Britain’s financial regulator has finalised the rules for access to cash across the country following concern expressed about the closure of thousands of bank branches and free to use ATMs.
Campaigners have been demanding action over what they see as the creation of potential ‘cashless deserts’.
Over the last 12 months 13% of free-to-use cash machines have disappeared because lower levels of cash use meant they were not economic to maintain.
There have also been more than 3,000 bank branch closures between January 2015 and December 2019 – 34% of the overall network.
All the country’s major banks have been closing branches as their customers turn increasingly to telephone or online banking, requiring less in-branch transactions.
In its guidance the FCA has said that banks, building societies and credit unions are expected to keep the FCA informed of any plans for closures or conversion of free-to-use ATMs in good time before any final decision is made.
They will expect firms to provide ‘a clear summary of their analysis of the needs of customers currently using the sites, the impact of the proposals on those customers, and alternatives that are, or could reasonably be, put in place if they implement the proposals’.
Decisions must be clearly communicated to customers no less than 12 weeks before the change goes ahead, including notifying the customers of what alternative measures are in place.
Interim Executive Director of Strategy and Competition, Sheldon Mills, said: “Although closures or conversions are decisions for firms to take, it is important they implement these decisions in ways that are fair to their customers.
“Even during the pandemic, cash remains essential to many consumers.
The publication of this guidance sets out clearly our expectations on firms and will ensure that firms make it a priority that customers are treated fairly, especially those who are most vulnerable.”
The FCA will also continue its co-operation with the Payments Systems Regulator to ensure ‘an appropriate and sustainable model of maintaining access to cash’.
UK Finance, the bank’s trade body, said the guidance provided further clarity, commenting: “Branches and ATMs play an important part in the life of communities and decisions to close them are never taken lightly.
“The FCA’s finalised guidance builds on the existing processes that many firms already follow is assessing the impact of a proposed closure and the development of suitable alternative services.
“We will now work closely with our members, the FCA, the Payment Systems Regulator, Link and the Lending Standards Board to implement this guidance and ensure that access to cash remains free and widely accessible to those who need it.”