Deaf woman receives £2,000 from bank in disability discrimination case

A bank has brought in new technology to help deaf customers after paying out £2,000 to a woman alleging disability discrimination.

Thursday, 2nd May 2019, 5:26 am
Updated Thursday, 2nd May 2019, 11:13 am
Fiona McKendry spotted fraudelent activity on her account and was unhappy with the bank's handling of her complaint

Fiona McKendry, aged in her 30s, contacted Northern Bank Ltd after spotting ongoing fraudulent activity on her account.

The Belfast woman, who is profoundly deaf and wears hearing aids in both ears, wanted her brother to relay the instructions of the bank employee to her, intending to respond via the speaker phone. She was lip-reading the information the employee provided to her brother.

But she left feeling aggrieved in March 2017 after her contact with the bank.

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Ms McKendry said: “Even though the bank employee said he could hear me, the account holder, he refused me service because I was lip-reading the information the employee provided to my brother via speaker phone. I could see attempted transactions happening on my account while this call was ongoing and was extremely worried.”

The bank blocked the card immediately after her phone call but following her experience she contacted her bank via secure messaging on the online banking app.

The app says it can take three to five days or more to get a response. Ms McKendry was concerned that the app would be inadequate to deal with her urgent situation.

The next morning, she was invited to meet the branch manager who confirmed her account was safe and missing funds would be reinstated.

The manager suggested putting in place a mandate that would give her brother access and transaction rights to her accounts.

Ms McKendry turned the offer down, making a formal complaint to the bank and contacting the Equality Commission for assistance.

Northern Bank made a settlement without admitting liability and has introduced adjustments to its service.

Ms McKendry said she found the episode “hugely frustrating”, adding: “I have no problem running my own finances and I only needed my brother in this instance to act as a go-between so that I could act quickly and decisively to stop money being fraudulently taken from my bank account.

“I am very pleased that the bank has now put in place technology I can use if I need to contact it in a hurry, which gives me a lot more confidence to deal with the situation if it crops up again.”

A Danske Bank spokesperson said: “Our award-winning local contact centre has since invested in market leading voice biometrics technology to help customers more easily identify themselves securely. We have been happy to work with Ms McKendry and the Equality Commission to help deliver better outcomes. We also recently became the only company in Northern Ireland to sign up to The Valuable 500, a global movement of organisations who pledge to promote disability inclusion and place it on the Board agenda in 2019.”