Banks cannot disown liability for loss of locker contents due to theft or due to fraud by its employees, says the RBI in a notification issued today. However, bank’s liability for such loss has been put at 100 times the prevailing annual rent for the locker which is likely to be a very small amount in comparison to the value of the contents of most people’s lockers.
RBI has said that the bank would not be liable for loss of/damage to locker contents due to natural calamities or customer negligence. What is more, the Central bank has said that a bank must clearly inform locker customers that the bank is not responsible for insuring the contents of the locker. Perhaps to prevent coercive insurance selling, the RBI has also said that banks cannot sell locker contents’ insurance to their locker customers.
Further, banks have been asked to send SMS/email alerts to locker customers whenever their lockers are operated.
The RBI notification says: “It is the responsibility of banks to take all steps for the safety and security of the premises in which the safe deposit vaults are housed. It has the responsibility to ensure that incidents like fire, theft/ burglary/ robbery, dacoity, building collapse do not occur in the bank’s premises due to its own shortcomings, negligence and by any act of omission/commission. As banks cannot claim that they bear no liability towards their customers for loss of contents of the locker, in instances where loss of contents of locker are due to incidents mentioned above or attributable 14 to fraud committed by its employee(s), the banks’ liability shall be for an amount equivalent to one hundred times the prevailing annual rent of the safe deposit locker.”
However, the bank shall not be liable for any damage and/or loss of contents of locker arising from natural calamities or Acts of God like earthquake, floods, lightning and thunderstorm or any act that is attributable to the sole fault or negligence of the customer. Banks shall, however, exercise appropriate care to their locker systems to protect their premises from such catastrophes.
Taking into consideration the various developments in the area of banking and technology, nature of consumer grievances and also the feedback received from banks and Indian Banks’ Association (IBA), RBI has reviewed the guidelines/instructions issued on the above subject. The review also takes into account, the principles enumerated by the Supreme Court in ‘Amitabha Dasgupta vs United Bank of India’, (Judgment dated February 19, 2021 in CA No. 3966 of 2010).
The revised instructions shall come into force with effect from January 1, 2022 (except where otherwise specified) and be applicable to both new and existing safe deposit lockers and the safe custody of articles facility with the banks, stated RBI.
Here is a look at the revised guidelines for bank lockers, as per the RBI notification.
New locker agreement by January 1, 2023
Banks may adopt the model locker agreement to be framed by IBA. This agreement shall be in conformity with these revised instructions and the directions of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in this regard. Banks shall ensure that any unfair terms or conditions are not incorporated in their locker agreements. Further, the terms of the contract shall not be more onerous than required in ordinary course of business to safeguard the interests of the bank. Banks shall renew their locker agreements with existing locker customers by January 1, 2023.
More transparent locker allotment
In order to facilitate customers making informed choices, banks shall maintain a branch wise list of vacant lockers as well as a wait-list in Core Banking System (CBS) or any other computerized system compliant with Cyber Security Framework issued by RBI, for the purpose of allotment of lockers and ensure transparency in allotment of lockers. The banks shall acknowledge the receipt of all applications for allotment of locker and provide a wait list number to the customers, if the lockers are not available for allotment.
Banks to continue taking term deposit for locker rent recovery
To ensure prompt payment of locker rent, banks are allowed to obtain a Term Deposit, at the time of allotment, which would cover three years’ rent and the charges for breaking open the locker in case of such eventuality. Banks, however, shall not insist on such Term Deposits from the existing locker holders or those who have satisfactory operative account. The packaging of allotment of locker facility with placement of term deposits beyond what is specifically permitted above will be considered as a restrictive practice.
180 days record of CCTV footage of locker operation
The area housing the lockers should remain adequately guarded at all times. The banks shall install Access Control System, if required as per their risk assessment, which would restrict any unauthorized entry and create digital record of access to locker room with time log. As per their internal security policy, banks may cover the entry and exit of the strong room and the common areas of operation under CCTV camera and preserve its recording for a period of not less than 180 days.
In case any customer has complained to the bank that his/her locker is opened without his/her knowledge and authority, or any theft or security breach is noticed/observed, the bank shall preserve the CCTV recording till the police investigation is completed and the dispute is settled.
SMS and Email alert about locker access and operation
Banks shall send an email and SMS alert to the registered email ID and mobile number of the customer before the end of the day as a positive confirmation intimating the date and time of the locker operation and the redressal mechanism available in case of unauthorized locker access.
Transfer of content if the account holder dies
If the sole locker hirer nominates an individual to receive the contents in the locker, in case of his death, after verification of the death certificate and satisfying the identity and genuineness of such individual approached, the banks shall give access of the locker to such nominee with liberty to remove the contents of the locker, after an inventory was taken in the prescribed manner.
In case the locker was hired jointly with the instructions to operate it under joint signatures, and the locker hirer(s) nominates any other individual(s), in the event of death of any of the locker hirers, the bank shall give access of the locker and the liberty to remove the contents jointly to the survivor(s) and the nominee(s) after an inventory was taken in the prescribed manner.
In case the locker was hired jointly with survivorship clause and the hirers instructed that the access of the locker should be given to “either or survivor”, “anyone or survivor” or “former or survivor” or according to any other survivorship clause permissible under the provisions of the Banking Regulation Act, 1949, the banks shall follow the mandate in the event of death of one or more of the joint locker-hirers.