I spent weeks chasing British Gas for a £461 refund when my mum died – I couldn’t afford her gravestone without it

COMPANIES have been urged to do more to help customers battling to sort out the finances of loved ones who have passed away – whether they were in debt or credit.

Thousands of bereaved relatives have reported issues with the process, according to the UK Commission on Bereavement.

Roland LeonJulie Williams spent weeks chasing British Gas for a £461 refund after her mum died[/caption]

Experts have now called for action to simplify and speed up the relevant administrative processes.

Steven Wibberley, of charity Cruse Bereavement Support, says: “It’s time more companies take on the responsibility of providing appropriate customer service, and start treating customers with a bit more humanity.”

Lucy Alderson investigates what happens to the finances of a loved one when they die . . . 

Use the Government’s Tell Us Once service

MAKE sure you notify government bodies, including HMRC, the Department for Work and Pensions and your local council, using the Tell Us Once service.

The registrar will usually tell you about this helpful service when you register the death of your loved one – some will even do it for you online when you’re there.

Or they will give you a unique reference number so that you can apply for the service yourself, which you do at Gov.uk/after-a-death/organisations-you-need-to-contact-and-tell-us-once.

You’ll need important details to hand, including the person’s date of birth, where and when they died and the name and contact details of the person who is dealing with their estate.

Closing an account often needs a death certificate

YOU can be liable for hidden costs when closing accounts.
Many companies still require a hard copy of a death certificate, despite accepting photos during Covid.

Cruse Bereavement Support says families often buy between five and ten death certificates, at £11 each.

The Sun found varying company policies for whether an original death certificate is needed to close an account.

In most cases, banks require one. But Barclays and Nationwide will let you upload a scanned copy if you do it online.

Metro Bank and TSB require a death certificate before stopping direct debits and standing orders.

This could mean money is taken from a loved one’s account even though you told the bank they died – although TSB said it will look at refunding this once documents are provided.

Energy and broadband firms don’t always require an original death certificate to close an account.

Vodafone will accept a scanned one, while BT, British Gas and Ovo Energy do not ask for a certificate.

Cruse’s Steven Wibberley says: “Many companies request hard copies of death certificates when they don’t always need them.

“This not only takes time and effort for whoever is trying to navigate their grief, but costs a considerable amount.”

Most companies will have a dedicated bereavement helpline. You can find the number on their website.

Death admin can be huge job alongside organising funeral

THE administration tasks when a loved one dies can be overwhelming, especially alongside the emotional demands of arranging a funeral.

Firstly, the death must be registered within five days.

If there’s a will, then there is usually someone named as the executor.

They are responsible for organising the estate and this normally includes distributing valuables, personal possessions and any property.

You can use a solicitor but this can cost thousands of pounds so you may opt to do it yourself.

When someone dies, their bills and accounts must be settled and closed.

It is usually down to the next of kin to sort that out – or the person who is most able to complete the task.

You can notify a death to banks and building societies, at the same time using the Death Notification Service which is free to use.

Settld is a free online service which contacts up to 950 different organisations on your behalf, including utility companies, banks and broadband providers.

But not all companies are signed up to these services, and they don’t have to be, which often leaves families having to contact firms individually.

There are no rules on how fast companies must repay credit they owe to a dead person

IF a loved one’s account with a company is in credit, a refund needs to be issued to the person in charge of the estate.

Once you submit all of the necessary documentation, a final bill or statement should be sent.

But there are no rules in place for firms to govern how quickly they should pay out.

This means the amount of time it takes varies massively, with some processing immediately and others taking up to six weeks or even longer.

James Daley, of consumer group Fairer Finance, says: “As things stand, there are no rules and many firms offer an incredibly poor service to the bereaved.

“We want to see all service regulators, from Ofcom to Ofgem, and the Financial Conduct Authority, introducing new, tough rules that all firms need to abide by.”

I wasted weeks chasing British Gas for the £461 they owed mum…

JULIE Williams spent weeks chasing a £461 refund from British Gas after her mother died.

Julie, 55, had been sent a final bill statement for her mum Jillian Williams, after notifying the company of her passing.

Julie couldn’t cash British Gas’ refund cheque as it was made out to her mum Jillian, picturedSupplied

It said she was £461 in credit and a cheque would be sent in the post.

Payment arrived three weeks later but the cheque was for £321 and made out to Jillian, so Julie could not cash it in.

Julie, a support worker from Wolverhampton, who is on Universal Credit and has just £140 a month after paying her bills, says: “It’s been frustrating and I’ve been so upset.

“I couldn’t move on.”

She wanted to use the cash to pay for a gravestone for her mum.

Julie says: “I’ve been looking for gravestones but a deposit payment is needed and I didn’t have enough cash.”

British Gas told Sun Money that an “administrative error” was to blame for the wrong name appearing on the cheque it sent out.

It also added that the initial bill was incorrect and the final amount of credit on the account was £321.

It has, however, sent an extra £50 as a gesture of goodwill and has apologised for both the delays and the error.

Debts must be paid but there is support and financial help. . . although many are unaware

IF your loved one left behind any debts, the executor needs to settle these.

They are not personally liable but any cash from the estate must first go toward paying them.

You’ll need to put a deceased estate notice in The Gazette, and your local newspaper, to protect yourself against any creditors chasing you.

If you are tied up to someone with a joint debt – such as a mortgage, for example – then you’ll be personally responsible for paying the debt in full.

If you’re struggling to pay a joint debt, you’ll need to get in touch with your lender to ask for help.

Some people will have insurance policies which cover the cost of debts such as mortgages, in case of the worst.

You can also apply for up to £9,800 in bereavement benefits if your partner dies and you have children.

It’s not means-tested so you can apply even if you’re working. Do so at apply-for-bereavement-support-payment.dwp.gov.uk/apply.

A recent rule change means unmarried parents who lived with and had children with their partner can now claim.

But thousands of families are missing out on the help – one in six households who are eligible for it haven’t claimed it, according to the Department of Work and Pensions.

‘Missing bank request may have dire consequences’

Lucy Alderson sorts out your money issues.

Q) I’VE suddenly been locked out of my business account with Barclays. I’m worried I won’t be able to pay my staff’s wages, and payments into my account are not going through. Can you help?

Daisy Whitehouse, Manchester

A) YOU panicked when you realised you were locked out of your account earlier this month when your cards didn’t work – and you had no idea why.

You run a PR agency where you employ seven people, and were horrified at the prospect of not being able to pay staff on time.

Also, a client’s payment that you were chasing, worth £1,360, failed to go through.

You logged on to your Barclays app, asking via the live chat function what had happened.

Barclays told you that you hadn’t replied to requests to provide up-to-date information needed about your account and it had cancelled your cards.

It added that your account was about to shut, too.

You were surprised, as you tell me you didn’t get a letter, call or email.

You were told to ring a helpline, but it was a two-hour wait on the phone, then when you got through you were cut off.

You feared you wouldn’t be able to run your business properly and you asked me for help.

Banks will often ask customers to verify key details, in order to prevent financial crime.

Barclays told me it emailed and wrote to you, and sent you texts, asking for information about your account last year. It said it sent alerts about this to your online and mobile banking accounts.

But you insist you were never sent these communications and that your details are up to date.

You did miss an online banking notification, as you use the app on your phone to do your banking.

Thanks to my intervention in your case, Barclays has now unlocked your account and cards and your account will not be closed. Barclays could have tried calling you.

Missing a prompt to update your details can have dire financial consequences, but so can falling for a scam.

Never click on a link in an email or text message purporting to be from your bank and treat all phone calls with suspicion.

Instead contact the bank directly by logging into your app or by calling the number on the back of your card.


THE interest offered on savings accounts is rising – but rates still remain low.

Sophie King reveals the list of low-paying “vampire” accounts you need to avoid, and how to boost your cash pot . . . 

WHAT’S HAPPENING WITH SAVINGS RATES? These have been low for over a decade.

The Bank of England has raised the base rate to four per cent, with ten increases since December 2021, and savings rates have been creeping up.

But banks have been slammed for not passing on rate rises to savers.

This week, banks were asked by MPs why rates remain so low.

The Treasury Committee wrote to the big four banks – Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds and NatWest – for an answer.

WHAT ARE THE LOWEST SAVINGS RATES? Citibank currently offers the lowest rates, according to Moneyfacts.co.uk. Its Flexible Saver pays just 0.01 per cent.

For a saver who puts £50 a month away, you would gain about 3p in interest over a year.

Even if you had £10,000 tucked away, you’d only earn £1

See thesun.co.uk/money for a list of vampire accounts to avoid.

WHAT ARE THE HIGHEST INTEREST RATES? If you need access to your cash, then the account with the best rate is offered by Chip, which pays 3.15 per cent on its easy-access account.

You only need to pay in £1 to get started but you do need to use the Chip app.

If you saved £50 each month for a year, you’d get roughly £10 in interest.

If you’re willing to wait a few months before accessing your cash, Investec offers 3.55 per cent with its 90-day notice account.

You need £5,000 to open it and it’s only available for online accounts.

The best one-year fixed account is from Smartsave at 4.26 per cent. You need £10,000 to open one and it must be done online.

Tandem Bank’s one-year fix is 4.25 per cent and can be opened with £1. You need to apply online or via its app.

HOW DO I PICK THE BEST ACCOUNT FOR ME? The most important thing is to do research.

Myron Jobson, of Interactive Investor, says: “Fixed accounts typically offer the most attractive rates as you won’t be able to withdraw your cash until the term ends without being penalised.

“Easy-access accounts give you instant access to your cash – with the trade-off typically being a less attractive savings rate.”

Andrew Hagger, of Moneycomms, warned savers to shop around.

He says: “Take a quick look at the best buys to see just how much you can earn, now rates are the highest they’ve been for almost a decade.

“Check the terms and conditions of the account before you sign up.”