For six years Money Mail has fought for a more consistent and compassionate service for the bereaved.This campaign is extremely close to my heart, aft
For six years Money Mail has fought for a more consistent and compassionate service for the bereaved.
This campaign is extremely close to my heart, after writing in this newspaper of my own struggles to sort out my mum’s financial affairs when she died in 2015.
We called on firms to introduce dedicated helplines, better training for staff and – the jewel in the crown – a one-stop death notification service to spare families the trauma of having to repeat time and again the painful words that a husband, wife, father, or mother has died.
Crucial change: More than 50 cross-party MPs have pledged support for a bereavement standard, while nearly 93,000 people have signed an online petition
So I was heartened to see the issue discussed in Parliament last Wednesday.
It was a short debate attended by just a handful of MPs, but the message was crystal clear: there is much more work to be done.
Bereavement charity Cruse is leading the charge with calls for a ‘bereavement standard’.
This would include an agreed timeframe for dealing with enquiries and ensuring paperwork demands are consistent among all firms.
Key to speeding up the process is allowing firms to accept a digital copy of a death certificate so customers can email a scanned copy or photograph of the document.
All companies would also have to provide a dedicated email address or helpline, with properly trained staff, so customers are not forced to spend hours on the phone.
Most major banks and some energy firms do now offer this, but it should be mandatory for all.
More than 50 cross-party MPs have pledged support for a bereavement standard, while nearly 93,000 people have signed an online petition.
And behind the scenes, regulators, government ministers and consumer experts have held dozens of meetings to thrash out how it would work in practice.
In the meantime, there are new free services that can help ease the bureaucratic burden faced by families.
Launched nearly three years ago following our campaign, the Death Notification Service allows you to inform multiple firms of a death by filling in a single form.
Most major banks have signed up, with 175,000 notifications made through the service last year, up from 42,000 in 2019.
However, despite promises that energy firms, insurers and telecoms giants would sign up, too, we are still waiting.
With most registrars now signposting this service, they must not delay any longer.
A service called Settld was also launched this week by mother and daughter Vicky and Julie Wilson who had been shocked by how long it took to close down a relative’s accounts after she died in 2019.
If you fill in the online form and upload proof of your identity, you can then choose from more than 600 firms to be notified of a death on your behalf.
However, unlike with the Death Notification Service, the firms listed have not committed to acting on the information sent – though Settld says its recent trial run with 50 families went well. Another company called Life Ledger is offering a similar service.
What we need now is for ministers and regulators to seize this momentum and drive forward lasting change.
As Tony Hazell reports, too many firms are still making insensitive blunders, such as addressing letters to the deceased.
With the death toll from the pandemic at more than 100,000, easing some of the unnecessary stress and pain faced by the bereaved has never been more important.
As Grahame Morris, the Labour MP who instigated the Commons debate last Wednesday, said: ‘We have an opportunity to create a caring and compassionate system — one that can assist bereaved families at the most difficult time they will experience in life.
‘The pandemic, the scale of loss, a nation in mourning should focus all our minds and give us the strength to act.’
It takes courage to admit you have lost control of your finances and need help. So it is shameful that those who seek debt advice are being preyed upon by firms hoping to cash in on their misery.
As we reveal, the financial watchdog is all too aware of the growing problem, warning in a damning report last week that free services are being crowded out by costly firms flogging unsuitable debt plans.
With so many families struggling to make ends meet, we must do more to protect them.