SAFE DEPOSIT VAULTS/SAFE DEPOSIT LOCKERS

Safe Deposit Vault or Safe Deposit Lockers are the facilities provided by banks to their customers to keep their valuables.

This facility is not offered through all bank branches and wherever the facility is offered, allotment of safe deposit vault will be subject to availability and compliance with other terms and conditions related to this service. Safe deposit lockers may be hired by an individual (a non-minor) singly or jointly with another individual(s), HUFs, firms, limited companies, associates, societies, trusts etc. Nomination facility is available to individual(s) holding the lockers singly or jointly. In respect of lockers held in joint names, up to two nominees can be appointed. Joint locker holders can give mandate for access to the lockers in the event of death of one of the holders which is in similar lines to those for deposit accounts. In the absence of nomination or mandate for disposal of contents of lockers, with a view to avoid hardship to common persons, the bank will release the contents of locker to the legal heirs against indemnity on the lines as applicable to deposit accounts.

Lockers / Return of Safe Custody Articles by banks.

The Committee on Procedures and Performance Audit on Public Services (CPPAPS) had made some recommendations for easy operation of lockers. Banks have been advised by RBI to adhere to the following guidelines with respect to issue and maintenance of Safe Deposit Lockers.

Linking of Allotment of Lockers to placement of Fixed Deposits

RBI has advised banks to refrain from such restrictive practices such as linking the lockers facility with keeping fixed or any other deposit beyond what is specifically permitted.

Fixed Deposit as Security for Lockers

Banks may face situations where the locker-hirer neither operates the locker nor pays rent. To ensure prompt payment of locker rent, banks may at the time of allotment, obtain a Fixed Deposit, which would cover 3 years rent and the charges for breaking open, the locker in case of an eventuality. However, banks should not insist on such Fixed Deposit from the existing locker-hirers.

Wait List of Lockers

Branches should maintain a wait list for the purpose of allotment of lockers and ensure transparency in allotment of lockers. All applications received for allotment of locker should be acknowledged and given a wait list number.  Banks are also advised to give a copy of the agreement regarding operation of the locker to the locker-hirer at the time of allotment of the locker.

Security aspects relating to Safe Deposit Lockers

Banks should exercise due care and necessary precaution for the protection of the lockers provided to the customer. Banks should review the systems in force for operation of safe deposit vaults / locker at their branches on an on-going basis and take necessary steps. The security procedures should be well documented and the concerned staff should be properly trained in the procedure. The internal auditors should ensure that the procedures are strictly adhered to. Customer due diligence for allotment of lockers / Measures relating to lockers which have remained inoperative.   After experiencing explosives and weapons found in a locker in a bank branch, banks should be aware of the risks involved in renting safe deposit lockers. In this connection, banks should take following measures:

  1. Banks should carry out customer due diligence for both new and existing customers at least to the levels prescribed for customers classified as medium risk. If the customer is classified in a higher risk category, customer due diligence as per KYC norms applicable to such higher risk category should be carried out.
  2. Where the lockers have remained un-operated for more than three years for medium risk category or one year for a higher risk category, banks should immediately contact the locker-hirer and advise him to either operate the locker or surrender it. This exercise should be carried out even if the locker hirer is paying the rent regularly. Further, banks should ask the locker hirer to give in writing, the reasons why he / she did not operate the locker. In case the locker-hirer has some genuine reasons as in the case of NRIs or persons who are out of town due to a transferable job etc., banks may allow the locker hirer to continue with the locker. In case the locker-hirer does not respond nor operate the locker, banks should consider opening the lockers after giving due notice to him. In this context, banks should incorporate a clause in the locker agreement that in case the locker remains unoperated for more than one year, the bank would have the right to cancel the allotment of the locker and open the locker, even if the rent is paid regularly.
  3. Banks should have clear procedure drawn up in consultation with their legal advisers for breaking open the lockers and taking stock of inventory.
  4. If the sole locker hirer nominates a person banks should give to such nominee access of the locker and liberty to remove the contents of the locker in the event of the death of the sole locker hirer. In case the locker was hired jointly with the instructions to operate it under joint signatures, and the locker hirer(s) nominates person(s), in the event of death of any of the locker hirers, the bank should give access of the locker and the liberty to remove the contents jointly to the survivor(s) and the nominee(s).
  5. In case the locker was hired jointly with survivorship clause and the hirers instructed that the access of the locker should be given over to ‘either or survivor’, ‘anyone or survivor’ or ‘former or survivor’ or according to any other survivorship clause, banks should follow the mandate in the event of the death of one or more of the locker-hirers.

However, banks should take the following precautions before handing over the contents:

  1. Bank should exercise due care and caution in establishing the identity of the survivor(s) / nominee(s) and the fact of death of the locker hirer by obtaining appropriate documentary evidence;
  2. Banks should make diligent effort to find out if there is any order from a competent court restraining the bank from giving access to the locker of the deceased; and
  3. Banks should make it clear to the survivor(s) / nominee(s) that access to locker/ safe custody articles is given to them only as a trustee of the legal heirs of the deceased locker hirer i.e., such access given to him shall not affect the right or claim which any person may have against the survivor(s) / nominee(s) to whom the access is given.
  1. Similar procedure should be followed for return of articles placed in the safe custody of the bank. Banks should note that the facility of nomination is not available in case of deposit of safe custody articles by more than one person.
  2. Banks should prepare an inventory before returning articles left in safe custody / before permitting removal of the contents of a safe deposit. The inventory shall be in the appropriate Forms prescribed by RBI from time to time.

Further, in case the nominee(s)/survivor(s)/legal heir(s) wishes to continue with the locker, banks may enter into a fresh contract with nominee(s) / survivor(s) / legal heir(s) and also adhere to KYC norms in respect of the nominee(s) / legal heir(s). Banks are not required to open sealed/closed packets left with them for safe custody or found in locker while releasing them to the nominee(s) and surviving locker hirers / depositor of safe custody article.

Simplified operational systems / procedures

Banks have to undertake a comprehensive review of their extant systems and procedures relating to settlement of claims of their deceased constituents (locker-hirers / depositors of safe-custody articles) with a view to evolving a simplified policy / procedures for the purpose. The review should be made with the approval of their Board and take into account the applicable statutory provisions.

Customer Guidance and Publicity

Banks should give wide publicity and provide guidance to locker-hirers / depositors of safe custody articles on the benefits of the nomination facility and the survivorship clause. Illustratively, it should be highlighted in the publicity material that in the event of the death of one of the joint account holders, the right to the contents of the locker or the articles under safe custody does not automatically devolve on the surviving joint deposit account holder, unless there is a survivorship clause.

Banks should place on their websites the instructions along with the policies / procedures put in place for giving access of the locker / safe custody articles to the nominee(s) / survivor(s) / legal heir(s) of the deceased locker hirer / depositor of the safe custody articles. Further, a printed copy of the same should also be given to the nominee(s) / survivor(s) / legal heir(s) whenever a claim is received from them.

Banks should ensure that identification code of the bank / branch is embossed on all the locker keys with a view to facilitate Authorities in identifying the ownership of the locker keys.

Author: Admin Bankedge

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