Skip to content

Bureaucracy in the midst of Covid

My mother died last month. We had been expecting it since around Christmas, and fortunately we were able to hold the funeral well before everything was shut down with the Coronavirus pandemic. Now it’s a case of sorting out the paperwork. My sister and I were both named as executors of her Will, but in practice I’m leading on sorting things out – as the family told me “You’ve got experience doing it”….

Mostly, in fact, I’ve found it much easier this time around than when I was dealing with Christopher’s Will ten years ago. The government’s Tell Us Once service is much more mature, and their computer systems seem significantly better joined up. It only took one, admittedly rather tortuous, website to tell a whole load of government departments, which saved lots of individual phone calls.

Most of the other organisations I’ve had to deal with have also been straightforward and helpful. Banks, Premium Bonds, car insurance, even the Inland Revenue have all been efficient, sympathetic, and paid up promptly. Her pension took a little bit more effort to sort out, but even that was done with only a couple of extra phone calls.

There had to be one organisation though that spoiled things. And this year, the hands down winner of the IcyJumbo Award for Atrocious Customer Service goes to Hargreaves Lansdown.

My mother had a small ISA account with them. I informed them of her death within a week of it happening, and sent off the Death certificate that afternoon. A week later, I got a reply, returning the certificate, and saying that they would send me the Estate Closure Forms within 30 days. Then nothing.

When the 30 days were up I phoned them, sat on hold for 30 minutes, and asked where the Estates Pack was. They said they’d send me one within another seven days. This is now in the midst of the covid epidemic, the stock market is in free fall, and her small savings had lost a month’s worth of value already due to them sitting on the forms. But they said, when I asked, that there was no way they would back date my instructions to the date I informed them of her death.

Five days later, the estates pack arrived in the post. Followed the next day by a second one sent to my father’s address. One of those was presumably the one they should have sent out a month earlier, but didn’t.

The good news is that the sum of money involved is small enough that I don’t need probate. The bad news is that they require a certified copy of the Will, certified by a professional such as a lawyer, doctor, teacher etc.

I phoned them up again on Friday and asked them how the hell they expected me to get a certified copy of the Will at the moment. I have been in contact with someone with covid-19, so although I am currently healthy I am self-isolating in accordance with government instructions. And even if I were free to leave my house, which I’m not, the entire country is also in lockdown. All the doctors are busy saving lives, and all the teachers, lawyers etc are working from home. There is simply no one available to witness a document.

The unfortunate man on the phone line saw my problem, but kept repeating like a mantra “our processes require a certified copy of the Will”. Which isn’t going to happen until I’m released from quarantine, and I can find a suitably qualified professional to witness a photocopy of the Will. I am particularly cross because, if Hargreaves Lansdown had done their job promptly, as every other organisation I dealt with did, I would have been able to settle the entire estate before we went into lockdown.

As it is, it could be weeks before things get back to enough semblance of normality, and in the meantime the stock market is extremely volatile and the value of the investments is plummeting by the hour. All due to the incompetence of Hargreaves Lansdown and their intransigence over their processes, even in a time of National Emergency. I am Not Impressed At All.