FLOWER farmer Andie McDowell, 42, was shocked when HSBC contacted her out of the blue to say they no longer wanted her as a customer.
Banks are allowed to close accounts, for example, if they suspect fraud.
However, mistakes can be made and NatWest last year paid compensation for the way it handled closing down accounts.
The flower entrepreneur runs Oxfordshire-based Dahlia Beach and said she is lucky the ordeal didn’t put her out of business.
Andie told The Sun: “I have been a loyal HSBC customer since I was 16.
“It was like a stab through the heart when they said they no longer wanted me as a customer. I was dumped.”
HSBC declined to share the reason Andie’s account was closed with The Sun, but noted it wasn’t a random decision.
The banking giant first wrote to her in July with notice that her account would shut in October.
The reason behind the decision was not disclosed and Andie was left confused by the move.
When the account closed Andie assumed she would be able to move the money to a new account but she said they refused to electronically transfer the closing balance of £58,000.
The cash was all the money the entrepreneur had earned for the year, and she was terrified to be parted from it.
HSBC instead issued a cheque and sent it through the post – Andie said she waited three weeks to receive it.
She said: “The stress and the anxiety was huge – knowing they’ve got my money and I don’t know when I’m going to get it back.”
During this time, she struggled to pay for services that were essential for the day-to-day running of Dahlia Beach, including van drivers and flower pickers.
She said: “I was so upset and angry.
“I had to beg suppliers to give me more time to pay – luckily I have good relationships with them, so they were understanding, but it made me look unprofessional.
When the cheque finally arrived, Andie immediately banked it and anxiously waited a further 10 days for the money to clear – only to be told by her receiving bank there was a problem, and the cheque didn’t work.
Andie said she rang and waited on hold to HSBC, but the bank would still not electronically transfer the money – and the solution put forward was to send another cheque through the post.
“I don’t know of any system that does cheques,” she said.
“Why were they being obstructive about it, when knowing it’s the whole of my business?
“I was scared that I wasn’t going to get my money back.”
At this point, Andie took to Instagram in tears asking if anyone could help.
She also put together a reel outside her local HSBC branch telling Dahlia Beach’s 58,000 followers what had happened.
Reality TV star Gemma Collins was among the hundreds of users commenting on the post, she wrote: “I had the same thing happen to me it was absolutely awful.”
The publicity appeared to put pressure on HSBC to act.
Andie said the bank then rang her and agreed to transfer her closing balance to the new account.
She said if she didn’t have a platform with as many followers, she believes she could have had another lengthy wait for a new cheque to arrive.
Andie added: “They did electronically transfer in the end, so they had the capability to do this from the start.”
The flower farmer fears another small firm owner could have a similar experience.
She added: “Closing small business accounts and keeping hold of money for a month is not right- it’s tantamount to theft.
“Many small businesses would go under if they were cut off from their money for as long as I was.”
A HSBC UK spokesperson said: “We understand Ms McDowell’s frustration, however a decision to close an account is never taken lightly.
“We did not put any blocks or restrictions on the closing balance cheque, and have sent Ms McDowell her closing balance electronically.”
If your account is closed
If you think your account has been closed unfairly, you can complain to the provider involved.
If you don’t get a response within eight weeks or you’re not happy with the response you do get, you can take your complaint to the free Financial Ombudsman Service.
The Ombudsman says most of the complaints it sees about bank account closures or freezes involve:
- the bank not giving enough notice – the Ombudsman suggests that between 30 and 60 days’ notice is a reasonable unless there are suspicions fraud is involved
- the bank giving conflicting information or advice
- the bank showing unlawful discrimination
- the bank failing to follow procedures properly
If your account is closed, you should also remember to rearrange any direct debit or standing orders as these will have to be paid manually until you can get a new account.
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