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Lloyds froze bank account of charity that helps poor students

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We run a charity that awards scholarships to underprivileged medical students in Zimbabwe. When I tried to make a payment to cover a student’s university accommodation, a message informed me that our charitable account no longer exists. I called Lloyds and was told the account had been closed. We were given no warning. It will leave the students we support homeless and unable to complete their exams. Lloyds says it has returned the £88,000 balance by cheque but we have not received this and can’t cash it, anyway, since we no longer have an account.
NOH, London

Yours is an increasingly familiar story. The rate at which accounts are being frozen or closed has reached record levels, according to complaints website Resolver. The banks aren’t entirely to blame. They face punitive fines if they are found to have breached anti-money-laundering regulations and, with online fraud soaring, they have had to increase their vigilance. The problem is that an increasing reliance on algorithms and automated protocols to detect suspicious or uncharacteristic activity means that some are proving overly vigilant.

Some of those contacting Resolver had had their accounts frozen after making payments as low as £50, and some waited up to six months to get them reopened. Transactions involving certain African and Asian countries are also a trigger, and several charities with overseas missions have contacted me when funds were cut off.

Banks are free to choose who they do business with, but in ordinary circumstances they have to give 28 days’ notice if they plan to close an account. If they suspect misuse, however, they don’t have to give notice or explanation. In your case, Lloyds says it contacted you on “multiple occasions” for certain information and warned the account would be closed if you did not reply. You say the only contact was a call advising that forms were being sent to fill out. You duly returned them and that, according to you, was the last you heard.

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When I pressed Lloyds on its definition of “multiple”, it agreed that its communications could have been better. It seems it left a single voicemail asking for “clarification” of the submitted information. You don’t recall receiving a message. Moreover, it sent the cheque for the balance to an old address.

It has offered to reinstate the account and pay £500 goodwill. It says: “As part of our regulatory and legal responsibilities, all banks must conduct regular checks to verify account holders’ personal and business information. In this case, as we did not receive all the information we needed, we informed them of our intention to close the account. We appreciate we could have made further attempts to contact them.”

The Financial Ombudsman Service can investigate disputed closures. It can’t force a bank to reinstate a customer, or explain a decision, but can rule on whether they were treated fairly.

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