Consumer advocates have warned that banks could be putting vulnerable customers at risk, after NatWest asked a self-isolating 81-year-old to visit a bank branch to close his account.
Peter Keeley first opened a current account with NatWest when he was 17, but after 64 years of loyal custom is transferring his money elsewhere, after the bank suspended his account at a moment’s notice in the middle of April without any explanation.
Staff at the bank told the retired building surveyor from Mill Hill in north London that to move his funds he would have to go into his branch.
“My son pointed out, at my age, after self-isolating for six weeks, this would be unwise,” Mr Keeley said.
The bank also suspended a second business account Mr Keeley uses to manage his property investments, he said, as well as a third account used by his wife, freezing almost £10,000 and cutting off the elderly couple’s principal financial lifeline.
Mr Keeley was forced to borrow £3,000 from his son, who lives in Spain, to avoid defaulting with his creditors. He also had to rearrange all of his existing standing orders and write to his four pension providers to ensure that he received his monthly retirement income.
“The first I heard of it was from my utilities provider, telling me my standing order had been cancelled. The bank said they sent me a letter, but I never received it,” he said.
Mr Keeley said the account freeze could have been caused by regular payments he has made for a number of years to the Channel Islands, which go towards property management costs on behalf of a friend who lives in Hong Kong.
Jenny Ross of consumer group Which? said: “Banks need to ensure they are not putting the elderly at risk needlessly and staff training needs to be adapted to recognise the increased vulnerability of older customers at this time,” she said.
Following Telegraph Money’s intervention, the bank sent Mr Keeley a cheque to allow him to transfer funds. The cheque can be cashed via a mobile phone app.
A spokesman for NatWest said: “Our decision to close an account is never taken lightly and we will never do so without good reason.”
Has your bank asked you to go in branch when you should be isolating or social distancing? Get in touch with harry.brennan@Finance.co.uk