If a firm doesn't accommodate a customer's race, religion, disability or sexual orientation they could be ignoring their rights under the Equality Act
Disabled people and those who have specific needs due to their religion or sexual orientation, for example, often fall victim to inflexible bank rules, the Financial Ombudsman Service has warned today.
The dispute resolution body said that in many cases customers do not know they have the right to ask their bank or financial provider to provide them with a personalised service if they need it.
Under the Equality Act, people have the right to ask a business to make "reasonable adjustments" so they can use the same service as everybody else, for example by helping a blind person access their bank account.
Caroline Wayman, the chief ombudsman, criticised banks for being overly concerned with "compliance" and failing to properly handle sensitive situations.
"All too often, the practical steps we suggest could have been put in place much sooner – avoiding unnecessary delays, frustration and inconvenience for the consumer," she said.
In one case, a bank confused a female customer's gender reassignment with fraud, and blocked her credit card. A few days before the account was suspended, Ms B had given her bank a ring. After the call, the staff member she had spoken to raised concerns about the pitch of the customer's voice.
They thought that a man had been trying to use the credit card – registered in a woman's name – and blocked any subsequent transactions as fraudulent.
But the bank had been informed that the customer used to be a man. She had already given the bank medical records from her gender reassignment operation, carried out three years previously. After Ms B explained the situation, the bank unblocked the account. The ombudsman told the bank to pay £500 for the frustration and embarrassment caused.
Deaf customer denied online banking
Disabled customers also have the right to ask for reasonable adjustments to the service they receive.
A deaf customer, Ms S, was told that in order to access her online banking, she would need to telephone a customer helpline. Even though she could not hear, the bank staff member said she could only authorise her account via telephone due to "security procedures".
The same week, her debit card was swallowed by a faulty cash machine. Left without her card for three weeks and locked out of online banking, Ms S had to rely on spare cash. Unable to access her account, several of her direct debits were refused and she incurred charges. The bank agreed to refund the charges, but still would not budge on the telephone issue.
The bank eventually told Ms S that she could activate her online banking via post. The ombudsman said: "If they had told Ms S about this, the problem probably wouldn't have arisen in the first place." It awarded recompense of £500.
In another case, an 80-year-old woman complained that her insurer had rejected her claim after refusing to communicate with her in Polish. Following rain damage to her ceiling, the insurer had sent a loss adjuster to Mrs H's home – but they could not understand each other and the claim was not properly settled.
Mrs H said that as she was getting older, she had trouble remembering her English. The Ombudsman said that the insurer should have sent a translator, as it had previously written to Mrs H in Polish, and the firm agreed to pay the claim.
The equality act explained
Firms are legally required to make "reasonable adjustments" for certain people, for example by helping a disabled person receive the same service as an abled-bodied person.
The legislation protects individuals with "protected characteristics", including a person's age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.
The Equality Act says that firms cannot discriminate against anyone "requiring the service by not providing the person with the service."
Being Transgender or Gay is not a choice, being Transphobic or Homophobic is, so don't be a Twonk