A number of constituents have contacted me raising their concerns regarding cash availability and acceptance.
I am mindful that while Covid has caused us to move to online purchasing and the use of contactless payments seems to have become a default position during many transactions, this approach is not always possible for everyone. Our area is also predominantly rural so face-to-face banking is not always possible. I am mindful that similar changes are being experienced by many communities across the UK, not just ours.
With the announcement of the closure of the local Santander branch in 2021, I made some enquiries with Santander to highlight constituent concern about the branch closure and sort assurances that the needs of the customers in Bosworth were being actively considered as part of the branch’s footprint in our area in the future.
I received a useful response from the Area Director for Santander who made reference to the Post Office in Hinckley being able to assist with face to face counter transactional banking services. The local Post Office in Hinckley had already written to me in light of the closure news to state they are ready and able to take up the task of serving our community. Last summer I was able to visit the Post Office and support them in their work and they too identified the need to protect cash. Dr Luke's Weekly Update - 9th July | Dr Luke Evans MP
I am glad the Government is supporting the Post Office’s relationship with the banks. An agreement enables 99 per cent of banks’ personal customers, and 95 per cent of banks’ business customers, to withdraw cash, deposit cash and cheques, and make balance enquiries at a Post Office counter across a network of 11,600 branches. I am pleased that Post Office and UK Finance are working together to increase publicity of Post Office banking services and ensure more customers can benefit from them. To understand how this is working in practice, I had the pleasure of visiting two local Post Office branches to understand what support was available within our local community; Derby Road branch of the Post Office in Hinckley, and Three Pots Post Office in Burbage.
I fully recognise the vital role our postal workers play, not only in terms of communication, but also the valuable service provided is especially vital in rural areas such as our own, to connect communities and provide essential services such as banking.
Further, I will continue to speak to colleagues to win support for the industry’s Access to Banking Standard, which commits banks to ensure personal and business customers are better informed about branch closures and the reasons for closing them. The standard also helps customers to understand the options they have locally to continue to access banking services. Additionally, I note that last July, the Government established a Joint Authorities Cash Strategy (JACS) Group bringing together representatives of our key financial regulators to provide joined-up and comprehensive oversight of the UK's cash infrastructure. The JACS Group has placed a particular emphasis on user needs and the changing nature of cash usage.
I also welcome that the Financial Conduct Authority has published draft guidance outlining their expectation of banks when they are deciding whether to reduce their number of physical branches or free to use ATMs, taking into account the impact of any planned closure on their customers’ banking and cash access needs and consider possible alternative access arrangements. As a result, I am pleased the FCA reports that as of the second quarter of 2021, nearly 96 per cent of the UK population are within 2km of a free-to-use cash access point, with around 41,000 free-to-use ATMs in the UK.
Nonetheless, mindful that cash remains an important part of daily life for millions of people across the UK, I wrote to the Treasury raising constituent concerns to understand what protection is being put in place for access to cash. From the Ministerial response, I understand the Government remains committed to protecting access to cash for those that need it, and to ensuring that the UK's cash infrastructure is sustainable for the long term. I am pleased the Government recognises that cash has ongoing importance to the daily lives of millions of people across the UK, particularly to those in vulnerable groups.
Following a detailed consultation, the Government intends to support the continued use of cash in people’s daily lives and help to enable local businesses to continue accepting cash by ensuring they can access deposit facilities. This has been successfully facilitated through the wide-spread adoption of cashback without a purchase through the Financial Services Act 2021, and schemes such as Community Access to Cash.
Nonetheless, noting constituent concern and the rurality of our local area and I hope the above provides some reassurance that I fully appreciate the concerns of constituents with regards to access to cash and I am pleased that the Government is seeking to preserve access to banking for local communities across our country.