A man with Down’s Syndrome owes at least £19,000 in unpaid bills after his bank blocked access to his account due to his “mental capacity”.
For more than two years Alun Williams, 51, has not had online access to his bank account and has only been able to access his money by withdrawing cash.
As a result, money has accumulated in Alun’s account, which resulted in his benefits being temporarily cut off as his savings went over the limit set by the Department for Work and Pensions.
The exact amount of arrears Alun owes is unclear, but his brother told i he owed at least £19,000 in April this year, including £7,770 to Bristol Council and £12,167 to the charity that runs the accommodation in which he lives, called Hft.
Claire Willis, a Financial Advocate at Dosh, which helps people with learning disabilities manage their money, told i Alun’s situation is not uncommon as she claimed that banking systems are “designed with able-bodied and able-minded people” in mind.
She said the problem is getting worse as more local bank branches close and banks transition further towards fully online systems.
“They don’t have branches anymore. This a lot of the problem. So we’ll phone them and they’ll say I need speak to the person and I’ll say to them this person has a disability and they’re not verbal, but there’s no understanding of that whatsoever and often what will happen is they’ll just lock them out and cancel the card,” she said.
Alun’s brother, Peter Williams, has been trying for over two years to make an appointment at his brother’s bank in Bristol, but has not been able to.
He has been offered meetings at other branches, but said this is not possible as his brother is agoraphobic.
Peter also said he had not received a response to an email sent in April 2023 asking for a named person in the bank to take ownership of the issue and tell them how the problem could be resolved.
“It’s as simple as that. I want somebody to tell me exactly what is required to resolve this problem once and for all,” Mr Williams said.
Rebecca Skinner, who manages the accommodation where Alun lives, said this is not the first instance she has seen of someone with learning disabilities being suddenly blocked from accessing their own money and claimed the problem is “systemic”.
Ms Willis said people with learning disabilities can get blocked out of their account for a variety of reasons, for example if they forget their memorable word or sign their signature in a different way.
A number of other banks have released products to help adults with learning disabilities manage their finances, included pre-paid cards.
But Ms Willis claimed she often has to “fight tooth and nail” for people like Alun who “fall through the gaps”.
“We’ve heard in the past when a person has a learning disability or lacks some capacity [the bank] straight away will just say ‘no we’re not dealing with that, we don’t know what we’re doing with that’,” she said.
It comes after i revealed that 72,000 teenagers with learning disabilities were due to lose thousands in savings due to being unable to access their trust funds as they did not have the mental capacity.