In June last year, my wife went to hospital with a migraine, which resulted in a brain tumour being discovered. She was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given 15 months to live. It turned our world upside down, as we are relatively young and we have a three-year-old son. I read up as much as possible about the disease to understand what our options were, as we felt the standard treatment of care offered by the NHS didn’t provide much hope.
Now we are privately trying a mix of treatments, including hyperbaric oxygen treatment, high-dose vitamin C drips, a ketogenic diet, supplements, CBD oil, fasting, repurposed off-label drugs, and consultations with experts here and in the United States. In addition to all this, we are having a personalised immunotherapy vaccine being built in Germany. None of it comes cheap.
Luckily, we have an amazing group of friends who want to help. They set up a GoFundMe account and raised money to cover some of these costs. We were delighted. One of my best friends, who now lives in Australia, also wanted to do something, so he organised a bike ride and raised £16,500 through a separate GoFundMe page. We were overwhelmed with the kindness shown to us.
Once the ride was completed, my friend transferred the money from his bank account to my HSBC account. About a week after it had been transferred, I missed a call from HSBC. When I rang the number back, it said the call didn’t need to be followed up and there was no way to get back to the team that rang.
Later that day, the £16,500 was automatically transferred out of my account with a reference of “returned to sender”. In addition, all my HSBC accounts were frozen. The only payments allowed in were my salary, and the only payments out were what HSBC determined as “bills”.
I spent a whole day on calls to various teams at HSBC and got nowhere. I informed it of our situation and explained the money was being used for potentially life-saving cancer treatment. It said it would run some checks and come back to me. That was over four weeks ago now.
We are flying out to Germany in January and without access to our money, I don’t know how we are going to pay for the treatment. Our credit cards are already maxed out as we’ve had to use them through Christmas and for all my wife’s current treatments. My wife isn’t working and doesn’t have money in any separate accounts to cover the cost of getting to Germany and paying for the immunotherapy treatment. We really don’t know what to do.
– TH, via email
Such a dreadful diagnosis must have knocked you both sideways. And you are dealing with it while caring for a little boy who depends on you for everything. The possibility of him growing up without a mother must be extremely painful for you both to come to terms with. I’m so sorry life has dealt you such a cruel blow.
However, I must say the strength you have shown so far has been remarkable. You have stayed positive and are leaving no stone unturned when it comes to treatments that could keep your wife alive for longer.
You are also blessed with a fantastic set of friends who have rallied around you like troopers, which is a reflection of your own good character.
This issue with HSBC threatened to stand in the way of the monumental effort that had been made to get your wife to Germany for treatment. I could not stand by and let that happen. As soon as I read your email, I asked HSBC to take urgent action.
Had its fraud detection system had been overzealously triggered by the £16,500 GoFundMe donation from Australia? An HSBC spokesman said the bank had a statutory duty to investigate when there was a concern about a transaction or account activity. This is fair enough. But where it is discovered that funds are legitimate, any account blocks should be immediately lifted.
HSBC said there was no error in the action it took, as it had received a “red flag” from your friend’s bank account. I have established that HSBC did not send the money back to him, as you had been told. Rather, it moved the £16,500 into a so-called “suspense account”, where neither you nor he could access it. Then it froze your account while it investigated.
Despite insisting it followed the correct procedure, HSBC has admitted it did not meet the “high standards” it strives for. Well, you can say that again. You say you barely coped over Christmas with a terminally ill wife to look after and a bank account that lay frozen for weeks on end.
Two days before you were due to fly, HSBC unfroze your account, giving you access to the funds you so desperately needed, and moved the £16,500 from the suspense account back into your possession.
Earlier this week, you landed in Germany and your wife received treatment. I’m so glad I didn’t have to resort to phoning the clinic to explain that your payment needed deferring thanks to HSBC’s incompetence. An HSBC spokesman said: “We have contacted the customer to apologise, but we are pleased we have now been able to process the money and lift the inhibit on the account. We offer our best wishes to him and his wife at this difficult time.”
I know it can never make up for what you have been put through here, but following my involvement, HSBC has paid you £1,000 in compensation in recognition of its failings. I hope this will help towards the monstrous costs you are facing at the moment. I’m pleased to have helped you, if only in a small way, during the most difficult time of your life.
Now that this HSBC nonsense is over, you can focus on making the time you spend with your wife and young son the most special it can be.
Whatever life throws at you next, know this: your fighting spirit and strength will carry you through. I will be thinking of you.
The full Katie Morley Investigates column will appear in print every Saturday and Sunday. You can get an early taste every Friday at 12:00