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Santander failed to pass on inheritances

A woman walks past Santander bank in the UKImage copyright
NurPhoto / Getty Images

Santander UK has been fined £32.8m by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) for failing to properly process the accounts of deceased customers.

Santander did not transfer funds totalling over £183m to beneficiaries when it should have done, affecting a total of 40,428 customers directly.

And, after it became aware of the issues, the bank failed to disclose the problems to the FCA.

Santander said it was “very sorry” for the impact its failings caused.

“We accept the FCA’s findings and have fully cooperated with their investigation,” said Santander UK’s chief executive Nathan Bostock.

“We have now transferred the majority of customer funds and made significant improvements to our whole probate and bereavement process, ensuring we provide both a sensitive and efficient service to our bereaved customer representatives and those who are managing the estates of people who have passed away.”

Mark Steward, executive director of enforcement and market oversight at the FCA said that the failings “took too long to be identified and then far too long to be fixed”.

“To the firm’s credit, once these problems were notified to the board and senior management, they were fixed properly and promptly, but recognition of the problem took too long,” he said.

There were weaknesses in how Santander organised and controlled its probate and bereavement processes, the FCA added.

This meant that the bank:

  • failed to follow-up on communications with deceased customer representatives, which increased the likelihood of cases not being closed
  • did not effectively identify all the funds it held which formed part of a deceased customer’s estate
  • could not determine whether cases had progressed to closure

As a result, despite Santander being informed that a customer had died, funds would not be transferred to those who were entitled to them.

‘Errors of judgement’

And in instances where deceased customers had several different bank accounts and investments, the bank failed to identify these funds, which meant that those who were entitled to them remained unaware of the existence of those funds.

Melinda Giles, partner at Giles Wilson Solicitors, and a representative for private client solicitors on the Law Society Council, told the BBC that similar incidents have occurred at other British banks, because there was “too much of a relaxed approach” from many banks to the legal process.

“I have come across errors of judgement by a variety of banks in that they do not insist on a grant of probate to be sure that they are paying the money that belongs to a deceased person to the correct person entitled,” she said.

“The news about Santander is disappointing because solicitors are very keen to work with banks to ensure that the rule of law is followed.”

She added that in many cases, people do not use a probate lawyer, and they assume that the bank knows what their legal rights are. However, the banks sometimes lack knowledge of the legal process.

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