Bereaved families can now inform all major banks of a loved one’s death in a single step, thanks to a pioneering service launched today.
It is a major victory for Money Mail, which has campaigned for three years for banks to reform the way they treat bereaved customers and make it easier for them to shut accounts.
In the years leading up to our Looking After Your Legacy campaign, we reported on several heartbreaking cases of readers’ terrible experiences with banks after a loved one had died.
But it wasn’t until my own mum died in 2015 that it became clear they weren’t one-offs — the entire system of reporting a death to a bank was fundamentally flawed.
Cherished memory: Victoria with her beloved mum Julie who died in 2015 aged 58
My mum, Julie, died at home in Coventry aged 58 on April 22 after a three-year battle with cancer.
My elder sister, Stephanie, had died from cancer the previous year aged 30, so it was down to me to wrap up mum’s estate with the help of my uncle.
Sitting at the table of my old family home, I spread out all her paperwork and began calling her banks, credit card providers, savings companies, pension firms, insurers and utility providers to report her death.
None had dedicated telephone numbers for bereaved customers, and when you finally got through, staff rarely knew what to do.
No one seemed to realise how painful it was to have to keep saying the words, ‘I’m calling because my mum died’ over and over, only to be put on hold or told to call another number.
That’s if you could even speak to a person. Many banks forced you to press an interminable number of buttons and speak to an automated machine before connecting you.
I remember being so stressed my hands were shaking so I kept pressing the wrong buttons and had to start all over again.
The launch today of the Death Notification Service means grieving families will no longer face having to call multiple banks to inform them of a death.
Instead, they will be able to fill in a form online — or make one phone call — and select which banks they want to be notified.
Previously, telephone numbers were tricky to find, staff didn’t know what was needed to fill in the relevant forms. Each company wanted different paperwork, and some of their letters were horribly insensitive.
In my case, firms continued to address letters to my mum, Julie, even after I told them she had died, while others called her ‘the deceased’.
Few of us have the energy to complain after a bereavement. Having planned a funeral, sorted through belongings and figured out how to wrap up an estate — while trying to manage your own grief — you are so drained it seems pointless.
So we called on banks to retrain staff, introduce dedicated helplines for the bereaved and make information about registering a customer’s death easily accessible — all of which they did.
We called on banks to retrain staff, introduce dedicated helplines for the bereaved and make information about registering a customer’s death easily accessible — all of which they did
But our biggest demand was for an industry-wide Tell Us Once service, similar to the one already used by the Government.
When someone registers a death at the register office, the local authority can cancel the deceased’s passport, driving licence, National Insurance number, state benefits and disabled Blue Badge by filling in just one form.
We suggested financial firms offer the same one-stop service, so multiple current and savings accounts can be closed in one go.
The online Death Notification Service, run by technology company Equiniti, is set to make the job far easier. Anyone can use it to report a death.
You can set up an account at deathnotificationservice.co.uk and you then have three months to update the form if you find more bank accounts.
Next, you click on the ‘Submit death notification’ button and enter their name, address, date of birth and death. You will also be asked the date of the funeral, so banks know not to contact you that day, and if you have a death certificate.
If so, you enter the reference number to confirm the death is registered.
Without a reference number, it will still notify banks that you have reported a death, but flag that it has not been confirmed (records can take three weeks to update).
You’ll need to provide your full name, address, date of birth, relationship to the person who has died and a contact number that can be passed on to the banks.
You can set up an account at deathnotificationservice.co.uk and you then have three months to update the form if you find more bank accounts
You will be asked who is dealing with the estate so all correspondence goes directly to them.
The last step is to enter details of accounts you know about and pick the banks you want to notify. You don’t need account numbers, but they will make it easier.
So far, Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group, Nationwide, Royal Bank of Scotland Group, which includes NatWest, and Santander have signed up to the new service. This covers brands such as First Direct and Halifax, owned by HSBC and Lloyds respectively.
The service aims to cover smaller banks, building societies, and insurance companies eventually — but for now, if the bank you need is not listed, you still need to contact it directly.
A bank may request a certified copy of the death certificate, particularly when dealing with large sums.
You can also call Equiniti on 0333 207 6574 (8.30am-5.30pm weekdays). A dedicated team in Birmingham will help you fill in the form. Or you can ask in your bank to be put in touch with Equiniti.
Stephen Jones, chief executive of trade body UK Finance, said: ‘More needed to be done to make it easier for those managing the affairs of the deceased.
‘Thanks to Money Mail, the financial services industry is bringing about lasting change in the way organisations treat customers at the very hardest of times.’