Tony Hetherington is Financial Mail on Sunday’s ace investigator, fighting readers corners, revealing the truth that lies behind closed doors and winning victories for those who have been left out-of-pocket. Find out how to contact him below.
E.W. writes: More than five years after my father passed away, Barclays has informed me that there is still money left in an investment account.
In 2015 and again in 2016, it led me to believe everything had been sorted out.
Now it says that it still holds about £4,000, but it insists on seeing the original grant of probate, which is no longer available.
Tony Hetherington replies: Every silver lining has a cloud. Suddenly finding that your father left £4,000 more than you expected is certainly good news. But then finding a pretty hefty stumbling block stops you getting access to the cash is more than a bit frustrating.
You sent Barclays a copy of the grant of probate, signed by your solicitor to certify that it is genuine. You also sent copies of your father’s will, death certificate and other paperwork, including some documents which you have told me the bank lost, so which had to be supplied again.
But the stumbling block remained the bank’s insistence that before parting with the money, it wanted the grant of probate.
To obtain this would have meant a legal bill for £400 or more, even though the bank had, of course, been actively involved several years ago, when your father’s estate was being wound up and distributed. And the problem would never have arisen if Barclays had revealed the savings account at the proper time.
What went wrong? The bank’s letter to you does not say. It simply tells you: ‘Barclays undertakes periodic reviews of transactions and customer files. A recent review of documentation relating to the investments has identified there are assets due to be paid from the account following the passing of the late J.W. deceased.’
I asked officials at the bank to explain why they now needed the grant of probate, and they have told me that because they overlooked the savings account at the time, there was only a modest amount of money to hand over to you.
Because of this, they accepted a simple claim form, without seeing the grant of probate. If they had spotted the £4,000-plus, they would have asked for the grant.
A Barclays spokesman said: ‘We offer our sincere apologies to Mr W for failing to identify his father’s investment account when executing his estate back in 2015. We recognise that he has not received the high level of service he would rightly expect at such a difficult time, and have offered Mr W compensation for the initial error and a gesture of goodwill for the distress and inconvenience caused.’
In practical terms, what this means is that Barclays itself has now applied for and received an electronic version of the grant of probate at its own expense. Your father’s account holds £4,092. The bank has added £788 interest and a further £250 by way of apology, and your account has now received a total of £5,130.
I’ve lost £505 in Amazon vouchers
M.G. writes: As well as my Amazon UK account, I had a US account that I decided to close. I went into Chat on the US website and was told I should deal with this through Amazon UK. I did so, and Amazon UK linked me to the US site.
However, I was never warned that closing the Amazon US account would also close down my UK account.
I have lost £505 in gift vouchers and a £53 refund.
Loss: M.G. was never warned that closing the Amazon US account would also close down the UK account
Tony Hetherington replies: Apart from the financial losses, your Wish List also disappeared, leaving your friends clueless as to what you might like for special occasions. And when UK customer services staff failed to help, you emailed Amazon boss Jeff Bezos himself, but all you received was an acknowledgement and no follow-up assistance.
In fairness to Amazon, its website terms and conditions do warn that closing your account through one Amazon website will close any accounts you have on others. It adds: ‘Your available Gift Cards balance will no longer be available for you to spend.’
However, I am surprised the Chat staff who helped you close your account never thought to ask why you would wish to throw away £500. The good news is that I have had a word with Amazon. Your account has been reopened. Your £53 refund has arrived in it. And your Gift Cards worth £505 have been validated again. You have not lost a penny.
NS&I blocked my withdrawal…but won’t give me a proper explanation
P.S. writes: I attempted to withdraw funds from my NS&I Direct Saver account, but the transaction failed, returning a message telling me to telephone its call centre.
I did this and was told that ‘additional security’ had been placed on my account, and that staff would call me – but, of course, this did not happen.
I emailed a number of times, but received no meaningful reply, so I wrote to NS&I’s chief executive Ian Ackerley, but received no response.
Tony Hetherington replies: The replies you got from NS&I were hardly helpful. All you wanted was to make a withdrawal of your own money, so it was beyond annoying to be told: ‘We’re very busy at the moment, so we are only replying to emails that are a complaint, a request to cancel an account within the cooling-off period, a Freedom of Information request, or about your rights under the Data Protection Act.’
And when you did make a formal complaint, NS&I’s customer service team told you it only acted as a go-between, passing messages to the customer care team – as if NS&I’s internal organisation should be of any significance to you, when all you wanted was to make a withdrawal from your account, and an explanation of why it was blocked in the first place.
I have that explanation. When you applied for a withdrawal online, you were caught by a random security check. The check should have been completed quickly and your account restored, but this was not done and officials then got bogged down in the complaints process without anyone sorting it out until you waited patiently for three months before contacting me.
As you know, your account has been unfrozen and your withdrawal has gone ahead. NS&I has offered its apologies and £100 as an ‘inconvenience payment’, but you have decided to press on with a complaint through the Financial Ombudsman Service.
If you believe you are the victim of financial wrongdoing, write to Tony Hetherington at Financial Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TS or email email@example.com. Because of the high volume of enquiries, personal replies cannot be given. Please send only copies of original documents, which we regret cannot be returned.