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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 May 2007, 14:56 GMT 15:56 UK
Banks face action over dyslexia
By Geoff Adams-Spink
Age & disability correspondent, BBC News website

Barclays bank branch entrance
Barclays says it does cater for disabled customers

A man with severe dyslexia has launched a legal challenge against two High Street banks about the way they communicate with disabled customers.

Robert Neil from Norfolk has difficulty understanding written words and figures, and says he has paid thousands of pounds in bank charges.

He says he now has a bad credit rating after becoming inadvertently overdrawn.

The banks - Barclays and RBS - say they provide information in alternative formats for disabled customers.

Mr Neil - who lives near Great Yarmouth - says that Barclays and the Royal Bank of Scotland are in breach of the Disability Discrimination Act by failing to take account of his condition.

"They seem to have missed out people with learning difficulties," Mr Neil told BBC News.

He says that he has been told by his solicitor that, if he wins, it will set a legal precedent and that similar cases could soon follow.


Mr Neil was diagnosed with dyslexia in 1995 and also has dyscalculia - a similar problem with numbers as dyslexics have with letters.

Dyslexia awareness training would be of benefit to all employees
British Dyslexia Association

He says that he explained to Barclays that he would sometimes inadvertently go overdrawn and asked not to be charged.

"They've said, 'we don't recognise your problem, go away'."

In addition to the bank charges and poor credit rating, Mr Neil says he was granted a loan of more than 20,000 by NatWest - which is owned by RBS - but was unable to understand the interest rate.

Mr Neil says that he is less interested in compensation and more concerned that banks make proper provision for people with similar conditions to his.

Barclays says that it has a dedicated disability unit to make sure that its policies and practices meet its legal requirements.

It also provides training and guidance for branch staff.

"Account opening procedures enable staff to record customer specific issues - if a customer tells us of an existing disability we can mark our records to allow staff to adapt communications to suit the circumstances," a spokesperson said.

RBS says it is committed to meeting the requirements of all its customers and encourages anyone with conditions like dyslexia to discuss with the bank how their needs can best be met.

People with dyscalculia have trouble handling numbers

"For customers who have difficulty in reading standard statements and correspondence, the bank is able to provide alternative formats," according to an RBS spokesperson.

Different methods

The British Dyslexia Association (BDA) says that banks should do more to help the six million people in the UK who have dyslexia.

It advises using a variety of methods to communicate with dyslexic customers: using audio, text message and printing statements on cream paper with a clear, black font.

The BDA also wants banks to consider allocating a specific person to liaise with people with dyslexia to avoid having to deal with a variety of anonymous individuals in call centres.

"Dyslexia awareness training would be of benefit to all employees," a BDA spokesperson said.

"The more staff members who understand dyslexia and the issues surrounding it, the easier it will be for dyslexic people to keep their bank accounts in order."

Mr Neil's case against Barclays will be heard in two weeks' time.

A date for the RBS hearing has yet to be fixed.

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