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80% back bereavement standard to help families close loved ones’ accounts – poll

Jemma Crew, PA Social Affairs Correspondent
·4-min read

Four in five people would back rules to simplify procedures for grieving families struggling to close loved ones’ accounts after they die, a survey has found.

Some 80% of adults want utility companies, banks, mobile phone and other service providers to comply with an industry-wide bereavement standard, according to a poll of 2,086 UK adults.

This would require service providers to treat grieving families more compassionately and speed up and simplify end-of-life administration, at a time when the coronavirus pandemic is causing excess deaths.

The YouGov survey was carried out in September on behalf of the bereavement standard campaign, led by Vicky Wilson and her mother Julie, and the charity Cruse Bereavement Care.

In addition, almost 90,000 people have signed an online Change.org petition for the Government to introduce a standard, while an early day motion has received cross-party support from 50 MPs.

Ms Wilson, from Easington, County Durham, spent six weeks trying to close around 15 of her grandmother June’s accounts after she died in September last year.

The 33-year-old called the arduous process, which involved waiting in phone queues for hours and fielding calls for documents, “an unnecessary and stressful burden”.

She said: “This research shows that the British public have had enough of bereavement bureaucracy and want companies to improve their treatment of grieving families and to speed up and simplify their processes.

“We urge the Government to listen to the public and to back our calls, which are supported by dozens of organisations, regulators, companies and charities, for a new bereavement standard.”

Funeral director Tim Twigger from Full Circle Funerals, with a floral tribute that reads “Admin”, at Weston Church in Otley, West Yorkshire (Danny Lawson/PA)
Funeral director Tim Twigger, from Full Circle Funerals, with a floral tribute that reads Admin at Weston Church in Otley, West Yorkshire (Danny Lawson/PA)

On average, individuals have up to 20 utility, banking, mobile, broadband, TV subscription and other household service accounts which need to be closed when they die.

The Tell us Once service, introduced in 2011, enables families to report a death to multiple Government and public organisations at once, while a Death Notification Service also helps people notify financial services companies and is planning to expand to utility companies this year.

But there is no equivalent across the board for private companies.

The proposed standard would set a time limit for account closures, standardise paperwork, and ensure service providers have dedicated bereavement channels.

The survey found that 87% agree that companies should settle accounts and pay outstanding balances within an agreed time frame, and the same proportion agree paperwork should be standardised and digital documents accepted where possible.

Almost nine in 10 (89%) agree that providers should offer customers a bereavement channel and proper training for customer support staff.

Overall, 80% agreed with all three components of the proposed standard.

Steven Wibberley, chief executive of Cruse Bereavement Care, said: “This poll shows that companies need to up their game and allow bereaved families the time and space to grieve, instead of having to deal with endless paperwork and phone calls, which can increase the distress they are under at what is already an incredibly difficult time.”

Sarah Jones, owner of independent funeral directors Full Circle Funerals in Yorkshire, said: “In my experience, it is extremely difficult for families to manage all of the paperwork involved in closing their loved ones’ accounts.

“They find it bewildering and a bereavement standard would take a lot of the stress out of what is a harrowing situation.”

On Wednesday, more than 60 organisations, including some of the UK’s biggest banks and insurance companies, will take part in an online summit to discuss introducing a bereavement standard.

Ms Wilson said it is hugely encouraging to see the sector’s “main players” taking part, adding: “We hope it’s a sign of positive changes to come.”

Chris Pond, chairman of the Financial Inclusion Commission, who is chairing part of the summit, said: “Covid-19 is shining a light on some of the broken bereavement processes and I’m excited by the opportunity to pilot a new way of simplifying end-of-life account closure.”