, since he is a local attorney.
He opened a new account with NatWest, but HSBC refused to transfer the £5,000 or more that was frozen in the closed account. Armed with his signed authorization, I asked HSBC to comment, to confirm the details of his call requesting to keep the account, and to leave me a copy of the Safeguard log so I can see what he was unable to answer.
That 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 ‘by way of apology’. He claimed to have sent him the code to maintain the account, but HSBC flatly refused to let me see the Protection questions, for ‘security reasons’. However, the bank revealed that there was a problem related to a company at its address.
I had to threaten HSBC with legal action to get their records on you, before they finally sent a copy of your Protection questionnaire directly to you, but not to me. He then handed me the 11-page document and I scanned it to find out why the bank rejected his answers. And there it was not: a large space titled ‘Reason for HSBC rejection’, completely blank.
This left the mystery of the company located in his home. What was this company? And HSBC was referring to your home address or the address of your law firm? HSBC told me that ‘a separate unrelated company was found to have a similar address’. But, what does this have to do with the owner account of your apartment?
While he was blasting HSBC with questions, the Financial Ombudsman Service was also investigating and told HSBC to increase its apology payment to £300, which it did. But I have to look at what he told me almost a year ago: ‘I got the impression that HSBC’s only goal was to close the account.’ It’s hard to disagree.
Will is taking years
Ms MR 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 over administration of the estate in April of that year.
Later, they asked me for information that I provided, and said it should be cleared up by December 2020, but they still say the property is a “work in progress”.
By the end of 2021, lawyers had identified 28 beneficiaries, with more to be confirmed.
Tony Hetherington replies: I got a copy of your uncle’s will from the Probate Register and actually ended up liking the lawyers as much as you. The will made some specific bequests, after which everything else, the rest, was left to his wife, his aunt.
However, she died a year before your uncle, with her will saying that in this case, the remainder should be shared among your aunt’s brothers and sisters, and if they were dead, 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 led lawyers to the task of obtaining many birth, marriage and death certificates, and locating everyone involved.
By the end of 2021, lawyers had identified 28 beneficiaries, with more to be confirmed. Since I first contacted them several months ago, they have agreed to pay half of all expected amounts and you have received over £22,000. Frustrating, yes, but the executors would be reckless to empty the estate, only to face a claim from a previously unknown beneficiary.
tragic late payment
Ms. RM writes: My daughter died suddenly last April. Having found a personal pension statement from Sun Life Financial of Canada in her documents, I notified the company last June and provided a provisional death certificate as her death had been referred to the coroner.
In August, the company said it had a backlog of claims. In October he asked me for the final death certificate, which I sent.
In November, I complained and they said they would contact me in five days, but this did not happen.
The transfer of 470,000 records was not completely successful, which meant that some values had to be calculated manually
Tony Hetherington replies: You contacted me after finding out that I reported a similar issue last October. The company then admitted it was at fault, saying that in 2021 it had transferred its policy administration services to a new system.
This transfer of 470,000 records was not completely successful, which meant that some values had to be calculated manually, causing a delay. However, this should not have blocked your payment.
He told me: ‘Ms M’s example is particularly unfortunate as we should have paid this claim in July 2022.’ She has now paid him the £31,571, plus £748 interest, with another £700 as an apology. You’re investing this for your daughter’s teenage son.
If you believe you are the victim of financial crime, please write to Tony Hetherington at Financial Mail, 9 Derry Street, London W8 5HY or email email@example.com. Due to the high volume of inquiries, personal answers cannot be given. Send only copies of the original documents, which we regret that we cannot return.
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