More community groups come forward to describe how shutdown suddenly left them unable to pay bills or staff.
Miles Brignall reports · 9 Dic 2023
Barclays has been accused of “a complete disregard” for its customers by charities and community groups that have had their accounts frozen without warning, throwing them into financial chaos.
A charity that helps young people suffering with cancer, and another that drives elderly people to doctors’ appointments, plus scout and animal welfare groups, are among the organisations that have contacted the Guardian this week to describe how Barclays blocked their bank accounts, often cancelling all their direct debits without informing them.
On Monday we reported on how the trustee of a charity that provides counselling for young people suffering poor mental health had been forced to use his own overdraft to pay the group’s bills after Barclays froze its bank account for 30 days.
Now others have come forward with similar stories. Some of the groups affected have banked with Barclays for almost 40 years.
In November, the official charities bodies for England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland wrote to banks calling on them to better support the sector with services that reflect its needs.
The letter seems to have gained little traction at Barclays, which claims it warns customers it will block non-compliant organisations.
Sophie Epstone, who founded and runs Trekstock, a national charity that helps people in their 20s and 30s deal with cancer, says Barclays has caused her to lose days of her time after it shut down the group’s account.
“Like the others you have featured, the bank asked us for directors’ details as part of their regulatory obligations to know their customers,” she says. “We believe that we complied with all their requests but despite that the account of 15 years was just frozen. No warning, and all our direct debits cancelled just like that.
“You can’t imagine the impact of this. We were in the middle of big projects, including upgrading a room at a large cancer hospital, and we were no longer able to pay our commitments or staff.”
She says she spent more than five hours on the phone to Barclays on one day.
“I keep getting told that it is the bank’s mistake and they rectified it. I then get a letter saying that the matter is ongoing. The account is now back up and working, but who is going to compensate us for the lost time and expense?”
Alan Hutson, who is a trustee for the Devon-based Ivybridge & District Community Transport Association, says Barclays recently shut its two accounts held for 39 years, again without warning.
“It was a very difficult time and we were only able to keep functioning because by luck we happened to have some money earmarked for works in a Lloyds account,” he says. “Our Barclays accounts were always in credit with a healthy balance. I still don’t know why they were shut but I’d advise other charities to source another account as a backup.”
Friends of Animals Wales, a volunteer-run animal rescue based in Rhondda, south Wales, says it is now unable to pay its vet bills and may have to close its doors after Barclays shut its account without warning last month.
“We are getting nowhere trying to resolve this, and stress levels are through the roof,” it said via X. A scout group and mosque initiative were among the other groups to complain to Guardian Money of the same treatment.
Paul Latham, a Charity Commission director, says: “Charities are on the frontline of the current cost-of-living crisis, providing vital support to people across the country. What we have heard since the open letter was published has further reinforced our view that there are widespread problems in the way banks engage with their charity customers. We’ve now had responses from a number of banks which will inform our next steps on this matter.”
A Barclays spokesperson says: “As part of our ongoing responsibility to help prevent financial crime, and to meet our regulatory obligations, we are required to keep up-todate information regarding our customers’ accounts. We share a series of communications with our customers, including writing to them by post, through alert banners on our digitally active customers’ online and mobile banking, as well as reminder SMS text messages and emails, asking customers to supply us with some important information relating to their Barclays Business accounts.”
In Trekstock’s case, Barclays said it recently received the information required, and the account was unblocked. It is examining other cases.