Stressful: Jacqueline Letts, pictured in 1970 as a bridesmaid, was forced to visit a branch to access her money
A pensioner with a rare neurological disease was forced to leave hospital to go to a Lloyds branch after her account was suspended by staff who didn’t recognise her voice over the phone.
Wheelchair-bound Jacqueline Letts, 65, has a tremor in her voice as a result of multiple system atrophy, an aggressive, rare nervous system disorder similar to Parkinson’s disease. She has been too unwell to leave hospital since August.
In November, Jacqueline was told she needed evidence of her savings from the past three months to prove she was eligible for council funding to install a ramp and a stairlift in her house so she could go home.
But Jacqueline hadn’t kept track of her statements for the four months she’d been in hospital.
She called Lloyds from her hospital bed to request an up-to-date statement, was put through to an adviser and answered the security questions. The adviser said the documents would be posted to her husband, Barry, at their home in Northampton within five days.
When she tried to purchase a £10 hat on eBay for Barry, her debit card was declined.
Knowing there was plenty of money available in her account, Jacqueline thought there must be a fault with her card.
But when she rang Lloyds, she was told the account had been blocked because of suspicious activity. Her account would remain frozen until she could prove who she was.
Staff later told Barry that Jacqueline’s unsteady speech in the original phone call had aroused suspicions that she was being impersonated by a fraudster. Yet they refused to unblock her account when she explained the request for a new bank statement was genuine.
Lloyds said the only way it would free up the account was if she went to a branch with her passport or driving licence.
Barry took her birth certificate, marriage certificate, pension slips and P45 to the Northampton branch, but staff said that wasn’t good enough.
They said if Barry was unable to bring his wife to them, his only other option was to gain power of attorney over Jacqueline’s finances and access the accounts himself.
Unwilling to do this, he was forced to sign a hospital disclaimer saying he was taking his wife out of the ward against medical advice.
A nurse agreed to accompany the couple in a £50 wheelchair-friendly taxi to the Wellingborough branch on her day off.
Jacqueline has never been in a wheelchair outside the confines of the hospital ward and says that travelling to the bank was stressful and uncomfortable.
The branch manager contacted the fraud team and confirmed that Jacqueline should regain access to her account.
The couple claim they did not receive an apology. ‘I explained over and over again that I was not well enough to leave hospital, and even if I wanted to, the doctors were concerned it would affect my health,’ says Jacqueline, who is now at home receiving daily visits from carers.
‘But several staff members said I had no option. If I couldn’t come in person, I couldn’t use my account. I asked them to take my circumstances into account, but they said they couldn’t bend the rules.
‘I felt really low after speaking to them and dreaded the thought of leaving the ward when I was not fit.’
Failing: Lloyds failed to tell Barry and Jacqueline it offers home visits to vulnerable customers at the branch manager’s discretion
Barry, 66, says: ‘I’ve never been so insulted. Staff showed no understanding of our situation. They’re clearly not as caring as they make out they are.
‘I pleaded with them to find another way. Surely they could have gone to visit her, or phoned her to confirm her identity.’
Under a new code of conduct introduced in 2016, banks must treat vulnerable customers such as Jacqueline fairly.
I pleaded with them to find another way. Surely they could have gone to visit her, or phoned her to confirm her identity
One of the recommendations states that frontline staff should be given the flexibility ‘to take action that may be outside normal procedures’ where necessary.
But Lloyds failed to tell Barry and Jacqueline it offers home visits to vulnerable customers at the branch manager’s discretion.
It can also conduct video interviews with customers unable to visit a branch or use online banking.
Lloyds says its branch managers are in charge of deciding which customers qualify for home visits. A customer’s age, mobility, disability and health issues are all taken into account, the bank adds.
Barclays, HSBC and Santander say they also offer home visits and that it is up to local branch managers to decide who is eligible.
RBS has 110 community bankers across the UK who are able to visit customers in their homes in an emergency.
Any customers who think they need someone to visit them at home should call their local branch and explain their circumstances.
‘We apologise that the service we provided to Mrs Letts has fallen short of our usual standards,’ says a Lloyds spokesman.
‘Our fraud prevention processes are in place for our customers’ benefit, but on this occasion we acknowledge that the situation created additional challenges at a difficult time for Mrs Letts and apologise for the trouble she has experienced.
‘If a customer’s card or account is blocked incorrectly, we treat it as a priority to ensure that the customer is granted access to their account as soon as the appropriate identification can be provided.
‘As Mrs Letts was unable to provide photographic identification, it took our fraud team longer than normal to verify her identity and unblock her account.
‘We apologised to Mrs Letts when she visited our branch and gave her a gesture of goodwill following the delay.
‘Our branch colleagues also made a courtesy call the following day. We are committed to providing the right support to all of our customers to ensure they are treated fairly and sensitively.’