Deaf woman settles alleged disability discrimination case against bank

Fiona McKendry said she was left frustrated after reporting fraudulent activity on her bank account. Credit: Equality Commission

The Northern Bank has brought in new technology to help deaf customers after paying out £2,000 to a woman alleging disability discrimination.

Fiona McKendry, aged in her thirties and from Belfast, was left frustrated after reporting fraudulent activity in her bank account in March 2017.

She is profoundly deaf and wanted her brother to relay the instructions of the bank employee to her, intending to respond via the speaker phone. She was lip-reading the information the employee provided to her brother.

The bank made a settlement without admitting liability and has introduced adjustments to its service.

Ms McKendry said: "I found this whole episode hugely frustrating - I have no problem running my own finances and I only needed my brother in this instance to act as a go-between so that I could act quickly and decisively to stop money being fraudulently taken from my bank account.

Ms McKendry who wears hearing aids in both ears and is a skilled lip reader, could see attempted transactions happening on her account and said she was extremely worried.

The bank blocked the card immediately after her phone call but following her experience she contacted her bank via secure messaging on the online banking app.

The app says it can take three to five days or more to get a response.

Ms McKendry was concerned that the app would be inadequate to deal with her urgent situation.

The next morning, she was invited to meet the branch manager who confirmed that her card had been blocked following her call, her account was safe and missing funds would be reinstated.

The manager suggested putting in place a mandate that would give her brother access and transaction rights to her accounts.

Ms McKendry, a financial professional capable of managing her affairs herself, turned the offer down, making a formal complaint to the Northern Bank and contacting the Equality Commission.

Ms McKendry took her case with the Equality Commission. Credit: Equality Commission

Mary Kitson, senior legal officer with the Commission, said it was a very positive outcome because the bank has made its services more accessible to people with hearing impairments.

The financial institution, part of Danske Bank, has put in place a reasonable adjustment to the service it provides through the use of new technology.

Ms Kitson said: "One of the main reasons we support discrimination cases is to change things for the better, so its action is very welcome.

"Fiona is confident to continue banking with the Northern Bank and delighted with this positive outcome for everyone."

Danske Bank is a trading name of Northern Bank Ltd registered in Northern Ireland.

Northern Bank Ltd is a member of the Danske Bank Group.

A Danske Bank spokesman said: "Our award-winning local contact centre has since invested in market-leading voice biometrics technology to help customers more easily identify themselves securely. We have been happy to work with Ms McKendry and the Equality Commission to help deliver better outcomes.

"We also recently became the only company in Northern Ireland to sign up to The Valuable 500, a global movement of organisations who pledge to promote disability inclusion and place it on the board agenda in 2019."