Bank held to account
One of MDF’s main roles is providing the right level of support for voluntary groups in Merseyside of and for disabled people. There are many hundreds of such groups in Merseyside, and there is a wide range in their size and their experience. Established groups might want information about pending European legislation. New and inexperienced groups can need more basic help. One recent case in Merseyside involved a user-led group of visually-impaired people who found opening a bank account a problem.
We were helping the group to establish itself, but, to be able to get grants and other support, they needed to open a bank account. Opening a bank account - even in these days of checks to prevent terrorism and money-laundering - shouldn’t be a problem. But for this group it took about six months to get the service they needed.
The first thing we did was to help them chose a bank that seemed to be keen to offer a good standard of accessibility - though, of course, that’s no more than any bank is obliged to offer under the DDA. Unfortunately reality did not measure up to the website promise that the Bank would provide alternative formats (including Braille) for the relevant documents - and for key things such as PIN numbers. The group came back to us for more help.
We took them through the relevant parts of the DDA, and their rights under the law, and we encouraged them - armed with that knowledge - to contact the bank’s Head Office. Eventually after a six-week delay they got their alternative format material which they needed to open the account. But when they got their welcome letters and cheque book it was back to the beginning again. These came in the standard format - unusable to the members of this group.
Again we worked with the group. They were firm that they didn’t want to change to another Bank because those branches were not so convenient, and also because they wanted to see the changes made that would help other visually-impaired people in the future.
They continued the struggle. We led them to specific DDA documents about financial organisations that they could use and send to the bank, (documents that set out the options open to carry on their attempts) and we drafted a letter of support that they could send.
Now everything seems to be operating well. They have their accessible bank account (though - like all voluntary groups - there’s not always enough money in it).
Voluntary groups know that encouraging and supporting their disabled members can be just as helpful and important as giving them the right information. For MDF, also, helping smaller Merseyside groups to become confident in their knowledge and in their rights can be vital in helping them make the changes they need.
At least one Bank branch in Merseyside should know what to do next time a visually-impaired customer wants to open an account. But other Branches have been affected too. A number of the visually-impaired members of this group have been encouraged to make sure that they also get the large-print versions of bank documents for their personal accounts, to help them maintain their own independence.
Places are still available (for Liverpool-based groups) on the capacity-building programmes funded by Liverpool Community Resource Unit. Contact Chris Wardle at MDF.
T: (0151) 236-6674
F: (0151) 227-4898 (and textphone)
September, 2009 MDF0672