“I can’t afford to live, but I guess I’d better try,
‘Cause the undertakers got a union, and it costs too much to die”
Jimmy Witherspoon, Tougher than Tough
This morning’s blood-pressure workout was with the Halifax. I made the ridiculous mistake of ringing them up to sort out a problem. The girl I spoke to was polite and correct, but completely paralysed by rules and security checks. Eventually, I regret to say, I hung up the phone while she was speaking, but not before I had spent some pounds on the premium-number call.
The problem, you see, is that my father received a letter from Halifax this week to advise him that my mother has set up Online Banking, and will thus be able to see the details of joint accounts he has with her, but to reassure him that she will not be able to see any accounts which are solely his. If he wishes to discuss any aspect of this, there is a number he can call, and they even offer him the option of a repeat letter in Braille, or in large print (pardon?).
Unfortunately, my father is unable to act on this letter since he died in 2008, a fact which is well known to Halifax since they were involved in all the probate processes, and transferred all joint accounts into my mother’s name at that time. My mother was a little upset by the letter – mostly on a point of principle, I think – but, since she is a bit frail and very deaf, and since I have registered Power of Attorney for her financial dealings with the Lloyds Group (which includes Bank of Scotland and Halifax), she asked me to deal with it.
Not so fast. Apparently Lloyds Group no longer have any record of my Power of Attorney – at least not one that the young lady I spoke to could find. Still, she did her very best to help me. She took me through some long-winded security procedure related to my own accounts at Halifax, which proved that I am who I said I was (which is a relief), but she was still unable to gain authority to change any of my mum’s accounts without speaking to my mum (who, as mentioned, is deaf and was also not present).
You see, said the girl, we will have marked the records of any customer who has passed away, and you should not have received this letter. Yes, I said, I understood that, though whether they have failed to code the record correctly, or have subsequently lost the code, or whether the analyst who designed this particular letter failed to make reference to the code is a matter of very faint academic interest, and is not our problem. The fact that they somehow have lost the details of my Power of Attorney is also puzzling, but mostly just irritating, since they cannot help me as a result. Perhaps, despite all these problems, the girl could make a note of the account number, check that the customer is, in fact, officially dead, and ask someone not to send out any more letters which are potentially upsetting, apart from being further proof – if proof be needed – of a level of incompetence which is already regarded as proverbial by customers and the public at large.
Is this account still active, asks the girl? Well, no – it is certainly empty, and if it still exists it will have been transferred to my mother in 2008. Ah, says the girl, empty is not the same as closed. Again, I say, we are straying into areas which are the internal problem of the Halifax, and I am neither answerable for, nor interested in, the state of their admin systems – and at this point I hung up.
|I accept, of course, that I am probably the donkey|
Outcome? Well, I reckon my father may well receive further letters in future, which we shall just shred respectfully. Why do we bother?
Why are we still stuck with having these buffoons sit on our money when they provide us with no service or added value of any sort, other than giving us hassle and irritation on a regular basis? We are stuck, my friends, because there is nowhere else we could take the money which is any better. Though Lloyds Group are (literally) unrewarding people to deal with, they are better than some of the alternatives. Eventually, you just have to laugh and shrug it off – I am laughing and shrugging as I type (which is not easy).
If Halifax cannot manage to understand that one of their customers has died, and if they are constrained by their internal rules such that they cannot arrange to fix this, then I could report it to the Data Protection commissioners but – to be honest – really can’t be bothered. That would only be heaping up yet more irritation. If they were fined – and Lloyds Group are not short of the odd fine at present – which lot of interested parties would have to meet the cost? The customers, perhaps?…
Let it lie – move on. As yet, this is nothing – the service levels and the mistakes we suffer at the hands of automated institutions will continue to degrade at an accelerating rate in the coming years – you may (to use an opportune phrase) bank on it. I have been there. I have seen the beginning of the nightmare.