TThe diagnosis came suddenly. James Lloyd* is 41 and hasn’t had to see a GP in five years. In May, he was told he had stage 4 bowel cancer. Treatment and surgery prevented him from working and his wife Julia had to take an extended leave of absence from her job to look after him.
James has bought serious sickness cover from Royal London, which promises ‘the financial stability you need to deal with the financial concerns that illness and death could bring’, but six months after making a claim he is still waiting for a total of £30,000 and £1,200 a month. Protection payments that the spouses need to survive.
“I will soon be getting half wages because of the months I spent working and had to re-mortgage our house, which is costing us £100 a week,” says Julia. “We live on our feet thanks to our families, but with winter coming we are scared.”
The Lloyds family are among a number of readers dealing with serious illness or bereavement who have come in contact with observer After being let down by financial services.
There is a common theme to their complaints – reports of crippling operations, poor communication and a agonizing insensitivity. Their experiences indicate that some city companies do not adhere to the guidelines for the fair treatment of clients at risk issued by the regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority.
Julia says the pressure of the Royal Londoners chasing for updates has compounded the couple’s suffering.
“At one point, they were questioning James’ mental health because he had been taking antidepressants six years earlier, which caused us so much distress,” she says. “I can’t call anymore. I wait 30 minutes until I am not told anything. It hurts.”
Royal London says: “We regret the delay in this case, which is being reviewed as a matter of urgency. The assessment of claims involves requesting information from treating physicians to ensure that the definitions are met, and the original application form completed accurately.”
The claim was approved three days after observer I stepped in and added £400 in compensation.
Other families have reported horrific ordeals when trying to get pension and insurance payments after a bereavement. When Andrew Slater*’s partner, Denise, died suddenly of undiagnosed heart disease last year, she notified her pension provider, Scottish Woods.
Twelve months later, he was still awaiting payment of compensation, and says he was told on three occasions that Dennis would need to speak on the phone to allow any action.
Unlike other providers, he claims the company was not willing to accept a provisional death certificate issued pending investigation, or a final death certificate issued in May that confirmed death due to sudden arrhythmic death syndrome.
“I will never forget the impact when a client told me frankly, over the phone, that they were not addressing the allegation because they could not rule out the involvement of a third party in Dennis’ death,” he says.
“This made me wonder if our sons were somehow suspect without knowing anything about it. Using these words when speaking to someone dealing with the loss of their partner of 27 years is unforgivable.”
The Scottish widow’s communications stopped over the summer, according to Slater, who said his emails had gone unanswered and he had no idea what stage his claim had reached.
“There have been several occasions when I have felt the urge to give up and forget whatever amount the fund is now worth, but the memory of Denise and her hatred of injustice keep me going,” he adds.
The Scottish Widows Organization formally accepted the claim three days after the date of observer took his case. She says, “We regret the failure to meet our usual standards at a time that must have been very difficult. We will pay for the distress and inconvenience caused.”
Timothy Christie* was kept waiting for four months by “Scottish widows” after his wife’s death. He owed £44,875 from the life security plan, but didn’t receive it until after observer Intervene, while Ben McIntosh* accused the company of “without blemish” treatment after his father’s death in February.
He says: “There have been repeated attempts, by phone and letter, to persuade ‘Scottish widows’ to pay his life insurance policy.” In two phone calls, it was suggested that the sum guaranteed was £66,000, not the expected £76,000. “
Scottish Widows paid the full amount owed plus compensation after seven months when observer questioned the delay. She says, “We are aware that some customers have experienced lower levels of service than we expected, and we are sorry for that.
“We are improving our services by hiring and training more staff, investing in our systems and streamlining procedures.”
FCA guidelines require companies to train all frontline employees in sensitive handling of at-risk customers and expect operations and communications to meet their needs.
However, Allen Parker says he was appalled by Halifax’s insensitivity when he tried to settle his late brother’s affairs. “I had to pay off an outstanding balance on his mortgage…the bereavement unit was unable to process the repayment, so they transferred me to the mortgage service team,” he says.
“After a long pending wait, the latter told me to use an automated payment system which, as expected, would not accept payment because I was not the account holder.
“I was directed to two call handlers, on very bad lines, and each time I had to repeat my brother’s details. Payment was finally made after 80 minutes of trouble.
“When I called the complaints line, I was stopped, then accidentally disconnected. In the end, it worked, only to be told that my call would be forwarded to the mortgage service team.”
Halifax claims to offer a bespoke explosive service and staff trained to support grieving relatives. He apologized and made a goodwill gesture after observer Bank alerted to Parker’s experiment. “We listened wholeheartedly to the comments Mr. Parker gave us and are committed to acting on them,” she says.
A charity, Cruse Bereavement Support, is campaigning for the government to introduce a mandatory standard for businesses, including an agreed time frame for settlement of deceased clients’ accounts, streamlined processes to avoid recurring requests, and dedicated bereavement channels.
CEO Stephen Webberley says: “Bereavement can be one of the most difficult experiences for a person to go through, and it is unacceptable for anyone to experience undue pain and stress when contacting companies. We are, once again, calling on the government and regulators to step in and make sure that people Those who suffer in their grief receive appropriate support and compassion.”
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) says: “Since we published our guidance on vulnerabilities, we have seen improvements in companies’ treatment of bereavements. It is clear, however, that some have more work to do.
“We take any reports of customers who have been treated unfairly very seriously and expect companies to assess how supportive they are to all customers, including those in difficult circumstances.”