My dad died 10 months ago – a bank and utilities companies are still sending him harassing letters
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My dad died 10 months ago – a bank and utilities companies are...

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My beloved dad died unexpectedly of a heart attack last August, leaving my mum, brother and I in a bubble of disbelief.

We managed to cope with the funeral preparation and the stark loneliness that loss brings – but once the initial shock wore off, the brutal reality of life without him kicked in.

After the funeral was the hardest time, because you’re expected to go on with your daily business – which felt, and still feels, impossible when someone so important is missing.  

In an attempt to gain strength from each other, the three of us spoke every day, and it brought my mum, brother, and I closer together. We worked well as a team to focus on the abundant administration that undeniably accompanies death.

When someone dies, there’s the obvious ‘sadmin’ to manage – including changing bills, such as gas and electricity, into someone else’s name and cancelling their driving licence.

The government-run service, Tell Us Once, allows you to enter details of the deceased, and they contact the DVLA, the passport office etc., which is helpful but slow.

Plus, my dad owned a business, which made the process of ‘sadmin’ lengthy and complicated.

Sarah and her mum (Picture: Sarah Haselwood)

Some of that is no one’s fault; it’s just the extra work that comes with shutting down a business. 

Where my dad’s company was concerned, there were many things we didn’t initially know about, like his monthly website costs and business bank accounts.

Many companies use email to communicate bills and subscription payments, so without access to his email, we were guessing about what to pay, cancel or expect.

However, the cruelty of one bank and numerous utility companies – and their continuing inability to manage the administration related to loss – has undoubtedly impacted and potentially extended our recovery time.

For the bank and utility accounts we knew about, the process was to contact them to communicate the death and send a death certificate if required. The service should then use you as the ongoing contact once the death and your identity have been verified.  

But if only it were that straightforward. It’s been nearly 10 months since my dad died, and my mum continues to receive letters every few weeks from one particular UK bank (one of the biggest) my dad banked with. 

These letters were blunt, accusatory and incredibly upsetting for my mum

They keep forgetting to update their systems that he is deceased, so letters are addressed to him and continue to ask for interest payments that he cannot pay because he is no longer here.

Whenever my mum sees his name as the recipient, she gets upset and also frustrated that no one is updating the account and closing it down. She worries that money is owed or threats of fines will be incurred.  

Then there have been home utility accounts that we’ve updated to my mum’s name or cancelled. 

After my dad died, my mum switched home service providers. The one she cancelled sent three letters telling my mum she owed over £3,000 in late fees.

These letters were blunt, accusatory and incredibly upsetting for her when she didn’t expect to hear from them again. Even after she phoned them and explained, another letter arrived.

As a last resort, I contacted them on Twitter, and we finally received an apology, but the stress had already been inflicted.

Another provider sent at least two letters after the changes in bright red text, threatening to cut all electricity.

Why can no one at these companies support us? (Picture: Sarah Haselwood)

These letters create stress, frustration and worry, and also, it’s another job to follow up on when you’re coping with grief and, for me, trying to work, too. 

The lack of sensitivity and attention to detail feels incompetent and impersonal. I realise that so much administration and processes for large companies are automated, but with death comes an array of emotions. 

There are five common stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally, acceptance. In my experience, I have been through them all, but the order is likely to differ for everyone.

For me, the first few months were almost an out-of-body experience, and I did daily things like work and the school run in a trance. In some respects, normal tasks allowed me to forget what had happened, so denial certainly occurred. But I think it’s still present. Often, I forget and almost pick up the phone to speak to my dad, especially about my children and my business.

I miss him every day, and I still cry when I look at photos of him.  

I’m just not there yet when it comes to acceptance, and I also think a big part of that is because I worry about my mum a lot. The constant trigger of letters in my father’s name as if he is still alive continues to stir anger, sadness and other emotions in me. 

And this lack of accountability from the bank and utility companies continues to bring ongoing frustration: why can no one at these companies support us? 

How is this happening, and does no one care?

Last month was an all-time low when the bank addressed a letter to the executor of my mum’s estate saying she was dead. I have no idea why the deceased went from my dad to my mum. The letter told us they were sorry for our loss and outlined the next steps for the closure of a bank account that had actually belonged to my dad.  

No one wants to see their name in black and white associated with their death. It was such an unacceptable error, and she was understandably distraught.

I was so angry and also dumbfounded that it could get worse than it already was. 

How is this happening, and does no one care? My mum phoned the bank and told them quite directly how upset she was at the error. 

Three days later, she received another identical letter, and her emotions – especially anger – again skyrocketed. 

If the banks and utility companies had been through the nightmare we have, they might have a better understanding of how to manage administration associated with death. 

I believe my mum is moving on as much as she can, but these constant reminders that her husband is gone and the inability of the bank (and utility companies) to acknowledge this are unforgivable.

Have you struggled with ‘sadmin’? Have your say in the comments belowComment Now

We’re just trying to get the admin sorted to move on. All we’re asking for is a little bit of assistance and understanding. 

I appreciate that our emotions are on high alert and may be more sensitive than usual, but I wonder how we can move on when reminders of our loss are so regularly inflicted. 

I think banks and utility companies need to make more effort when it comes to dealing with grieving customers. In my experience, we have not been treated with any real sensitivity or understanding.  

Even the services that offered special bereavement lines to reduce call times were not able to help or make the relevant changes, so I went back to the main call centres. Some outsourced services to specialist grief advisors to give support through the process, but emails went unanswered, so it was back to the original route. 

The next step with the bank is to report it to the Financial Ombudsman, but whether we have the strength and patience to go through this process remains undecided.  

It feels basic, but I long for the day when my mum collects her post, and there’s nothing there to upset her.

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