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‘Simply not good enough’: RBS sorry after Ukrainian refugee in Shetland endures long wait for account

The family has to wait "unnecessarily" long for a UK account. Pictured: Tetiana Safronova (left) and her son Serhii Vladimirov with their sponsors Helen and Tony Erwood at their home at Lunna, in Shetland. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News
The family has to wait "unnecessarily" long for a UK account. Pictured: Tetiana Safronova (left) and her son Serhii Vladimirov with their sponsors Helen and Tony Erwood at their home at Lunna, in Shetland. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

Royal Bank of Scotland has apologised for “unnecessary” delays experienced by a Shetland-based Ukrainian refugee who was forced to wait weeks to open an account, which is needed to access benefits.

Tetiana Safronova needed the account to access universal credit, child benefit and to get a national insurance number.

It was only after the matter was raised by Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael earlier this week that RBS opened the account.

The bank compensated Safronova with £150, and cited “poor communication” between departments as the reason behind the delays.

Carmichael said there is a “clear and urgent need” for Ukrainian people arriving in the UK to access a bank account for their basic needs.

‘Special process for Ukraine refugees to open bank accounts’

Safronova and her 14-year-old son Serhii arrived in Shetland last month having fled their native Ukraine following the Russian invasion.

As she settled into life in Shetland, she applied for the bank account at the Lerwick RBS branch on 13 April and was told that it would take ten working days to come through.

The bank has a special process for Ukrainian refugees opening an account.

But Safronova’s account was not opened within ten working days, so her sponsor Helen Erwood chased it up.

She was then told it would take 28 working days – meaning that because of bank holidays it would have been nearly seven weeks between the application and the account opening.

The matter was raised by Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael, and his intervention saw RBS turn things around and open the account within days.

A case manager in the bank’s executive office wrote to Carmichael to “accept entirely that our handling of this matter should have been far better, and that the application was delayed unnecessarily”.

“I assure you that we are fully committed to supporting people and families whose lives have been affected by the invasion of Ukraine,” they wrote.

“This is an unimaginably distressing time for everyone and we aim to be here to support in every way we can.

“We set up a dedicated process so that we can assist Ukrainian refugees by providing access to banking in a quick and efficient way, but clearly, we have failed to do that on this occasion.”

‘It shouldn’t take an MP to open a bank account’

Speaking after the resolution of the problem, Mr Carmichael said: “It is not unreasonable to expect an account to be set up in days rather than weeks and so I am glad that RBS have responded swiftly on this matter and recommitted to helping new arrivals from Ukraine to access accounts.

“I also appreciate their goodwill gesture towards Tetiana and that they are now making direct efforts to ensure that her case is followed up.

“Even so it really should not take the intervention of an MP in order for these very basic issues to be taken up and answered at speed.”

Shetland and Orkney MP Alistair Carmichael

Sponsor Helen Erwood said the episode was just another example of the unnecessary uphill struggle faced by refugees.

She said her next steps would be to support Safronova in applying for universal credit and obtaining a national insurance number.

“It feels as though every door you open has a brick wall behind it. The system behind this is designed to make you fail and to give up; it’s designed to make you feel ashamed, excluded and unwelcome,” she said.

“Hand on heart, there must be Ukrainian refugees in this country who deeply regret being here because they cannot access the support they need.”

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