In June 2012, Halifax merged with Lloyds TSB and the Royal Bank of Scotland. During this union, it was announced that they had decided to close a number of bank accounts.
Unfortunately for Speak, one of the bank accounts undergoing closure contained one third of our standing orders from regular givers. We were told that we would not be able to transfer these standing orders to a new account and that Speak’s bank account would be shut immediately. To make matters worse we were told that we had no option to challenge the decision.
What that meant for Speak…
Regular giver donations are Speaks bread and butter. They are what we rely on for our stability and sustainability. By closing this account we would lose all the future funding which these regular donations would provide.
In the space of a few days, ten years of Speak’s efforts to become financially sustainable would be swept away. We felt like the decision was desperately unfair and caused us real considerable stress. We were forced to come to terms with the fact that Speak could soon go bankrupt and that this tragedy was out of our control.
Of course, Speak wasn’t going to take this lying down. But, the question was, ‘how do you even begin to challenge an institution as huge as Lloyds Bank?’
We began a long effort to keep the bank account open and to save the funds that we’d worked so hard to secure. We called, we emailed, we met with the bank staff - all the time asking that our standing orders be transferred to a new account with the Co-Operative Bank.
Throughout the process we were fed conflicting messages from the banks about how long the bank account would stay open for. This left us in an uneasy limbo of wondering ‘will we lose everything or not?’. It also made it very difficult for us to assess the best course of action going forward.
When efforts to change our situations through direct contact with the banks failed to bring justice to our situation, we decided to contact a number of MPs, treasury groups and people of influence to start a lobbying campaign against the banks. This took up a lot of energy! We also started a campaign called ‘New Roots’ to raise awareness of the lack of transparency and accountability within the internal system.
And then, miraculously, we made contact with the Charity Finance Group, an extremely helpful finance advisory body, who told us about the rather cryptic-sounding ‘Sofa’ – this stands for a ‘Standing Order File Amendment’. It doesn’t sound very exciting but it would allow us to transfer standing orders between bank accounts – in other words, it was the answer we’d been waiting for!
We waited with bated breath…
Initially the bank refused to acknowledge the sofa…. However, eventually, after much pressure from our part, the bank admitted that we were eligible for a sofa and had been from the very start.
This meant VICTORY! We could keep our bank account open for 13 months and transfer all of the standing orders across via the sofa: a third of our standing orders had been saved!
Even though we were successful in securing the continuation of our standing orders, this struggle had taken us a year and a half in the process. Being a small team, the time and effort that the campaign took meant that it swamped our working hours. This meant that we lost lots of money in staff time and energies. We also sacrificed our ability to gather new funders and also in applying for grants.
We feel like, for justice, we shouldn’t come out of the ordeal any worse off financially than we would have done if it had never happened. We feel like we should be compensated for the stress which the team incurred and that the banks should pay for not disclosing us the information about the SOFA - which they are legally obliged to do.
…And so, we have entered the next phase of our journey - seeking compensation for the time, money, and energy that went into defending Speak’s resources and holding the bank to account.
The first stage of the process was via an adjudicator, who offered us £1200. However, as we felt that this was drastically lower than our true financial losses, we rejected the offer and have submitted our case to the next stage – the financial ombudsman.
We are now waiting for the results.
Please pray for us:
1. THANK God that the main victory was secured back in August with the discovery of the SOFA – we have since been told that this is virtually unheard of!
2. Pray for help and a loving, positive dialogue as we continue the claim and that our time and energy will be rewarded.
Whilst lots of people in speak helped with this journey, Louise Donkin (one of the catalytic founders) had to do the majority of the work. This really impacted her ability to support raise and grow the projects she was working on. Please can you consider supporting her, or Speak in general, as this has put her in a challenging situation as a result of how much time and effort she had to divert..
Watch the Speak website as Louise and others blog more about the journey with the banks