Barclays has admitted it should have done more to help a mortgage customer who had to quit his job to look after his terminally ill wife.
Henry Cohen’s wife suffers from a unique strain of dementia leading him to leave his job as a business transformation director to look after her. He is on an interest-only mortgage meaning his monthly payments cover the interest, with the actual debt due to be paid off in February 2019.
Barclays wanted Henry, 69, to stick to that regime – and while he has the money in savings to clear the £760,000 loan, he needs the cash to pay for care.
He asked for an extension and insists he will pay back the mortgage when she passes away and will sell his home in Wimbledon to pay for it.
But Barclays initially refused, which Henry says was insensitive and demeaning to his situation and added to the already significant stress. That was until MSE got involved. Barclays subsequently agreed he can continue to repay the interest monthly with no set date to pay the full debt off, with this reviewed each February.
While the initial refusal was clearly a concern, Henry’s other gripe was being passed from pillar to post, having gone through six departments. He says no-one of sufficient seniority dealt with the case despite him being in a vulnerable situation.
He told us he felt that the ‘computer says no’ treatment he received was “unacceptable”, and Barclays has admitted there was a breakdown in communication. He was even advised to sell his home by two separate employees – something which would have caused his wife extreme disorientation and stress.
Barclays insists it has the systems in place to deal with customers in distress, even though it was not properly handled this time. If you or someone you know with a similar condition has received an equally unsympathetic response from your bank to a plea for help, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re struggling to meet mortgage payments, see our Mortgage Arrears Guide, which includes info on situations that may stop you being able to pay off a mortgage.
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‘Many consumers in vulnerable circumstances are not receiving fair treatment’
There are currently 850,000 people with dementia in the UK with numbers expected to rise by 225,000 this year. According to the Alzeheimer’s Society, two thirds of the cost of dementia is paid by people with dementia and their families.
City regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), has previously expressed concerns about the way vulnerable customers are treated by banks.
It said: “Many consumers in vulnerable circumstances are not receiving fair treatment from their financial services providers. They may find they are unable to obtain a flexible, tailored service that meets their needs from firms.”
‘At no time did I feel I was being treated as an individual’
Henry said: “I was extremely dissatisfied with the lack of customer care. I found the conversation on my finances and my wifes condition to be personal, facetious, insensitive, discourteous and demeaning.
“At no time did I feel that I was being treated as an individual as well as a valued customer who had met all his monthly interest payments for 14 years.”
Ultimately, Henry felt penalised for having cash in his bank account. He didn’t want to lose that in case it prevented him from being able to afford decent care for his wife. He just wanted longer to pay off his mortgage while he and his wife stay in the property together.
What does Barclays say?
Given the delicate circumstances Barclays admits its mortgage team should have put him through to the special Customer Home Assistance (CHA) team, which is trained to deal with vulnerable customers.
While it concedes there was a breakdown in communication from frontline staff, it insists cases like this are usually escalated to the CHA team.
Barclays’ official statement said: “We are doing all we can to help Mr Cohen resolve his mortgage issue and we apologies for not having done this sooner, at what is clearly a very difficult time.”
It also said it’s partnered with charities Mind, Samaritans, Shelter and Step Change, meaning it refers customers it feels could benefit from additional, specialist help. Barclays didn’t refer Henry to any of these.