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TONY HETHERINGTON: Sun Life’s customer care is appalling

Sun Life does have the funds for a payout, but not the staff or systems, and its customer care is appalling: TONY HETHERINGTON investigates

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. 

Ms P.C. writes: My parents held a Sun Life Financial of Canada policy, which became payable after they both died. The second death was my mother’s, early in February this year. 

The company was informed within a couple of days, yet we are still waiting for the payment. It does not respond to emails or pick up the phone after 4pm and, despite promising to call back, it never does. 

Its customer care is appalling. We were told that payment was approved in May, but since then there has been no progress. We now wonder whether it has the funds. 

Soaring delay: Sun Life had yet to pay six months after a policyholder died

Tony Hetherington replies: The easy part of this situation was to say yes, the company (which is not the same as the British company called SunLife Ltd) does have the funds to pay the £126,427 that is due to you and your sister following the deaths of both your parents. 

It is the internal administration of Sun Life Financial of Canada that has caused problem after problem. 

You notified the firm and made a claim on the policy in February. In April, you called and were told there was a backlog of claims. 

You called twice in May and got no answer. At the end of May, the phone was answered and you were told you would be called back within five days, but no call came. In June, you were told your claim was in a queue and would be paid ‘any day now’. But in August, you were told your claim was still waiting to be authorised. 

Later in August, you were told the claim would be ‘escalated’. Yet at the end of August, you were told your claim was with ‘the referral team’ due to its value, and should be dealt with in the following days, which, of course, it wasn’t. 

I put all this to Sun Life Financial and asked what had caused such a serious backlog of claims. I asked the company to explain why you were informed in August that your claim was waiting to be authorised, when you had already been told in June it was in a queue to be paid. 

The answers are a mixture of technical failure and human error. The company told me: ‘In November 2021, we completed the migration of our customer and policy administration services to a new system.’ 

This involved a transfer of more than 470,000 records, and it was not completely successful, meaning that some policy values had to be calculated manually, which in turn meant finding and recruiting skilled staff. This led to a backlog. But why was your claim delayed for so long? 

I was tod: ‘The example of Ms C is exceptional and is particularly unfortunate as we should have paid this bereavement claim in June.’ 

Given its high value, your claim needed to be authorised by a senior official. Records showed this authorisation was requested, but in fact your claim was never passed on to the right person. The company told me: ‘This is a result of human error. We will learn from this.’ 

After I contacted it, Sun Life Financial got in touch with you to apologise. It has now paid £127,015 to include interest, and separately sent you a cheque for £500 to say sorry for the distress and inconvenience.

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 tony.hetherington@mailonsunday.co.uk. 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. 

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