A deaf man from Slough was told by staff at his local branch of Halifax Bank that he would need to pay a £25 admin fee if he wanted staff to resolve a simple banking problem that people who can hear would be able to do for free.
Mark Hooper, who uses sign language to communicate, visited the Slough branch to transfer some money in person because an earlier transaction didn’t happen.
He was stunned when customer service staff in the branch used a compliment slip to tell him that they would charge him £25 to make the transfer – which he could do for free if he could use the telephone.
Mark, who is a qualified advocate for deaf people, had initially asked for an interpreter to help resolve the problem but was instead asked to bring someone with him – even though the bank’s website suggests that sign language interpreters will be provided on request..
It was then that the member of staff said that they would charge him a £25 admin fee to make his transaction.
Mark says it not the first time that he has encountered this kind of situation in a Halifax branch and the stand-off in Slough’s High Street branch was acutely embarrassing for him.
“This has been four times so enough is enough.” He said.
“I felt frustrated and disappointed. There was no access for me to communicate and when I pointed out the Equality Act they still refused. Who are they to dictate when there is an act (of parliament) to back me up?!”
“My confidence has dropped to go in any of their buildings. It was really embarrassing because it all happened in front of other customers. They wouldn’t have known what it was about, but people are always quick to assume the worst about the customer and not the bank! It was humiliating.”
According to the Equality Act, passed in 2010, banks have to make reasonable adjustments to provide a service to deaf customers. Deaf customers that use sign language can contact the bank online by using a service called Sign Video via Halifax’s website.
Sign Video allows a deaf customer with a computer and webcam to speak to the bank instantly through an online interpreter – but Mark was not told that this service existed.
When it comes to the dealing with deaf people in the branch, the bank’s website claims that interpreters will be provided on request, but it seems not all the staff knew the rules. At the time, Mark believed he was being charged £25 to use an interpreter.
“I told them that I could not make a phone call and asked them to phone for me.” Mark said.
“They ask me for £25 to do that. I disagreed because hearing people can phone call for free. Why do Deaf people have to pay?”
“I also asked for an interpreter but they refused that too.”
Mark has since complained to the bank about his treatment and has been compensated. Halifax have also apologised and agreed to provide Mark with an interpreter free of charge in future as long as he gives two-weeks notice.
Mark can arrange his own interpreter if necessary at shorter notice and Halifax have said that they will cover the cost.
A spokesperson for Halifax bank said: “Halifax would like to apologise for the way in which Mr Hooper’s enquiries have been handled. Halifax prides itself on its quality of service and ability to meet customer’s requirements. We have been in direct contact with Mr Hooper to apologise for his experience and to try and make amends.”
It’s not the first time that Halifax Bank have been in hot water with deaf customers. A prominent member of the deaf community raged on a social media video last year when Halifax customer service staff refused to deal with him via the Sign Video relay service.
Regular readers may also remember how NatWest Bank used a compliment slip to tell another deaf customer that they’d have to pay for their own interpreter.
After this experience, Mark says deaf customers shouldn’t tolerate discrimination from banks. He has some words for other deaf people who might be facing similar problems. He said: “You need to stand up for yourself and inform staff deaf people have the right to access under the Equality Act 2010.”
By Andy Palmer, Deputy Editor. Andy also volunteers for the Peterborough and District Deaf Children’s Society on their website, deaf football coaching and other events. Contact him on twitter @LC_AndyP
Hat tip Des Masterson
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