Fam­i­lies left with­out money af­ter loved ones pass away

The Sunday Times - - News -

what has hap­pened. This one doc­u­ment should be enough. Af­ter all, it’s a crime to lie in a stat dec.”

Com­pre­hen­sive change doesn’t ap­pear to be on the Gov­ern­ment’s agenda, but when con­tacted by The Sun­day Times, Fed­eral Trea­surer Josh Fry­den­berg — who is over­see­ing the fi­nan­cial ser­vices port­fo­lio — high­lighted the rigour they have re­cently in­tro­duced.

“Fol­low­ing a re­quest by the Coali­tion Gov­ern­ment, the Aus­tralian Bank­ing As­so­ci­a­tion in con­sul­ta­tion with the Aus­tralian Com­pe­ti­tion and In­vest­ments Com­mis­sion (ASIC) up­dated the terms of the Bank­ing Code of Prac­tice to . . . clar­ify con­sumer ex­pec­ta­tions with re­spect to han­dling de­ceased es­tates,” he said.

“Ad­di­tion­ally, ASIC is plac­ing staff within the big four banks as well as AMP to mon­i­tor gov­er­nance and com­pli­ance of th­ese or­gan­i­sa­tions, in­clud­ing how they han­dle dis­putes with their cus­tomers.

“The Gov­ern­ment re­cently leg­is­lated to cre­ate the Aus­tralian Fi­nan­cial Com­plaints Au­thor­ity which (from Novem­ber 1) will al­low all fi­nan­cial com­plaints . . . to be cen­tralised with a sin­gle scheme, thereby re­duc­ing con­sumer con­fu­sion.”

Christine Richard­son and Donna Lee Pow­ell will con­tinue to lobby gov­ern­ments for change but, in the mean­time, they are hold­ing a sem­i­nar to help those who find them­selves fum­bling through the fi­nan­cial fog af­ter los­ing a loved one.

“It’s got to the stage where we have to hold an in­for­ma­tion night,” Christine says. “We want peo­ple to un­der­stand that if some­one dies af­ter they’ve turned 18 there is go­ing to be com­plex fi­nan­cial ex­pec­ta­tions whether you’re ready for them or not.”

Donna adds: “Yes, peo­ple need to be ed­u­cated so they’re aware of what they might have to go through. It’s com­plex. It shouldn’t be, but it is.”

Christine has proof that the process can be made eas­ier.

“The Wa­ter Corp, for ex­am­ple, com­pletely over­hauled their be­reave­ment sys­tem,” she says. “We started talk­ing to them four years ago and they ac­tu­ally heard us. They have be­reave­ment staff, they have staff trained to look af­ter the es­tate. It’s all part of their train­ing now. They’re get­ting it right.”

Wa­ter Cor­po­ra­tion’s cus­tomer and com­mu­nity gen­eral man­ager, Cather­ine Fer­rari, con­firmed the ef­fort they made for those go­ing through grief.

“In re­cent years we’ve spent a lot of time un­der­stand­ing our cus­tomers’ needs,” she says. “(This) helped us re­design our pro­cesses to make it eas­ier for (griev­ing) cus­tomers to deal with us. We (wanted to) look at th­ese is­sues through their eyes.

“In th­ese cir­cum­stances we can ap­point a case man­ager, so some­one ex­pe­ri­enc­ing be­reave­ment can have one point of con­tact to help make any changes needed.

“We have also sim­pli­fied the process by pro­vid­ing cus­tomers with im­me­di­ate ac­cess to man­age billing, pay­ments or fi­nan­cial hard­ship queries re­gard­ing the ac­count still in the de­ceased’s name, with­out the need to pro­vide an au­tho­ri­sa­tion, such as pro­bate.”

A more stream­lined sys­tem would have helped Sa­mara Deeg, who breaks down when she retells the round­abouts she had to nav­i­gate. “There were things I had to deal with that make me so cross,” she says.

“It just shouldn’t be like that. And it shocked me. Your lo­cal bank branch should know what to do. They should take you into a pri­vate room and say, ‘Right, this is what’s go­ing to hap­pen’. I walked out of there not know­ing what was go­ing to hap­pen and I was freak­ing out.

“A week later I went to get the kids’ stuff for school: books, shoes and all that — and had my card de­clined. They’d can­celled my card be­cause I was the sec­ondary card holder. No one had told me.

“So I had two kids look­ing at me with th­ese big eyes think­ing, ‘What's go­ing on here, mum? Are we OK?’”

Fill­ing out count­less forms and be­ing put in the phone queue for fi­nan­cial hard­ship in­stead of deal­ing with spe­cial­ist be­reave­ment staff al­most broke Sa­mara.

“I’ve yelled at so many peo­ple be­cause I’m just so an­gry at ex­plain­ing my situation 10 mil­lion times,” she says. “You know when you go, ‘Just for a minute, think if this hap­pened to you and where your lev­els of be­ing rea­son­able are’.

“They just wanted forms filled out, and in­for­ma­tion from you that is so in­va­sive many times over and over. I was re­ally stressed about the mort­gage. I spoke to this one lady and said, ‘You know, you never made me feel like you were go­ing to put my mort­gage on hold, you made me feel like it was an ap­pli­ca­tion and that it was never a given’.

“When they fi­nally did put the mort­gage on hold they had a val­uer come over and he was tak­ing pic­tures of my house be­fore he even came in. And then when he came in he ca­su­ally says, ‘Oh, so you’re re­fi­nanc­ing, are you?’ And I launched into him, I said ‘NO!!’

“There was no em­pa­thy train­ing. None.”

With the help of Donna, Sa­mara has been able to break free of the fi­nan­cial fog and, last week, a day be­fore her birth­day, the first one with­out Klae, a life in­surance pol­icy was fi­nally ap­proved.

Sa­mara adds: “If I didn’t have Donna I don’t know where I would be. I am deadly se­ri­ous. I prob­a­bly would have given up. I wouldn’t be where I am. Be­cause I felt so sup­ported by Donna, from the first time I spoke with her.”

The Sun­day Times rang a spokesper­son for the Aus­tralian Bank­ing As­so­ci­a­tion and emailed ques­tions but there was no re­sponse.

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