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HSBC, Metro Bank and Halifax have all admitted to failings after redesigning websites that made it hard for their blind or visually impaired customers to access full services online.

When Jeff Bashton needs to transfer cash or pay a bill, he logs on to his bank’s website, clicks a few buttons and the job is done. It’s quick, easy and efficient. Or at least it used to be – before the bank, HSBC, upgraded its website, with elaborate headings, mortgage offers and banners advertising insurance or foreign currency.

It might look good – but all the extra text on the site makes it almost impossible for Jeff, who is blind, to do his banking on his own.

Jeff uses a screen reader – software with a synthesised voice that reads aloud what’s on the screen. So he can find headings, click on links and read bank statements. But the pages must be carefully designed with screen readers in mind.

And if there’s too much information scattered throughout, it means basic headings like “transfer money” or “make a payment” get lost in the website’s clutter.

Jeff is frustrated that what used to be a simple process has now become unreliable. He’s been forced to do telephone banking, which he says takes him longer.

“In the past, I would have given HSBC eight or nine out of 10. Now I wouldn’t give it higher than two or three,” he laments.

Jeff is not alone. Andy Godfrey, who is also blind, has been struggling to find his bank statements online since HSBC made the changes. Yet when he told the bank about the problem, they replied: “Oh, don’t worry, we’ll send you a video”. He has now changed banks.

In a statement, HSBC told Money Box it has just finished upgrading the site again, and saying “we apologise to those who may have experienced problems accessing the site during this update”. Jeff Bashton says now he detects a slight improvement.

No prompts

But HSBC has not been the only bank to cause problems for its blind customers. Metro Bank recently altered its online login page. So instead of one box to type in a full password, the new system introduced three separate boxes, each requiring a single character from the password.

Because there was no information announcing the changes that the screen reader could pick up, the new process totally stumped Metro Bank customer, Darren Paskell.

“I was typing my whole password in the first box and then going to the login button and obviously it was rejecting it because it was invalid data,” he says.

It meant he was locked out of his account, unable to log in or manage his finances independently. It was something Mr Paskell says he found insulting and disempowering.

“It was basically set up to allow me to fail, again and again and again,” he asserts.

Darren, who works in IT, spent half an hour on the phone trying to make Metro Bank understand the issue, without success. Eventually, he used his own technical expertise to work out a way of logging into his account.

Metro Bank said: “We have reviewed Mr Paskell’s case and would like to apologise for letting him down. The new update wasn’t tested with sufficient accessibility technology, meaning screen readers were not able to interpret all fields on the login page.”

The bank says it is committed to getting it fixed.

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