EXCLUSIVE: “Ethical” bank snubs civil partnerships

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The Co-Operative Bank is among several financial services providers who have failed to add the option of Civil Partner to their application forms a PinkNews.co.uk investigation has revealed.

Joe and Neville Temple, who have lived together for 42 years, recently tried to persuade Smile, an offshoot of the Co-op Bank, to add an option for the legal status of Civil Partner to its application forms.

Over a period of months they received several messages from Smile promising that they were looking into it and would make changes to their system soon, only to be told earlier this month that the bank is under not legal requirement to offer such a category and they should use the ‘other’ category instead.

Smile informed the Temples that no further action would be taken on the matter.

Neville Temple has banked with the Co-operative Bank since 1969 and with Smile since it opened.

He told PinkNews.co.uk: “Despite being assured on more than one occasion that something would be done, we have now been informed that the Bank will not provide such an option on its forms.

“This seems to us to be an affront to gay and lesbian people in civil partnerships. The bank will accept their business, but it will try to bury their status under ‘other.'”

The first civil partnerships were formed in December 2005.

Recent figures from the Office of National Statistics showed that 18,059 civil partnerships had been registered by the end of 2006.

When the Temples originally complained to the bank in May this year they received the following message from a Smile representative:

“I am very sorry for the delay in replying to your secure message.

“I have contacted other departments regarding your query and have been advised that we are aware of the Equality Act and are currently looking into updating our systems.

“I am very sorry for any upset caused by our delay in amending this situation, however as I’m sure you will appreciate it can take time to update our systems.

“I have been advised that it shouldn’t be much longer until we are able to offer Civil Partnership as an option on application forms.

“Although I can’t give an actual date as to when this change will take effect, I can assure you that any updates will be posted on our home page.”

Another message shortly afterwards said: “I’m sorry this is causing you such distress, as I’m sure you can appreciate these things do just take time.”

Five months and more than ten messages later they received the following response:

“I have been passed this query on by Dougie who has looked into your complaint.

“He has spoken to our Legal services team whom have advised that they believe that we are under no legal requirement to specifically offer the category ‘civil partner’ as the ‘other’ category can be used.

“This issue was put to The (Co-op) Bank a couple of months ago to see if we would change anything and they have made the decision at this time due to the cost implication that no further action will be taken.”

Neville told PinkNews.co.uk: “We both feel very strongly about being treated shabbily by Smile which claims to be an ethical bank.

“We were in the Newcastle branch of the Co-operative Bank, which owns Smile and which Smile customers use for counter business.

“The other day drawing money out to pay into our new bank and we saw a notice on the front of the counter thanking customers for supporting the Bank’s ethical policies. We found this very ironic.

“Joe feels that the Bank has lied more than once about updating its forms while at the same time deciding that it would not provide the option of ‘civil partner’ on its forms – or could it be that the staff are merely incompetent?

“Joe is also annoyed about the Bank’s failure to supply the name of a senior member of its staff to whom we could make further representations. This information was requested by secure message, but the request was ignored.

“I feel that Smile wants the business of civil partners while wanting to keep this from other potential customers by not listing the option.”

The Temples felt so strongly about the issue that they opened a new current account with Lloyds TSB.

“This bank could hardly be more welcoming,” they told PinkNews.co.uk

“Not only does it list civil partnership on its application forms but also it lists ‘Dissolved Civil Partnership’.

“Lloyds TSB completed the opening of our new account within a matter of days with the very friendly help of its personal banking manager.

“We have already told Smile that we are closing the joint account and have given them the reasons for doing so.

“I think that it is reprehensible that Smile suggested as far back as May that civil partner would appear on their list of options and not finally ‘come clean’ about their real attitude – disguised under cost implications – until October.”

A spokesperson for the Co-operative Bank told PinkNews.co.uk: “We have told customers who have complained about this that there isn’t a solution at present to this issue due to costing issues.

“However, we are still looking into it as a whole business, and hopefully in the hear future we will be able to make changes to our system.

“It would be a massive procedure due to all the paperwork and changes to the computer systems that would be involved.

“A proposal is currently being put together to assess the costs of such as change. It won’t happen overnight. We will keep PinkNews.co.uk updated of any changes as the occur.”

Another PinkNews.co.uk reader, who asked to remain anonymous, had a similar experience with Marks Spencer earlier this year when he questioned them about why Civil Partner was not on their marital status menu for their financial services.

He said: “MS always trotted out the same response -that they were still looking into it, despite it being nearly two years since the Equality Act was introduced.

“I then forwarded them a copy of an email from Stonewall which reminded them of their legal obligations and almost by return of email I was informed by MS that they would be adding the option of Civil Partner to their marital status menu in August, which they have done.

“Well to be accurate it’s only half done. They now have as an option of (married/civil partner) on the same line, but what they should really have which is what most other companies offer is (Civil Partnership/Civil Partnership dissolved), but I suppose half a sixpence is better than half a penny.”

The same reader also recently wrote to online bank Egg informing them that he would be closing his online savings account because of their reluctance to add Civil Partner to their marital status menu.

He received a response from a staff member there, Ms Karina Evans, which read: “It is not a legal requirement for Egg to make this change, until we are advised that we have a legal obligation to implement these changes we will not be adding Civil Partner to the drop down menu.”

Mr Sanderson said: “I think this says enough about Egg that even if it is not a legal requirement, it proves that Egg is prepared to discriminate by not affording those customers in a Civil Partnership their correct marital status as a goodwill gesture and they will only do it if forced to by a legal obligation.

“So much for good customer relations. It’s also interesting that companies like those already mentioned, offer the non legal option of cohabiting, but still refuse to offer Civil Partner.”

A Spokesperson from Egg told PinkNews.co.uk:

“Egg has not refused to add ‘Civil Partner’ to its marital status menu.

“We do not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in the provision of any of our products and services, and recognise that we do need to include ‘Civil Partner’ in the marital status dropdown menu.

“To this end, we are currently considering implementation options.”