MEP: Smile’s attitude makes me frown

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Michael Cashman, member of the European Parliament for the West Midlands, has written to the Co-Operative Bank after a campaign. readers Joe and Neville Temple, who have cohabited for 42 years, tried and failed to persuade Smile, the internet subsidiary of the Co-Op Bank, to add an option for the legal status of Civil Partner to its application forms.

The bank had previously claimed they were under no legal obligation to include “civil partner” rather than “other” on forms.

After our investigation Co-Op Bank now says that it will change its policy.

Mr Cashman, who is a member of the Labour party’s National Executive Committee and President of the European Parliament’s LGBT Intergroup, has written to David Anderson, the chief executive of the Co-Op Bank.

“I hope this matter can be resolved in a reasonable and timely manner,” he said.

“I have myself contracted into a civil partnership, so I am all too aware of the significance that is placed on this status.

“This is about principles, not about costs and if banks and financial institutions can’t respect these principles then perhaps lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people should reconsider their choice about where they place their money.”

Ben Summerskill, chief executive of gay equality organisation Stonewall, said that the Temples were not an isolated case.

“We are aware of regular cases where people have actually closed their accounts or not opened an account because the institution in question has still not got round to recognising civil partnerships.

“That is a very clear demonstration of the damage business do to themselves by not moving with the times.

“Banks, like all other businesses, have an obligation to treat all customers in the same way.

“It should be noticed that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs have managed to change the marital status question on 30 million tax return forms.”

In a statement, the Co-Op Bank said:

“As a leading ethical bank, over the last few months we have been reviewing the initial decision not to include ‘civil partnership’ on our application forms.

“We are currently in the process of updating our online application form to include the option ‘married or civil partnership’ in the marital status field.

“When our paper application forms are reprinted, they will also be updated.

“Although this will take place when they are printed again, due to the large volume of paper this involves and the effects it would have on the environment if we were to destroy those already in existence.”

The Temples originally complained to the bank in May this year.

Following a series of emails to the bank, they were told:

“Our Legal services team 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.”

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

The investigation also highlighted similar problems with Marks Spencer’s banking service and the internet bank Egg.

MS have already made changes to their documents, while a spokesperson from Egg said:

“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.”