How to cancel utility accounts for a deceased person

Article published 23 August 2023

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How to cancel bankutility accounts for a deceased person

Privacy laws can make it difficult to cancel utility accounts for people who have died. Upsetting, especially if it's somebody close to you.

A RECENT ABC story highlighted how difficult it can be to cancel utility accounts belonging to a person who has died. The story focused on Telstra accounts but is relevant to all communication, bank and utility accounts.

It can be very upsetting to receive account statements and other correspondence addressed to someone who has died, especially if that person was your spouse. It becomes even more upsetting and frustrating if this continues even after you have notified the companies sending out this mail.

What usually turns out to be the sticking point is that privacy requirements mean that companies in the absence of a death certificate or other proof are unable to cancel an account. It’s not that they don’t believe the person contacting them, it’s that they have to follow the rules, which ask for proof in the form of a death certificate, a medical certificate, grant of probate, letters of administration, a funeral bill or a death notice. You will also need proof of your identity and your relationship to the deceased. Not simple and hard to deal with in many cases.

Telstra has apologised to surviving family and friends after the ABC story. It has also set up a special helpline (1800 775 932) for bereaved family and friends.

The ABC reports that ACMA (the Australian Communications Media Authority) is investigating Telstra about its systems and processes for updating records.

ACMA would do well not to confine its inquiry to Telstra. While the ABC story focussed on Telstra accounts, the problem is relevant to all communication, bank and utility accounts. Telstra just happens to be the company traditionally (and loyally) older Australians have had their telephone accounts with, so the problem has manifested itself most prominently there.

Australian Death Notification Service

If you want to cancel accounts held by a person who has died, the ADNS (Australian Death Notification Service) may offer a solution.

The ADNS is a free federal government service. It allows you to cancel multiple accounts held by a deceased person, maybe all of them. A long list of banks, telecoms (including Telstra), councils and so on participate in the ADNS. You notify all these organisations by notifying the ADNS. The ADNS insists on a death certificate as proof. Other proof is not accepted.

Usage of the ADNS is currently limited. The ABC reports that in the last three years, around 85,000 notifications were received. There were 171,469 registered deaths in 2021 alone, so less than 17 per cent of deaths are reported to the ADNS.

This would be due in part to the fact the ADNS is not widely publicised. Not many people know about it.

The other reason is likely to be that the ADNS operates exclusively online. The age bracket of the generation in which natural deaths are currently most common would be upwards from 75, where computer literacy is relatively low.

The ADNS does not offer a phone option and certainly doesn’t run shopfronts. Perhaps this is something that warrants an investigation, too. It would certainly be possible to offer a service for people not online through Centrelink offices, for example.

Also read:

As a couple, are you prepared for the death of who dies first?

Your what-to-do-if-I-die-first-or-I-get-dementia plan for your SMSF


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