Rotorua woman one of thousands of Kiwis left struggling after having bank account closed

Banks have the power to close the accounts of New Zealanders for numerous reasons, leaving them unable to pay their rent, bills or get cash out.

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The Ombudsman deals with hundreds of complaints a year from people who think they’ve been unfairly treated. Source: 1 NEWS

One Rotorua Mum is one thousands of Kiwis who at times have been left without a bank account.

Though she has now found a new bank, a leaky home left Claire in debt, and at one point without a bank, despite being a customer there for nearly two decades.

“There is no way you can survive in the 21st century without a bank account. You don't get paid in cash, couldn't pay my bills in cash, couldn't pay my rent.

Claire had declared insolvency, and says the bank didn’t want her anymore.

“I was a model client until the leaky home,” she said.

Nicola Sladden, banking ombudsman, says having a basic bank account is absolutely critical for anyone to operate with in today's modern society, so any decision to close one should be taken very seriously.

The Bankers Association says with 14 retail banks, people should shop around. It also says banks work with people with poor credit history to try and improve it, but accounts are never closed without good reason.

“A bank may decide to close someone’s account because of regulatory requirements, like to comply with the anti-money laundering legislation,” said Ms Sladden.

The ombudsman deals with hundreds of complaints a year from people who think they've been treated unfairly.

“We received a case about someone’s account who was closed because of their conduct and when we investigated it we found their conduct was actually quite reasonable," said Ms Sladden.

Michael Ward of Christians Against Poverty says excluding people from having a bank account is "perpetuating hardship and poverty".

“We would say the operation of a bank account, with a debit card, and the ability to operate with transactions with automatic payment or direct debit would be a fundamental human right,” said Mr Ward.

Commerce Minister Kris Faafoi is making law changes aimed at tidying up the conduct of banks. He says the issue of closed accounts has been raised with him and while there are no specific changes relating to that right now, he may look at the issue in the future.