Thousands of donations to Harpenden churches bounce after HSBC freeze account

Rev. Linda Williams outside All Saints' Church

Rev. Linda Williams outside All Saints' Church . - Credit: Archant

About £19,000 worth of donations to Harpenden churches may have been lost after a parish bank account was unexpectedly frozen.

All standing orders sent between February 1 to February 15 on behalf of the three churches in the parish – St Nicholas’, St Mary’s, and All Saints’ – will have bounced when the HSBC account was suspended because of tough new money-laundering checks.

Harpenden parish had not replied to a banking letter they received asking for more information, including the account holder’s nationality and government ties, because they were in conversation with HSBC about why it applied to them.

The letter was part of HSBC’s stringent safeguarding initiatives set up to tackle financial crime - and when the parish did not respond in time the bank took action and froze the account.

Associate Reverend Linda Williams said it was “strange” the bank would think the church charity was money laundering.

She said: “It’s one of those annoyances, little things in life, and it can happen to your personal account.

“But many people have been very generous when we asked for cheques instead, and we are making sure that people don’t end up having paid twice.

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“Lots of people are full of love and good will.”

The parish has had to post letters asking for everyone to send the donations as a cheque, but that cost £200 on its own, there is no guarantee they will get all the money, and the exercise may have to be repeated.

Rector Dennis Stamps described it as “stressful”, adding: “It’s very important for our cash flow and finances – we are not that big a charity.

“People have been good about it, obviously we are a charity and people realised we are doing our best.”

The parish is worried they might not be able to pay their winter bills after this setback in their income.

HSBC only re-opened the account two weeks later, and Dennis said they are hoping for some compensation.

He believes the problem was only rectified after after they were featured on Radio 4’s Money Box show on Sunday.

An HSBC spokesperson said the bank aims to be industry leaders in detecting, deterring and protecting against financial crime.

He said: “While we understand this may cause some inconvenience for our customers, it is an important step we need to take to protect our customers’ interests.

“Where a customer doesn’t supply all of the information that we have asked of them, HSBC may be forced to close the customer’s account.”