A new survey by Which? has found that the pandemic is putting major pressure on banks’ bereavement services, leading to costly and upsetting errors for grieving families.

Leading consumer group Which? conducted the survey of 1,600 of its members, and found many executors who encountered serious delays and administrative errors with banks when trying to close accounts for deceased relatives.

The Covid-19 pandemic appears to have applied additional pressure to banks’ bereavement services, as one in 10 people who were responsible for closing a deceased person’s account after the March 2020 lockdown said they were dissatisfied with bank staff’s skill and knowledge during the process.

HSBC, NatWest and Barclays were among the banks named.

Getting in touch with the right teams at financial providers proved an issue. Before lockdown, only 3% of executors said they found it very difficult to contact the right people, rising to one in six (16%) beyond March 2020.

The report also found lengthy delays affecting executors. For one in six (17%) people in the survey, the process lasted more than three months. Beyond March 2020, the figure rose to around four in 10 (37%).

Mistakes were costly for executors and their families. One bereaved daughter reported having to foot the £4,000 cost of her father’s funeral, after HSBC lost his death certificate.

Other respondents were forced to make repeated contact with their bank to get them to close their loved ones’ accounts.

Jenny Ross, Which? money editor said:

“Our research has exposed unacceptable mistakes by banks cropping up again and again during the probate process, leaving bereaved customers even more distressed and potentially out of pocket because of avoidable errors and delays.

“Banks must ensure they treat executors with compassion by communicating sensitively and making sure their processes are as efficient as possible.”

Both HSBC and Barclays offered their apologies to affected customers. 

HSBC said:

“We sincerely apologise that in these cases we have fallen short of the high standards we set ourselves and have taken steps to help ensure the experience with us going forward is a better one. 

“We are working hard to make sure that our customers have the support they need.”

Barclays said: 

“We understand handling financial matters after a bereavement can be a complex and emotional process. We strive to make that experience as easy as possible for our customers’ loved ones.”