Banks and building societies have been forced to retrain staff in new measures to protect their most vulnerable customers after elderly people were told to break self-isolation rules and go into their local branch unnecessarily.
Banks have introduced a range of services to help the 1.5 million vulnerable and elderly most at risk from Covid-19, who have been told to stay at home and “shield”. They include home delivery of cash, third-party access to accounts for carers and new Post Office services that enable helpers to take out cash on their behalf.
But campaigners have said staff misunderstandings about these schemes make them redundant and put elderly pensioners in danger.
Staff at Nationwide Building Society told Gwen Lloyd, 86, of Bognor Regis in Sussex, that the only way to cash in and close her £6,300 cash Isa was to go to a branch and ask over the counter.
“We want to be good people and stay at home and comply with the rules, so going to the branch is just not possible,” she said. Nationwide said the information given was incorrect and contacted Mrs Lloyd to apologise, after this newspaper’s intervention. It has arranged to close the Isa and transfer the cash remotely and said it had retrained the employee about the process.
Account closures are typically done in a branch, although it is also possible to carry them out over the phone, a spokesman said.
Martyn James of Resolver, a complaints service, said poorly trained staff often resorted to telling customers to go into a branch as a “cop out” when they did not have an immediate solution to the problem. “There is almost no reason for someone to go into a branch and almost everything can be done remotely these days. Misunderstandings of the rules are putting people at risk,” he said.
Staff at Santander told Mike Ackroyd, 76, from Durham, that he needed to go into a branch to upgrade his current account after he had tried to do so online and over the phone. “As a 76-year-old, confined to the house, this was not possible”, he said. “In despair I arranged a switch of the account from Santander to Halifax.”
The bank said it had apologised and confirmed that account upgrades and transfers could be carried out remotely. It encouraged all customers to avoid its branch network where possible.
Lloyds incorrectly told one woman in her late 60s that the only way she could close her late mother’s account was to go into a branch, although it later corrected the error.
The bank said its priority was to keep branches open. If customers are not able to go into a branch, a person they trust can make cash withdrawals of up to £100 on their behalf. A staff member will phone the customer to ensure security, the bank added.