Woman, 91, loses account and pension after Barclays declares her dead

·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters

An elderly widow was cut off from her money for three months and lost her phone line and energy supply when a banking error by Barclays marked her as deceased.

Ninety-one-year-old Marjorie Roper* discovered that her pension and benefits payments had been stopped and her direct debits cancelled after a Barclays agent recorded that she had died and closed her account.

The nightmare began in November when Roper informed Barclays that her husband had died. She asked for his name to be removed from their joint account and replaced with that of her daughter, Mary*, who has third-party access to her account. Instead, she was marked as deceased and the account was closed. Her pension and benefit payments were returned to the Department for Work and Pensions and her direct debits were stopped.

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She discovered the mistake when she returned from a family Christmas to find her phone line and energy supply had been cut off and a sheaf of letters from companies and the council demanding payment.

Roper made two trips to her nearest Barclays branch and was told on both occasions by staff that she was recorded as dead. The bank refused to discuss the case with her daughter because her third-party authority had been revoked when the account was closed.

“The bank has blocked my mother’s income and it cut off her only means of contacting the outside world,” Mary Roper said. “For the last month she’s been buying food with the £250 she had left in cash and is terrified she’ll run out. To date Barclays has not responded to our demands they reinstate and claim her backdated pension payments.”

The account was eventually reopened and her payments restored and backdated after the Guardian intervened. Her phone line and energy supply had already been restored after Roper called her providers to explain.

A Barclays spokesperson said: “We apologise unreservedly for the distress and inconvenience this has caused to our loyal customer. We can confirm that the direct debits have been reinstated, the state pension payments have been received, the account has been amended into joint names and a gesture of goodwill for the disruption caused has been offered.”

Roper’s ordeal highlights the obstacles facing vulnerable customers who do not have access to online banking. A Barclays customer for 65 years, she is unable to cope with the automated menus on the customer service phone line and, since her local branch closed, she is forced to take two buses to the next town to withdraw money and manage her account.

The only available appointment to request the account change was at a branch 23 miles away where staff did not know her. She brought the required documents, but the bank refused to proceed with the requested name change because she could not recall her little-used pin number. She was told her to make another appointment when she had remembered her pin.

“My mother is a vulnerable 91-year-old woman who has been treated without any concern for her safety, no recognition of her age or mobility issues or banking preferences,” Mary Roper said. “She and Dad had been happily married for 68 years and taking his name off the accounts was already an upsetting challenge. She feels that her phone could be cut off again without notice and this makes her feel extremely anxious.”

The situation may not have arisen if bank staff had made better provision for Roper’s needs, according to James Daley, the managing director of the campaign group Fairer Finance. “There is still a significant number of people who rely on face to face banking because they don’t feel confident using internet, phones or ATMs,” he said.

“Banks that are planning branch closures need to recognise that if customers are prepared to take two buses to their branch, that service must be essential, and they need to accommodate customers who may not be familiar with security codes, logins and pins.”

* Names have been changed