Charity missed out on ‘so many grants’ while its bank account was unexpectedly closed, chief says

The period poverty organisation’s account was closed for four months by Barclays

(Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images)

A period poverty charity that supports girls in the UK and overseas has regained access to its bank account four months after it was abruptly closed.

Girls With Pride and Dignity is a period poverty charity based in Oldham, Greater Manchester. It was set up as a community scheme to support girls in poverty overseas, but later began to support local families.

The organisation was unable to access its funds after its bank, Barclays, unexpectedly closed the charity’s account in October.

Kana Josée Bizimana, chief executive of GWPD, told Third Sector that a year after the organisation became a registered charity she began receiving phone calls from Barclays urging her to update the account details, despite originally being told that no changes would be needed.

Months of back and forth followed, she said, adding that, despite repeated requests for communication to be made through the charity’s phone number, Bizimana continued to be contacted via her personal number.

This caused problems because she travels overseas for the charity’s work. Bizimana said that she believes it was during a trip to Africa that Barclays attempted to tell her about the closure.

There was no attempt to contact the charity’s main number, Bizimana said, adding that she only became aware of the closure when she was unable to access the charity’s online banking in October.

The charity was unable to access funds for four months before the account was eventually reopened at the end of January, she said.

Bizimana said she believes the account’s reopening was prompted by the Charity Commission’s involvement, after she sent Barclays proof of communications with the regulator.

The UK’s three charity regulators submitted an open letter in November criticising major high-street banks for providing “poor customer service” to charities and abruptly closing or suspending their accounts.

Bizimana said: “We still have sadness about those four months where we couldn’t do anything. We were actually stuck, we were frozen.”

She added that the charity was unable to provide services to the more than 70 families that it regularly supports.

“Small charities are making a huge difference in their communities and funders are limited now. It’s so difficult for charities who are in this situation – it hurts when you can’t help,” she said. 

Bizimana said that the charity also missed “so many grants and opportunities” due to the closure. 

The charity won a major grant of nearly £14,000 from Sport England before the closure but this payout was put on hold for months, she said. 

The grant was supposed to be recieved in October, but due to the account closure is now expected to be paid later this month. 

Bizimana said she was still not happy about the situation, adding that it could have been avoided.

A spokesperson for the Charity Commission said: “There are widespread problems in the way banks engage with their charity customers and we continue to hear from charities dealing with the fallout of these issues. Josée’s experience is sadly one of many and demonstrates just how problematic it can be when banking services are disrupted

“Charities provide vital support to people across the country and urgently need to receive better service from their banks. This is why we continue to press this matter and continue to engage with the Financial Conduct Authority, high-street banks, UK Finance [which represents more than 300 firms in the banking and finance industry] and the wider sector.”

A spokesperson for Barclays said: "In cases like this where we do not receive the requested up-to-date account information, we will proceed with the application of card blocks and account restrictions, ahead of issuing final closure arrangements. Therefore, it is very important that account holders respond to these requests from their bank.

"We fully understand the issues this can cause customers and we worked hard to avoid the last resort of account closure. On this occasion, as a gesture of goodwill, we reopened the account for the customer.”

This article was updated on 9 February 2023 to include a statement from Barclays bank.

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